How to Discipline Children

Learning how to discipline children effectively is an important and necessary skill for all parents to learn. Discipline is not a dirty word, but is often misunderstood and misused by parents, teachers, school principals and religious clergymen who do not understand that there is a difference between punishment and discipline. If you were asked the question, “What is discipline vs. punishment?”, how would you respond?

What is Discipline?

Discipline means to teach and train children family values, right from wrong, to respect the rights of others, and how they are to behave or not behave. For example, parents discipline their child to wash their hands before meals or after going to the bathroom, thus helping a child learn to become self-disciplined in these areas and how to become responsible for themselves as they get older.

Discipline is a positive parenting skill that emphasizes nurturing, guidance, teaching and training that builds a child’s self-confidence and teaches self-control and behavior management. The better you are with discipline, the less you will have to punish.

Punishment, however, is discipline after the fact to enforce proper behavior as defined by society or family. Punishment for children, toddlers or teens who have misbehaved in some way has lead to the ongoing, controversial debate over whether to spank or not to spank kids. “Spare the rod, spoil the child”?

Some parents, school officials and religious leaders feel that corporal punishment that includes spanking, whipping, paddling, caning, hitting and slapping are examples of “positive punishment”, while others have taken the position that physical punishment such as this should be outlawed and banned as nothing more than child abuse.

Discipline techniques vary in every family and culture, but there is no such thing as discipline without punishment of some kind, especially when dealing with a strong-willed child or an unruly, out-of-control teenager. As a parent, do you have the tendency to ignore the need to discipline your child when he or she is pushing and shoving another child or being a bully towards other children? Do you habitually say “Use your words!” when your child is being mean to another child, thinking that will miraculously stop the negative behavior, then do nothing to back up and enforce your own words?

Show me an undisciplined child and I’ll show you the quickest way to teach your kids to use drugs and kids that have no respect for anyone in authority, that may bring severe punishment handed out by the court system for juvenile delinquents, due to the lack of discipline taught from an early age and throughout the teen years.

How to Discipline Your Child

Disciplining children needs to take place all the time, not just when a child misbehaves. All children are different, with different temperaments and developmental levels, and the parenting style of discipline used for one child may not work on another. If you are frustrated with trying to learn how to discipline a toddler, or how to say No to your children, you are not alone.

Toddlers often say “no” or do the complete opposite of what you want them to do, like run in the other direction away from you while laughing at the same time. Understand that this is a normal phase of childhood development where children will test or resist the parents rules and limits to see if you will “practice what you preach” and do as you say you will if the child does x, y, z.

Discipline your child with consistency, love, encouragement, praise, patience and compassion, keeping in mind that a toddler may need to hear these reminders a hundred times before finally getting the message. If you give in after your strong-willed child repeatedly argues, becomes violent, throws a temper tantrum or starts hitting, kicking, cussing or screaming, then he/she learns it’s okay to repeat this negative behavior because he knows you will eventually give in, again and again. Be consistent.

“Time-outs” can be very effective for children 3 yrs old and up, but younger children being put in time-out or on a “naughty chair” may lead to frustration and confusion. Toddlers have a very short attention span so when he/she does misbehave, forget the long lecture. Give him/her a firm “no”, along with a brief explanation such as “that’s not a toy” or “no jumping on the couch/bed” and redirect the child’s attention to an acceptable activity.

Taking privileges away, especially those the child/teen most enjoys can be very effective. Simply sending a kid to their room for a period of time to “think about” what they’ve done may not bring the results you wish for, since it’s likely that they will just entertain themselves with what they have in their room and not think about anything else.

  • Avoid power struggles with your children. Don’t focus on the negatives all the time, but express your positive feelings by saying “I like how you put all your toys away” or “I like how you played with your little brother/sister today”.
  • Give your child choices and set reasonable limits on behavior. Praise your child whenever you “catch” him or her being good, like sharing their toys or picking up after themselves, and avoid being too critical.
  • Teach your child that he/she doesn’t have to behave in a negative way to get your attention, but make it easier for your children to do the right thing and behave in the way you want. That’s what discipline is for.
  • Be a good role model for your children by not yelling and screaming at your child. Put yourself in time-out if necessary, to give yourself a break and get your temper under control. Remember: Children learn what they live.
  • Encourage appropriate behavior and pick your battles. Be gentle but firm with your child. Don’t make commands you don’t intend to enforce. If you say you’re going to do it, then do it.

Parents with children of any age can learn effective discipline techniques, sometimes referred to as “win-win discipline”, by reading parenting books that deal with all types of child behaviors, behavior management and positive parenting tips.

Many of the best parenting books provide excellent tips and ideas for moms and dads dealing with discipline problems at home, and advice on how to avoid discipline problems and sibling rivalry issues. Reading a discipline book or two like 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 and Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child : Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries have helped many parents learn how to discipline children and are enjoying the benefits of a happy, healthy and peaceful home environment.

Another excellent discipline book, Parenting With Love And Logic, impresses the value of children experiencing the natural consequences of their actions (logic). The authors, Jim Fay and Charles Fay, encourage parents many times throughout the book to empathize with their children prior to disciplining (love). The ultimate goal of using the Love and Logic techniques: raise responsible children that respect authority, have a positive self-concept, and who are able to make wise independent decisions now and throughout life.

What is your opinion on the subject of spanking vs. not spanking? Do you spank your child or were you spanked while growing up? What discipline methods have you found to be effective, and which techniques were not so effective? Share your thoughts and stories by leaving a comment below.

Related Posts:
How to Say No to Children
Books on Building Self-Confidence in Children and Teens
10 Ways to Raise Children to USE Drugs
12 Rules for Raising Delinquent Children
A Child’s Ten Commandments For Parents
Improving Self-Esteem in Children
Zero Tolerance for Disrespectful, Cussing Kids
Building Self-Confidence in Children in Self-Esteem Activities

Be Sociable, Share!

30 Responses to “How to Discipline Children”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Lin says:

    Hi Evan, I apologize for the delay in approving your comment. I must disagree with your thought that there is little time for discipline because of the pace of society. Being a good mother and father requires parents to make time/take time to teach, train and discipline children regardless of other things going on their lives. There are only poor excuses as to why parents aren’t disciplining their children properly or at all. Not disciplining children from the time kids are very young, all the way to adulthood, is why there are so many problems in society today with young people getting into all sorts of trouble. There is no viable reason for not disciplining children; only lousy excuses.

  2. Evan says:

    You actually responded faster than i expected. thanks! Family matters, i understand. I agree that the discipline of our children is a choice and there shouldn’t be any excuses for not doing it. I am motivated to discipline my children because i am well aware of the consequences of not doing it. I would much rather take the time now than regret it later. I am totally convinced that moral decline in society can be traced back to the family unit. I am writing an english paper about why discipline has been neglected. I started doing research and it brought me to this site. I wanted some opinions from people that could easily relate instead of information from people who are writing about the subject just because it’s their job. So, since it’s apparent that child discipline has been neglected over the years, what do you think is one of the main reasons?

  3. Lin says:

    Hi Evan, the responses you get may depend on how you personally define “discipline”. In discussions with other parents, I often hear the word discipline being used to replace the word punishment. Discipline means to teach and train, and properly disciplining children must start from infancy to adulthood, otherwise children, teens and parents are basically….screwed because of not disciplining.

    My personal opinion about discipline being neglected for so many years is because MANY parents have the mistaken view that parents should be “friends” with their kids rather than PARENTS.

    Parents have lost sight of the clear and distinct line between parenting children and being friendly towards their kids. That is one major reason why there is such an incredible problem of entitlement in society, and why children, teens and grown adult children believe their parents “owe” them whatever their little hearts desire.

    Parents don’t know how to say no to children anymore, and even if parents do know how to say NO, they don’t anymore because “little johnny or susie won’t like me anymore” (and we just can’t possibly allow that! Sarcasm intended)

    Consider the ridiculous situation in society today with children and teens ruling their parents, telling their parents what to do or not to do, making demands on parents and completely/totally/utterly disrespectful to parents and anyone else in authority.

    The blame and responsibility for these problems rests solely on the shoulders of parents who may know HOW to be a parent but choose the less stressful and less time-consuming, easy way out.

    Then there are parents who had lousy role models for parents themselves, who may have been physically abused and go to the other extreme of not disciplining or punishing children at all out of fear of becoming abusive parents themselves. Such parents fail to realize that NO discipline and NO punishment of any kind (or what is extremely lax) is abusive in a different way, but it’s still abusive.

  4. chris says:

    This is a terrific post and I love your site! I am a ‘ tell it like it is’ person myself so I enjoy your forwardness. I think that some of the commenters here are right on the mark. The situation today is ridiculous with kids ruling the parents!! This notion of being your child ‘friend’ instead of parent is rather frustrating.

    It’s true I believe that most of society’s problems today can in fact be traced back to the deconstruction of strong family units in this country. People don’t spank their kids anymore. So the kids don’t respect the parents. Therefore the kids don’t respect their teachers because they know that they have a patsy for a parent at home. Multiply that times 200 million and you have a problem that could last for a generation or two if not corrected.

  5. Lin says:

    Hi Chris, thanks for stopping by. I’m not sure I agree that spanking kids or not spanking kids is the cause or reason for children disrespecting their parents. Spanking is only one form of discipline, while there are many other ways of disciplining children that have gotten significantly better results. Spanking children is (in my opinion) simply a parents quick and immediate reaction to a problem, and spanking is often done in anger which only makes a bad situation worse.

    It goes without saying that children that do not respect their parents or teachers (or any other authority figure) haven’t received the kind of discipline and training they needed and should have received. Consistent discipline (teaching and training), and a clear line drawn between being a child’s friend and being their parent is an absolute necessity.

  6. A really fantastic post! Lots of good advice here that people should be paying attention to. For me, the most important thing about discipline or punishment is that it must be done immediately in conjunction with the behavioral issue. You can’t punish later. The law of immediacy comes into play here, and as you said, toddlers have a low attention span. If you don’t discipline right away, they won’t unconsciously link the behaviour to the discipline.

  7. Lin says:

    Hi Chris, thanks for stopping by. You are sooo right, discipline or punishment must be immediate. That old saying “Just wait until your father gets home” for dear ol dad to hand out the discipline doesn’t work.

  8. Mathew says:

    Being consistent is such a daily struggle for me. I have never been consistent, organized, structured in my life – I think my two boys are the best thing that happened to me for many reasons – getting my own life on track for their sake is just one of them.


  1. […] age-appropriate boundaries for their children and teenagers, as well as providing needed discipline and consequences for inappropriate attitudes and behaviors, rather than parenting with empty threats where kids […]

  2. […] My mother insisted upon knowing where we were at all times. You’d think we were on a chain gang. She had to know who our friends were and where we were going. She insisted if we said we’d be gone an hour, that we be gone one hour or less–not one hour and one minute. I am nearly ashamed to admit it, but she actually struck us. Not once, but each time we had a mind of our own and did as we pleased. That poor belt was used more on our seats than it was to hold up Daddy’s pants. Can you imagine someone actually hitting a child just because he disobeyed? Now you can begin to see how mean she really was. (How to Discipline Children) […]