Disciplining Children

Parents face many challenges and can be pushed to their limits – especially when their children behave badly. We hope that our children will do as they are told, and behave well, but when they don’t, many parents wonder how best to discipline their child. This guide will give you some ideas of the best ways of disciplining your child and (hopefully!) avoiding bad behaviour.

What is discipline?

Discipline means giving your child rules to encourage positive behaviour and self-control. It also means explaining and showing them the consequences if they don’t follow these rules.

Sometimes people think that discipline means punishment – but this is not always the case. Discipline includes telling children how you want them to behave, offering incentives, explaining how their bad behaviour affects others, and what will happen if they don’t comply.

Discipline is very much an individual choice. You will have to find what works best in your situation. Everyone is different.

Establish rules

Set rules and boundaries for your children. These should explain how you expect them to behave.

Print out some ‘House Rules'. Be clear about the consequences if rules are broken (a lecture, no privileges or extra chores for example).

Make your rules part of family life and get relatives to maintain discipline too. Granny must know exactly what to do if the children misbehave.

Ensure that your child knows what behaviour is unacceptable.

On the positive side, reinforce good behaviour. Praise your child when they have done well. All stick and no carrot can be less effective.

Defining bad behaviour and identifying the causes

Deciding what is good and what is bad behaviour is subjective. Some parents will accept behaviour that others would not tolerate. Make sure your child knows where you stand.

See if you can find any reasons which explain bad behaviour. For example, is your child bored or hungry, or maybe jealous of a sibling? Most children will misbehave at times, but occasionally there are serious triggers, like a change in family circumstances or the loss of someone close.

Misbehaviour may be a way of gaining your attention or rebelling against your control. Your child might be going through bullying or depression. They might also have anger issues.

Keep a diary of incidents and if you are worried, talk to your school or doctor.

Things to do

  • The NSPCC’s ‘Positive Parenting’ approach offers useful strategies for disciplining children in a positive way
  • Talk to your child in a rational manner explaining how you would like them to behave and what you expect of them
  • Phrase things positively. ‘Please be quiet,’ is better than ‘Stop shouting,’ because it focuses on the good behaviour you want
  • Teach children to reflect on their bad behaviour. Get them into a routine of behaving in an appropriate manner
  • Children will imitate your behaviour and attitude, so be a good role model for them. If they witness you shouting or swearing when you’re angry, they will probably copy you
  • Remain calm and try to understand their feelings. Make sure your child knows that their opinion matters
  • Give them a practical task to teach self-discipline and to help them to control their emotions
  • A ‘time out’ area is a great idea to stop an incident escalating. Find a quiet space where they can go for a very short period of time to reflect on their behaviour. If they move, calmly ask them to go back to the space
  • Be consistent

Children seem to know exactly what to say or do to provoke a reaction and it can be a challenge to remain composed.

No hitting

Make sure you are always fair and only deliver appropriate punishments. Corporal punishment (hitting a child is) outlawed by UNESCO and other bodies.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe states that corporal punishment is a breach of children's "fundamental right to human dignity and physical integrity", and violates children's "equally fundamental right to the same legal protection as adults".

Hitting a child teaches them that violence is acceptable and it will make them fearful of you. Research suggests that smacking children causes mental health issues. A 2016 analysis of five decades of research found that spanking led to anti-social behaviour, aggression, and mental health problems.

Always refrain. Instead, walk away to defuse a potentially heated situation.

Taking privileges away

This can mean taking away a beloved toy or preventing your child doing something they like (watching TV for example) or going somewhere they want to (like a friend’s house). Take something away only for a short period of time, no longer than a few hours, or a day, at most.

This can be a useful tactic if used in the correct manner. It works especially well as a warning – before the bad behaviour occurs. Many parents wrongly employ it as punishment in the first instance of bad behaviour and don’t clearly explain to their child why a privilege has been taken away.

The privilege removed should have a connection to their behaviour. For example, if they have mistreated a toy, take the toy away for a short time. If they are incessantly shouting at a party, take them away until they stop.

Older children will feel that taking away their mobile phone, video game or computer access is the ultimate punishment. Work out what has most impact on your child. Persist and don’t back down, no matter how much they cry or plead.

Rewarding good behaviour

Praise your child when they do something positive, especially without you telling them to.

A rewards chart is a great idea. Add a sticker whenever they behave well. When they’ve reached a certain number, they could receive a treat – or just feel the satisfaction of filling a row or chart.

If one child sees another benefiting from good behaviour they will want to do the same.

And finally…

You can’t control your child through fear without damaging your child and your relationship. So use positive discipline.

Children are constantly learning – self-control and self-discipline are very valuable lessons.

  1. Many of us misunderstand exactly what discipline is. Which of the following words best describes discipline?
    Punishment, reward and advice are all aspects of discipline. They are different ways in which we can guide our children for their own safety, so they can get on well with others, and so they can control their own behaviour. It's also about instilling your values into your children
  2. One way to ensure your children know what behaviour is unacceptable is to write some 'house rules'. According to a survey published in September 2016, which of the following answers is NOT one of the ten most common house rules in British homes?
    No ball games in the garden was the 49th most popular house rule. Some families are more strict than others - just make sure that your children know what they can and cannot do
  3. Tantrums are a form of misbehaviour in most toddlers and many myths have grown up around them. Only one of the following statements is true - which?
    It is true that some children save their tantrums for one particular person (usually one of the parents) and are well behaved for other adults. The reason for this is that they feel emotionally secure with that individual and know that they will be loved even if they do throw a tantrum. Having a tantrum is an upsetting and very emotional thing!
  4. The way you talk to your child can affect their behaviour. Which of the following statements is the best phrased?
    "Please be quiet" draws attention to the behaviour you want, whereas "Stop that racket" and "Please stop shouting" both focus on the bad behaviour. "Shut up" also focuses on the desired behaviour, but it's not very polite! Children learn by example so, if you want them to be polite to you, you must first be polite to them
  5. Older children can occasionally get angry and shout at you. Which of the following should you do in such instances?
    Trying to have a rational conversation with someone whose body is pumped full of adrenaline is not going to work! Instead, it is wise to discuss their behaviour after they have calmed down. Before walking away say something like, "I can see that you are upset, so I'll let you have a 'time out' and we'll talk about this later"
  6. A 50 year study of 160,000 children showed that those who were hit by their parents were prone to how many negative effects?
    The study found that children who were spanked had lower self esteem and cognitive ability, were more aggressive and more likely to indulge in antisocial behaviour. They were also more likely to suffer from certain mental illnesses. Quite convincing evidence that spanking is not good for children!
  7. Corporal punishment has been condemned by many organisations from the UN to the EU. Despite this, what percentage of Britons support the right to smack?
    In a 2006 survey, 70% of Britons said that they smack their children. In a similar survey taken in 2012, 63% of respondents opposed any laws to protect children from smacking. The number of smacking supporters is shrinking, but very slowly
  8. Removing privileges can be an effective way to discipline children. Which age group does it work best on?
    Research by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that removing privileges has little to no effect on toddlers. It is also of little use with children younger than 8 as they do not see the connection between their behaviour and the punishment. Children over 13 place great value their some of their belongings (mobile phone for example) so removing them can be quite a firm punishment - but be cautious when dealing with college age children. They can be very independent minded!
  9. Reward charts are a good way to change the behaviour of younger children. How long should they take to fill?
    The child needs to see the goal as achievable - a year, or even a month, is a vast amount of time to a young child. We want to see a long-term change in their behaviour, so a chart that can be filled in one day is far too easy!
  10. Positive Discipline focuses on the positive points of behaviour. It is based on which premise?
    Positive Discipline reinforces good behaviour and tries to remove bad behaviour without hurting the child - with our words or our actions. Minor misbehaviour is ignored and more serious misbehaviour is punished in a calm manner. Good behaviour, on the other hand, is praised and rewarded

Author: Linda Innes

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