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Tips for Disciplining Your Child

Misbehavior is a natural part of growing up. However, dealing with it as a parent requires lots of deep breathing, patience and strategies for discipline. By using positive discipline, you can keep your children safe, help them develop valuable skills for life and receive the satisfaction that comes with keeping your cool.

Positive discipline techniques

The following approaches will help your child stay safe and develop self-esteem and self-control:

  • Natural consequences — This is when the unacceptable behavior causes its own punishment. For example, if your child leaves the bike in the rain, it will rust. Warn your child beforehand. If it happens anyway, resist the urge to say, "I told you so."
  • Logical consequences — Make sure the discipline and the misbehavior have some relation to each other. Say your child breaks a rule by riding a bicycle without a helmet. A logical consequence would be for you to take the bicycle away for a reasonable period of time.
  • Positive time outs — When used correctly, these give your child time to calm down and regroup. Timeouts should not be used as punishment, but as a chance for children to correct their behavior and learn from their mistakes. Tell your child to take some time to calm down, and then to let you know when he or she is ready to talk about what happened.

Stages of positive discipline

Birth to 2 years old

Try to keep your tot happy by creating a safe environment to play inside your home and by establishing routines based on your child’s needs. Use the following positive discipline techniques:

  • Redirect unwanted behavior. Infants and toddlers are too young to understand timeouts and should never be left alone. Instead, draw your child's attention to something positive.
  • Ignore misbehavior when it's safe to do so.
  • Praise your child to encourage learning, independence and positive self-esteem.
  • Show your child natural and logical consequences to teach problem solving.
  • Set a good example. Children learn more by watching adults than in any other way.
  • Give your child choices that will avoid power struggles. For example, "Would you like apple slices or raisins?" A little decision-making power can give your child a lot of confidence.
  • Try giving yourself a timeout if you think you are about to lose your patience. Step away from the situation and try to readdress it when you are back in full control.
  • Parent with the end game in mind. Look at long-term solutions that will eventually help kids make their own decisions. Show your child respect, and understand that criticizing, discouraging, blaming and shaming can cause more hurt than help.

2 to 6 years old

Children this age learn by exploring and asking questions. They’re developing language and social skills, including sharing. They may want to try simple tasks on their own and will probably learn by trying new things and taking risks. Help your preschooler by adding the following age-appropriate discipline techniques to those above:

  • Use positive timeouts when your child needs to cool off. Timeouts should be no longer than one minute for each year of your child's life. Do not give attention, but give your child comfort items to help him or her to calm down.
  • Focus on what your child should do instead of what not to do.
  • Praise good behavior rather than punish misbehavior. Rewards are fine, but not when they become more important to the child than the good behavior.
  • Establish rules, set clear limits and follow through if rules are broken.
  • Discourage tattling. Offer to listen while kids talk through their problems and use their own problem-solving skills to work things out instead of having you solve problems for them.

6 to 12 years old

Children these ages have more self-control than when they were younger, and they can follow rules, accept responsibility and make decisions. As your child gets older and develops new skills, the discipline you use should also change. Build on the positive discipline techniques already in place with the following:

  • Adjust timeouts if you find they’re becoming less effective.
  • Answer "why" questions in simple terms. Stay calm, even if you have heard “why” approximately 5,000 times that day.
  • Involve your child in the problem-solving process. If your kids constantly argue in the back seat of the car, hold a family meeting to discuss the problem. Ask both children to offer solutions. Discuss why the arguing is a distraction and a safety issue.
  • Make requests that are effective and positive. How you say something is just as important as what you say. Nagging, criticizing and threatening can be discouraging to your child. Save yourself from repeating instructions by asking kids to repeat back what you've just told them. When you do address their behavior, keep it short, or they may learn to tune you out.
  • Use more actions and fewer words. Keep explanations brief and be sure to follow through. If you tell your children that you’ll pull over if they keep arguing in the back seat, do it. Stay parked in a safe place until they stop bickering. No words are needed.

Disciplining children demands patience and stamina. In between deep breaths, remind yourself that your children's behavior issues are valuable opportunities to teach them the skills they'll need to become successful adults. Using natural and logical consequences can help children:

  • Learn from their mistakes and problem solve
  • Value themselves as individuals
  • Understand that you love and trust them

If you've tried these positive discipline strategies for several weeks without improvement, your child's doctor or the Family Advocacy Program on your installation may be able to suggest more specific ways to guide your child.