Disciplining Children


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Discipline can be a major source of disagreement between parents and caregivers and a house without discipline is stressful and chaotic. Consistent discipline is very important to children in early childhood as it:

  • Helps them to self-regulate (manage their own behavior)
  • Prevents later behavior problems
  • Leads to better school adjustment
  • Provides a more enjoyable and less stressful environments

Discipline does not mean spanking, and a lack of spanking does not mean the absence of discipline. Research has shown that spanking is more likely to lead to later behavior problems. Spanking has been linked to a greater likelihood of cheating, lying, bullying, fighting in school, breaking things, trouble getting along with teachers, lack of remorse, and child to parent violence in adolescence.  Yelling as a way of discipline has been linked to developmental problems.

Even though most people do not agree with spanking, most parents report spanking. Why? Some people may spank because they lack a positive alternative. Positive discipline strategies are alternatives to spanking, yelling, and hitting with objects that can actually help with the healthy development of the child. Positive discipline strategies lead to better focus, respect, communication, self-worth, and self-control in children.

  • Establish family rules: e.g., no hitting and getting to bed on time (young children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep including nap time).
  • Use praise for positive behavior and ignore minor negative behaviors.
  • Model the type of behavior you want your children to develop – keep your cool!
  • Try to understand the meaning behind the behavior – what is going on emotionally/physically?
  • Time out from reinforcement or stimulation – let the child sit quietly away from toys and attention – about one minute for each year of age.
  • Redirect – offer a positive behavior to replace misbehavior or distract the child.
  • Empathic engagement – use reasoning to point out how the child’s behavior makes others feel.
  • Be realistic – show understanding for the child’s developmental ability for control.
  • Spend quality time each day focused on your child and doing something your child enjoys.

Discipline needs to be consistent from moms, dads, grandparents, significant others, and all caregivers of the child. If discipline remains a challenge, ask your child’s teacher or pediatrician for ideas and support. Positive discipline strategies take time and may not seem as immediately effective as spanking or yelling; however, it is the best long-term investment you can make!

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