The main purpose of discipline is to teach children age appropriate behavior and self-control. Children
require freedom to grow and to learn, but they will not succeed on unrestricted liberty. The goal of discipline
is to set reasonable limits which protect children from harm and teach them what is safe and what is not. If
children are to grow up into responsible, reliable, and trustworthy adults, they must learn the social, moral,
and ethical standards that are considered acceptable in our society. They must also learn to respect the rights
and property of others.
Children brought up without discipline may become selfish, greedy, dishonest, disliked, uncooperative and
insecure. Undisciplined children constantly demand attention. They may be inconsiderate or disrespectful to
others. Some are destructive, aggressive, and rude. A child allowed to disobey without punishment is
unlikely to develop much respect for rules as he/she grows older.
Although it is impossible to describe rules for discipline that are appropriate for every situation, some
principles are well established.
• Your child needs your LOVE more than anything else.
• You should use discipline to teach your child.
• You should not discipline your child before he or she is old enough to understand the reason for the
• You should not punish your child for behavior that is part of normal development, such as thumb
sucking, speech development, or accidents that occur during toilet training.
• You should not punish your child for anything that is accidental.
• Both parents should be consistent in the disciplining.
• You should explain to your child, in language that he or she can understand, why the unacceptable
behavior must be punished.
• You should not deny your child of essentials, such as food, as a form of punishment.
• Do not subject your child to excessive physical punishment.
• You should make as few rules as necessary and make them simple to understand.
• You should be a good role model for your child.
Parents are Behavior Role Models
Children who are often in trouble usually suffer from too little affection, rather than too little punishment.
The responsibility for starting the child in the right path belongs to the parents. Parents must serve as good
examples for their children. Attitudes and behaviors of the children can be anticipated to be similar to those
of the parents.
Children learn best from repetition, practice, and example; lecturing is less effective. The age at which
punishment is appropriate depends on the intelligence and maturity of the child. Punishment, when required,
should be immediate and unavoidable. The penalty should be specified in advance and should be strictly
enforced. The form of punishment should be appropriate to the seriousness of the misconduct and to the
child's age. After a child has been punished, it is important to reassure the child that he or she is still loved
and an important member of the family and that the wrongdoing has been forgiven.
Disciplinary Methods for Children
Rules should be as few and clear as possible, but they should be strictly and always implemented. Rules
must be appropriate to the age of the child. The child must understand that a particular punishment is
automatically executed for specific unacceptable behaviors. Threats that the parent does not intend to carry
out should always be avoided.
There are many types of disciplinary methods. Rewards reinforce good behavior. Rewards may take the
form of a smile, verbal praise, special attention, special activities, hugs, extra privileges, or material benefits.
Positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment. Punishment is useful to stop inappropriate
behavior. Punishment includes verbal disapproval, a frown, ignoring harmless behavior, temporary isolation,
temporary removal of a privilege, or spanking. Attempts to tease or shame children will cause them to feel
inferior and helpless and should be avoided.
Many find that the "time-out technique" is often successful for discipline. When your child misbehaves, take
him or her to a quiet, safe room, such as a bedroom. Tell your child that he or she must remain alone for a
set period of time. Limit the time-out to one minute for each year of the child's age. (For example, a 3-year-
old should sit out for no longer than 3 minutes.) Do not talk to the child during the time out. After each time-
out, welcome your child back into the family circle. It is important to show your child that he or she has
been forgiven. For a time-out to be effective there must also be family time. Make sure you regularly tell and
show your child that he/she is loved.
Teaching Self-Control Skills
It is important to choose age-appropriate goals for children who are learning self-control, try simple goals
first, where success is expected, and one goal at a time. For preschool children, appropriate goals might
include not interrupting or not fighting with siblings. For early elementary school children, appropriate goals
might include obeying with bedtime rules or showing anger appropriately (instead of hitting or screaming).
Some common strategies that often help children learn appropriate self-control behaviors include:
• Take a break: Encourage children to “take a break” or a “time out” from a situation where they are feeling
angry or upset.
• Teach and provide attention: Children can learn to resist interrupting others by learning how to observe
when others are not talking, so that they can join in appropriately. Be sure to provide children with attention
at appropriate times so that they are not “starved” for attention and more likely to not interrupt improperly.
• Use appropriate rewards: Children need consistent, positive feedback to learn appropriate behavior. Praise
and attention are highly rewarding for young children, as is special time with a parent. Be sure your child
knows what behaviors are acceptable.
• Use specific activities designed to teach self-control: Parents can help teach even young children (ages 5–8
years) the skills that promote self-control, using activities such as those that follow rules. These skills
include dealing with “wanting something they can’t have,” understanding feelings, and controlling anger.
In order for children to gain control of their behavior when they are experiencing strong feelings, they must
know how to identify their feelings. It is never too early to talk to children about feelings or to help them see
the link between feelings and behavior. Connecting these together shows how our feelings can affect the
choices we make, and it can also improve children’s self-control.
CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR FOR ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
1. Punishment occurs too frequently.
2. You are losing control of your child.
3. You are losing control of your own temper.