Disciplining your Child
- Ages 0-2
- Ages 3-5
- Ages 6-8
- Ages 9-12
- Ages 13 and up
- A word about spanking
- Controlling misbehavior
- What to do when your child is out of control
preschooler throws a fit? How can you get your adolescent to respect your authority? Find out here how to vary your approach to discipline to best fit your family.
Whatever the age of your child, it's important to be consistent in disciplining your child. If you don't stick to the rules and consequences that you set up, your child isn't likely to either.
Timeouts can be effective discipline for toddlers. A child who has been hitting, biting, or throwing food, for example, should be told why that behavior is unacceptable and taken to a designated timeout area - a kitchen chair or bottom stair - for a minute or two to calm down (longer timeouts are not effective for toddlers).
It's important to not spank, hit, or slap a child of any age. Babies and toddlers are especially unlikely to be able to make any connection between their behavior and physical punishment. They will only feel the pain of the hit.
And don't forget, kids learn by watching adults, particularly their parents. Make sure your behavior is role-model material. You will make a much stronger impact on your child if he sees you putting your belongings away, too, rather than if you just tell him or her to pick up the toys while you leave your stuff strewn across the kitchen counter.
The earlier parents can set up this kind of "I set the rules and you're expected to listen or accept the consequences," the better for everyone. Although it's sometimes easier for parents to ignore occasional bad behavior or fail to follow through on some threatened punishment, this risks setting a bad precedent. Consistency is the key to effective discipline. It's important for parents to decide together what the rules are and then be consistent in upholding them.
At the same time you become clear on what behaviors will be punished, don't forget to reward good behaviors. And don't underestimate the positive effect that your praise can have on your child. Discipline is not just about punishment. Parents need to remember to recognize good behavior.
For example, you could say, "I'm proud of you for sharing your toys at playgroup." This is usually more effective than punishing a child for the opposite behavior - not sharing. And be specific when praising your child; don't just say, "Good job!"
Timeouts also can work well for children at this stage. Establish a suitable timeout place that is free of distractions and will force your child to think about how he or she has behaved. Remember, getting sent to your room may have meant something in the days before computers, TVs, and video games were stored there. Don't forget to consider the length of time that will best suit your child. Experts say 1 minute for each year of age is a good rule of thumb to follow; others recommend using the timeout until the child is calmed down (to teach self-regulation).
It's important to tell your child what the right thing to do is, not just to tell your child what not to do. For example, instead of telling your child: "Don't jump on the couch," you may want to say: "Please sit on the furniture and put your feet on the floor."
Again, consistency is crucial, as is following through. Make good on any promises of discipline or else you will risk undermining your authority. Kids have to believe that you mean what you say. This is not to say you can't give second chances or allow your child a certain margin of error, but for the most part, you should follow through with what you say.
Be careful not to make unrealistic threats of punishment ("Slam that door and you'll never watch TV again!") in anger, since not following through could weaken all your threats. If you threaten to turn the car around and go home if the squabbling in the backseat doesn't stop, make sure you do exactly that. The lost day at the beach is much less valuable than the credibility you'll gain with your kids.
For example, if your fifth grader has not done his or her homework before bedtime, should you make him or her stay up or help him finish? Probably not, since you'll be missing an opportunity to teach your child something about life. If he or she doesn't do homework earlier, your child will go to school without it the next day and suffer the resulting bad grade.
It's natural for you to want to rescue your child from any mistakes, but in the long run you'll be doing your child more of a favor if you let him or her fail sometimes. Your child will see what behaving improperly can mean, and will probably not make those mistakes again. However, if your child does not seem to be learning from natural consequences, you should set up your own consequences to help him modify his behavior more effectively.
Make sure to set up rules regarding homework, visits by friends, curfews, and dating and discuss them beforehand with your teenager so there will be no misunderstandings. Your teen, although he or she will probably complain from time to time, will realize that you are in control. Believe it or not, teens still want and need you to set limits and enforce order in their lives, even as you grant them greater freedom and responsibility.
When your teen does break a rule, taking away privileges may seem to be the best plan of action. While it's fine to take away the car for a week, for example, be sure to discuss with your child why coming home an hour past curfew is unacceptable and worrisome.
It's also important to give a teenager some control over life. Not only will this limit the number of power struggles you may have, it will help your teen to respect the decisions you must make for him or her. With a younger teen, you could allow him or her to make his or her own decisions concerning school clothes, hair styles, or even the condition of his or her room. As your teen gets older, that realm of control might be extended to include an occasional relaxed curfew.
It's also important to focus on the positives. For example, have your child earn a later curfew by demonstrating positive behavior, rather than giving your teen an earlier curfew as punishment for irresponsible behavior.
- Spanking teaches children that it's OK to hit when they're angry.
- Spanking can physically harm children.
- Rather than teaching children how to change their behavior, spanking makes them fearful of
their parents and teaches them merely to avoid getting caught.
- In the case of children who are looking for attention by acting out, spanking may inadvertently "reward" children by giving them attention - negative attention is better than no attention at all.
The tantrums and outbursts of a child who has no self-control can rile even the most patient of parents. Whether you're in the middle of a crowded grocery store, at a holiday dinner with extended family, or even at home, these fits can be extremely frustrating. But they may be a little easier to handle if your child learns a sense of self-control, how to make choices about how to respond to a situation, instead of just relying on impulses.
By exercising self-control, your child can learn to make appropriate decisions and respond to stressful situations in ways that will be more likely to have positive outcomes.
Here are a few suggestions on how you can help your child learn to control his or her behavior:
- birth to age 2: Infants and toddlers frequently get frustrated because there's a large gap
between the things they want to do and what they are actually able to do. They often respond to those frustrations with temper tantrums. You may be able to prevent your child from having an outburst by distracting him or her with toys or other activities. By the time your child is 2 years old, you may want to use a brief time-out (when your child is taken to a designated timeout area - a kitchen chair or bottom stair - for a minute or 2 to calm down) to show that there are consequences for outbursts. Time-outs can also teach your child that it's best to take some time alone in the face of frustration, instead of throwing a temper tantrum.
- ages 3 to 5: At this stage, you may want to continue to use time-outs. But rather than sticking to a specific time limit, it's a good idea to end time-outs as soon as your child has calmed down. This can be an effective way to encourage your child to improve his or her sense of self-control. It's also a good idea to praise your child for not losing control in situations that are frustrating or difficult.
- ages 6 to 9: As your child enters school, he or she will likely be able to understand the idea of consequences and that he or she can choose good or bad behavior. It may help your child to imagine a stop sign that he or she needs to obey and think about a situation before
responding. You may want to encourage your child to walk away from a frustrating situation for a few minutes to cool off instead of having an outburst.
- ages 10 to 12: Older children are typically able to better understand their feelings. Encourage your child to think about the situation that is causing him or her to lose control and then analyze it. You may want to explain to your child that sometimes the situations that are upsetting at first don't end up being as awful as they first seem. You may want to urge your child to take some time to think before responding to a situation.
- ages 13 to 17: At this point, your child should be able to control most of his or her actions. But you may need to remind your teen to think about long-term consequences of his or her actions. Continue to urge your teen to take time to evaluate upsetting situations before responding to them. Also encourage your child to talk through troubling situations rather than losing control, slamming doors, or yelling. At this point you may need to discipline your child by taking away certain privileges, for example, to reinforce the message that self-control is an important skill.
If your child frequently loses control and is continually argumentative, antisocial, or impulsive or if tantrums last for more than 10 minutes on a regular basis, you may want to talk to your child's doctor.
For school-age children, you may want to also talk to the doctor if the tantrums are accompanied by the following behaviors:
- difficulty in concentrating
- low self-esteem
- declining performance in school