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What do you do when your pre-schooler throws a noisy tantrum in the Shopping Mall? How can you get a teenager to respect your authority? How do you stop your nine-year-old from getting into scraps in the playground? Whatever the age of your child, it is important to set rules and abide by them consistently when it comes to discipline. Child discipline is one of the most important elements of successful parenting, yet more and more, parents just don't know what to do. Discipline (or training) might simply be defined as a process to help children learn appropriate behaviors and make good choices.A disciplined child respects the rights of others and knows which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.

Unfortunately, Discipline has come to have negative overtones, perhaps because so many parents enforce it using punishment – yelling, spanking, time outs, physical separation or withdrawal of privileges. However, child psychologists believe that discipline is better fostered by positive measures like appreciating or rewarding good behaviour (as opposed to punishing bad behaviour). It has to do more with teaching your child right from wrong and less with exerting control over her.


What are the Goals of Discipline?

  • Discipline protects your child from danger.
  • Discipline helps your child learn self-control and self-discipline.
  • Discipline helps your child develop a sense of responsibility.
  • Discipline helps instill values.

When is Discipline "Effective"?

Here are some factors that make discipline effective.

  • Mutual respect – as parents, we must respect our children as we teach them discipline. If discipline strategies are humiliating to the child, it will be difficult for her to respect us or trust a mother or father.
  • Consistency – if parents set rules that may easily be changed, children find it difficult to follow them. For example if you have said that your teenage children must be home at eight pm, then eight it must be. If you give in when your children argue with you, your children will always believe that rules are meant to be bent. Inconsistency, such as sometimes giving in to tantrums, can also reward children for these unwanted behaviours and make it more likely that they will be repeated.
  • Fairness – when children see a rule as being fair, they will tend to obey it. For example, if you just tell your child that she has to sit on the table and finish her milk, she may balk at the rule. But if you explain to her that her glass of milk is liable to spill if she walks around with it, and that she would have to clean the spill herself, she may just sit on the table and finish her milk.
  • You: As a parent, you have a unique bond with your child. If you teach your child discipline with respect, and make sure that it’s consistent and fair, you’ll have lasting positive effects on your child. Further, when your child misbehaves, if you understand why she has done so, your discipline measures will be even more effective.

Did You Know?

  • Time out is a very effective discipline technique and will work with children as young as 18-24 months old!
  • Use a kitchen timer to count down your child's punishment time. A good rule of the thumb to figure out the duration of the punishment is to calculate it at the rate of one minute per year of age.
  • The best discipline strategy is to reward good behaviours rather than to punish bad or inappropriate ones.

Why Children Misbehave

All children tend to misbehave sometimes. It is for parents to understand why their children misbehave, and respond appropriately. First, they must understand that no child is born bad – while some might be naughtier than others, most children naturally gravitate towards rules and good behaviour. So, assuming that they are neither sick nor physically exhausted, children generally misbehave because of the following reasons --

  • They have been rewarded for their misbehavior. Sometimes the only way a child can manage to get her busy parents' attention is by behaving badly. This develops into a vicious circle: parents give her attention for misbehaving, and this reinforces the child’s bad behavior.
  • They are just copying what their parents do. Children tend to imitate their parents’ response to conflict. So much so that school teachers often say that they can tell what sort of parents a child has by they way she behaves with her peers. So if parents are aggressive or they use physical punishment on their child, the message the child gets is that it is ok to hit.
  • They are testing their limits. All children sometimes disobey their parents to see how much they can get away with. How important is the limit for the parent? Children like to test parents to figure out how firmly or fairly they implement rules.
  • They are asserting themselves. Especially around the time a child is between two and three years old, she begins to understand that she too can make choices. This is the time when what seems like misbehaviour is actually just the child’s need to assert herself and her growing independence.
  • They are protecting themselves. When pushed into a corner, pretty much like adults, children too tend to fight back or misbehave to protect themselves.
  • They feel bad about themselves. Many parents who tend to scold their children too harshly when they make mistakes, often do not realize what harm they are doing. For children tend to label themselves as good, bad or naughty – and behave accordingly.

Some Good Discipline Strategies

Understanding why your child misbehaves is important for it will enable you to select the right discipline strategy for her. Put yourself in her shoes and try to understand what she must be feeling. Having done so, your response to her misbehavior is likely to be bang on target.

Here are some discipline strategies that parents swear by –

  • First, stop inappropriate behaviors with a firm ‘no' while looking your child in the eyes.
  • If she does not respond to your ‘no’, physically move her away. For example, if she is picking up things from the shelves of a supermarket and does not stop when you say no, just pick her up quietly and remove her from that place.
  • Try and distract your child to get her attention away from inappropriate behaviours.
  • If she stops behaving inappropriately, praise her and reward her with a hug.
  • If she does not stop, or throws a tantrum, walk away from her and do not give her too much attention. Giving too much attention to your child when she misbehaves can reinforce bad behaviors.
  • Always explain to your child, the results or consequences of her actions. For example, if she spills her milk on the floor, there will be a mess which she would have to clean. If she spends hours talking to friends on the family telephone, no one else will be able to call even if there is an emergency.
  • Along with these natural consequences, add some consequences of your own. For example, if he doesn't put away his bike, then you will do it, but he won't be able to ride it for the rest of the day. For older children, not filling the car with gas can have the consequence of not getting to use the car this week, etc.
  • Negative punishments may also work, but only if they are used very sparingly. For example, if you feel that your child is getting too much attention when she throws a tantrum, then use time out to remove that positive reinforcement. Older children sometimes respond better if faced with the threat of withholding privileges. However, it is important for parents to actually carry out the threat if they have voiced it. For example, if your sixth grader sneaks out to her friends when she is meant to be doing homework, you could stop her from going out for two or three days as a consequence for misbehaving.

Against Physical Punishment

An old Japanese proverb says that children learn by watching their mothers’ backs. If parents physically abuse their children in the name of discipline, the children will learn the violence of physical abuse without learning the true meaning of discipline. This is especially true when parents spank even young babies under the age of one year.

In a recent survey, three-quarters of American parents said that they believed physical force was justified to enforce discipline on their children. But think about it – no sane adult tolerates physical abuse for behavior that another adult deems inappropriate. Then why does society condone corporal punishment of children?

In many ways, Physical Punishment is nothing but abuse. A young child cannot protect herself against a parent who is larger, heavier, and intent on hurting her. The fact of the matter is that if young children learn the violence of human conflict by being beaten regularly, then they will grow up to perpetuate that very violence. Discipline, in the truest sense of the word, will just get spanked out of them.


  • Discipline
  • Effective Discipline Strategies
  • Creating Effective Rules
  • The Nurturing Mother
  • Discipline Techniques