5 Key Principles for Effective Childhood Discipline


We know our children need discipline, and we know we need to do it. But what do we do? Do we do time outs? For how long? If I spank my child is that child abuse? It seems that other parents know what to do, but I feel lost. How do I discipline my child?

Hardly a day goes by in which I do not answer one of these questions. Parents get conflicting advice from parents, web sites, friends and family members and as a result can be paralyzed with confusion. Here are 5 key principles for effective discipline. 

  1. Discipline needs to be planned in advance. Good decisions are rarely made in the moment. Have discussions with your spouse about what behaviors you will discipline and the methods you will use. By planning in advance you will take emotion out of the equation make a better decision.
  2. Discipline needs to be consistently applied. Children need to have clear and consistent boundaries. If it is wrong to do something on Monday it needs to be wrong on Wednesday and Saturday as well. If it is wrong when Mommy is watching it needs to be wrong when Daddy is watching as well.
  3. Never Discipline in Anger. This is a big deal. Whatever method you use to discipline your child, if you discipline in anger you are harming you child and will discipline poorly. If you find yourself angry. STOP! Step away and gather yourself.
  4. Make sure the child knows why they are being disciplined. Concisely and clearly tell the child what they are doing wrong.
  5. Do not over explain or justify your discipline. I often tell parents that moms and dads come in two varieties. One parent will take the child aside and say, “Mommy/Daddy loves you very much and does not want you to hurt yourself. If you play with something made of glass it might break and you could hurt yourself. I do not want you to hurt yourself so I am going to give you a timeout, okay?” The other parent takes away the glass object, puts it out of reach and says, “I said No!, don't touch. Do what mommy/daddy says!” Guess which parent the child is more likely to obey? It is good to train children early that they need to obey, even if they do not fully understand. When they become teenagers, this will be invaluable!

With this in mind, How do you discipline? Let's review the common approaches.

1- “Time-out” This can be very effective for some children. The underlying principle is that removal from personal contact can be a negative reinforcement. If you choose this method, it is important to respond quickly when the bad behavior occurs, as the negative reinforcement is most effective when it rapidly follows the behavior.

2- Corporal Punishment. Using a spank or another form of discomfort to communicate displeasure. I am not someone who believes that a single swat on a diapered bottom is child abuse, but I do believe that parents need to be very cautious when applying physical discipline. Repeated swats are never appropriate. If your goal is pain or suffering, you are abusing your child. If you are angry, you may be abusing your child. If it is used, corporal punishment to not be the first response. If you are unsure, don't.

Question- What form of discipline is best?

Answer- The one that works. At its root, discipline means to teach or instruct. If the behavior is not improving, then you are not disciplining, you are punishing. If your response is not working, reevaluate and ask for help. When my daughter was 5 time-outs did not work at all. We changed and started putting her favorite toys in timeout instead. When her favorite “dress up” toys were in timeout for a week her behavior began to change!

Have any discipline suggestions that you found successful? Share them in the comments. Like this post? Please share it with your friends! Want to receive posts automatically in your email? Click the link! Scroll down on a mobile device or upper right on your desktop.