Does time-out as a discipline approach harm your child? Can time-in really help improve your child’s behavior? Is there a secret to effectively disciplining your child?
Child discipline issues are among the most common problems parent face. These could look anything like:
- Your son will not listen and won’t respond when spoken to
- Your daughter refuses to do whatever is expected of her
- Your child has frequent tantrums and meltdowns
- Your son displays aggressive behavior
- Your children respond with a “no” or a “not now” any time they are asked to do something
- Your daughter is disrespectful
- Your son refuses to eat, stay in bed or get dressed
Why is discipline important for a child?
Discipline has nothing to do with punishment. We now know that punitive discipline methods teach your child fear. Science says that environments characterized by harsh physical and verbal punishment can increase problem behavior, make your child more dishonest, and lead to psychological problems. Discipline is about teaching appropriate behavior; punishment is about control.
The primary function of discipline is to help your child understand behavioral expectations and consequences. Ultimately, effective discipline is about teaching your child to behave in a certain way, even in your absence; it is about teaching them self-discipline.
How to discipline young kids effectively
Children around the same age tend to behave the same. We know that their behavior is often guided by their stage of development. This explains why certain discipline strategies that work with toddlers may be a complete and utter failure with older children.
Understanding the behavior to expect depending on your child’s age is a first step toward helping you manage their behavior more appropriately. But it is not just a matter of age. Children develop at different rhythms, and as the psychologist and biologist Jean Piaget says, your child’s developmental stage matters more than their chronological age.
An age by age guide to responding to your child’s inappropriate behavior more appropriately
Inappropriate behavior of 0-2-year-old children
Tantrums, screaming, hitting, biting, throwing things, sleep issues, “no” responses, and picky eating are all typical toddler behavior issues. Most of the behavior issues at this stage can be explained by the fact that your child is yet to learn the expected social norms and is unable to differentiate between safe and unsafe behavior. This is why they will have difficulty understanding why they cannot do things “their way”.
This is also a period of emotional upheaval when, toward age two, they begin experiencing strong emotions such as frustration and fear.
The best way to discipline a 0 to 2 year old
- Give short instructions to manage your child’s behavior
It is normal to try and explain to your child why they should not grab toys from their friends, but “moral lessons” do not work with young children. At this stage, your child wants what they want, when they want it, and they do not understand why they should not get it. Using firm, short and specific commands is more effective at this stage: “No grabbing”, “no hitting”, “no biting”.
2. Using distraction techniques can help you deal more effectively with your child’s problem behavior
Distraction is an effective discipline approach that can help you shift your child’s attention away from inappropriate behavior. Although this approach is not appropriate for dangerous or harmful behavior, it can help you deal with minor behavioral issues. For example, if your child keeps going under the table when you are visiting friends, you can propose a drawing, a mandala, or even play dough to distract her.
Inappropriate behavior of 2-6-year-old children
Meltdowns, explosive outbursts, tears, clinginess, and opposition are common behavior traits in the ages between two and six. Most of your child’s behavior at this stage is driven by their inability to manage strong emotions effectively.
One of the reasons that explains why emotion-driven behavior so closely mimics problem behavior is because emotions are invisible. A child struggling with difficult emotions such as frustration or anxiety is more likely to lash out or to act inappropriately in an attempt to deal with emotion-provoking situations.
How to effectively discipline your 2-to-6-year-old
- Emotion coaching can help reduce your child’s inappropriate behavior
We now know that emotions drive behavior. We also know that without the tools to manage strong emotions, your child is likely to react in a socially inappropriate manner. What this means is that giving them the tools to manage their emotions is an important first step that may greatly reduce problem behavior. This means teaching your child to understand their emotions and those of others, helping them understand what triggers those emotions, and gradually helping them learn to deal with difficult emotion-provoking situations by themselves.
It is never too early to start talking to your child about emotions. As they approach age two, taking advantage of the characters in books is an easy way to get the conversation about emotions started; “she looks really sad, I wonder what can make her feel better/what do you think can make her feel better?” Helping your child verbalize their own emotions, and talking about your own emotions, is an easy way to help them understand that emotions are normal and manageable.
2) Focusing on positive behavior helps reduce negative behavior
Research in child development has shown that one of the most effective ways of dealing with child behavior problems is to focus on positive behavior. We now know that “catching your child being good” can help correct his behavior, irrespective of whether the behavior in question relates to “normal misbehavior” issues such as not listening, refusing to do chores or homework, frequent tantrums and refusal to follow instructions, or more “serious” child discipline issues such as aggressive or verbally inappropriate behavior.
There is no doubt that positive reinforcement works, but it can only work if it is implemented the right way. Here are three things that will increase your chances of success:
Focus on the behavior you want to see: Instead of focusing on your child’s problem behavior, focus on the behavior that you want to see. The clearer your behavioral expectations, the easier you make it for your child to understand what is expected of them.
Praise more than you criticize: In the 1970s, two relationship experts, Gottman and Levenson sought to understand what made some couples stay together and pushed other couples to divorce. They found that the perfect ratio to a happy relationship is 5 to 1, meaning that to develop strong and positive relationships, each negative interaction requires at least five positive interactions. The parent-child relationship works more or less along the same lines. The more you notice your child’s positive behavior, the higher the chances that that behavior will be repeated.
Reinforce positive behavior as soon as it occurs: Reinforcing positive behavior as soon as it occurs helps your child make the connection between their actions/behavior and the positive feedback.
Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective discipline strategies capable of reducing or eliminating the most problematic behavior in children, but it can only work if it is applied effectively. The Positive Behavior Kit walks you through the effective application of this discipline strategy and highlights the pitfalls to avoid.
Inappropriate behavior of 6- to 10-year-old children
As your child grows older, they will increasingly challenge your authority because of a greater need for autonomy. Insults, lies, disrespect, aggressivity and hyperactivity are some of the common behavior issues you are likely to struggle with if your child is between six and ten.
Highly effective discipline methods for 6 to 10 year olds
- Give your child a voice
Science says that encouraging your child to participate in the decision-making process is a powerful tool that can help reduce inappropriate behavior. We now know that the more your child feels responsible for the decisions taken, the higher the chances that they will respect those decisions. That is why researchers suggest that using parent-controlled processes to transfer autonomy to your child as they grow older can make it easier to control their behavior.
Concretely, this means setting limits or providing a broad structure then letting your child act within those limits/structure. Let’s take the example of homework – a parent-controlled process can look like specifying by what time homework should be done – “before 6p.m”, or “before watching TV” or “before your videogame”, then letting your child decide by themselves when to do the homework.
2) Use consequence-based discipline
Consequence-based discipline is an effective discipline approach at this stage. As your child grows older, it is important that they understand that positive or negative behavior always has consequences. Having clear behavioral expectations and establishing rational consequences for inappropriate behavior is therefore decisive for the success of this approach. Your child should always know the consequences of specific misbehavior, and those consequences should be consistently applied to reduce or eliminate negative behavior.
Learning to effectively discipline your child is not about finding the “best discipline strategy”. It is about understanding your child’s behavior, clearly identifying behavioral expectations and consequences, and arming yourself with different tools and strategies to deal with inappropriate behavior more effectively.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and one approach that works in one context can fail miserably in a different context. The Discipline Bundle is filled with useful discipline tips and strategies designed to help you create your own “discipline toolbox” that you can use in different contexts, and with different children, to manage misbehavior.
Disciplining children: 7 rules that work for all ages
No discipline approach will work for all kids and for all discipline issues. That said, we now know that effective discipline approaches all share the same characteristics. Here are seven rules that make discipline work:
Rule 1: Love and discipline go together: Discipline is not synonymous with punishment. Disciplining a child is about teaching them appropriate behavior. Show empathy. Hug or touch your child. Show them that you understand their feelings: “I know this makes you sad…”
Rule 2: Don’t sweat the small stuff: Kids will be kids and it is unfair to expect them to act like “small adults”. Not everything requires your attention. Pick your battles.
Rule 3: Create your “discipline toolbox”: You cannot use the same discipline approach for each of your children and for each behavioral issue. Being aware of several effective strategies can make it easier to deal with your child’s inappropriate behavior. The Discipline Bundle will help you determine an appropriate strategy to deal with your child’s problem behavior.
Rule 4: Do not react in the heat of the moment: Reacting in the heat of the moment often leads to regrets. Yelling might get you immediate results, but not necessary the ones you seek. Take a pause before you react to your child’s problem behavior. Do whatever works for you – take a physical or mental break, count to 10, count backwards from 20, deep breathing exercises – before you react.
Rule 5: Bonding can help reduce your child’s problem behavior: Increasing evidence suggests that the children who repeatedly behave badly do so because of “broken ties”. This means strengthening your parent-child bond can help reduce problem behavior. The good news is that putting aside even a few minutes a day to do a simple activity with your child can go a long way in improving his behavior. Here is a FREE 30-DAY CHALLENGE to help you get started.
Rule 6: Strengthen your support network: It can be hard to deal with your child’s behavior if you are feeling alone and unsupported. If you are feeling overwhelmed, talk about it. Find someone in your circle to whom you can open up to – you will be surprised to find that you are not alone!
Strengthening your support network may also mean talking to a therapist who can help you determine the best strategy to deal with your child’s inappropriate behavior.
Rule 7: Do not wait for issues to escalate: To prevent behavior escalation, it is important to “nip it in the bud” whenever possible. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to manage difficult behavior.
When should you worry about your child’s inappropriate behavior
Problem behavior in kids is normal. But sometimes it’s not. And it’s not always easy to tell whether your child’s behavior is simply a way of expressing big emotions or is something you need to be worried about. In one study, researchers wanted to know whether there are differences in the temper tantrums displayed by healthy children and those displayed by kids with clinical problems. They wanted to differentiate between “normal tantrums” and “abnormal tantrums”. The researchers asked the caregivers of 279 three-to six-year olds to complete a Preschool-Age Psychiatric Assessment which they then used to measure tantrum behaviors. They found that there are different “tantrum patterns” between “healthy”, “depressed” and “disruptive” children.
Tantrums in children are normal, especially in certain specific situations. For example, your child is more likely to have a tantrum when they are hungry or tired. That said, although temper loss is a common occurrence in children, there are a few things that may point to a need for intervention when they occur every day or during several days a week:
- Violent behavior
- Repeated tantrums per day
- Intense tantrums
- Disproportionate behavior
- Frequent reports from school about your child’s out of control behavior
- Difficulty recovering from tantrums
- Aggressive behavior toward inanimate objects
- Self-harmful tantrum behaviors
Here is a FREE PRINTABLE derived from the cited study to help you better analyze your child’s tantrum behavior.
Understanding your child’s triggers and reacting with love will make it easier to deal with their inappropriate behavior more effectively.