Disciplining the Elementary School Child

Can you provide me with some general principles and guidelines for responding to behavioral problems in a school-age child? What are some effective methods for disciplining kids at this stage of development?

If your elementary-age child is acting out or misbehaving, the first thing you need to do is to find out what’s driving the disobedience. Cultivate an awareness of your child’s feelings, his personality type (compliant, defiant, strong-willed, shy, etc.) and the day-to-day details of his life at home and at school. Take time to talk about any fears and anxieties that may be hiding behind his defiant exterior. Draw him out by asking questions like, “How do you feel about yourself?” or “Finish the following sentence: I am ___.” You can let your child know that you’re on his team if you simply express concern for his well-being and teach him some basic skills for managing negative emotions and maintaining positive relationships with other people.

As you go through this process, emphasize the idea that good behavior is all about becoming a valuable and contributing member of the family. Instead of harping on negatives, teach your child how to have positive relationships with other people and enable him to think in terms of service to the larger community. Pick your battles wisely. In particular, don’t turn grades and school performance into matters for disciplinary action. This is largely counterproductive in that it tends to instill a hatred of school into a child’s mind. As an alternative, teach sound time-management skills.

When it becomes necessary to deal with disobedience, take care to ensure that the consequences are appropriate to the behavior. A child should not be punished for behavior that is not willfully defiant. The most important step in any disciplinary approach is to establish reasonable expectations in advance. The child should know what is and what is not acceptable before he is held responsible for those rules. Remember that, for the most part, spankings don’t work very well at this stage in a child’s development, and that their ineffectiveness can actually escalate the situation and lead to abuse. As alternatives to corporal punishment, we recommend time-outs, the suspension of privileges (such as computer- or TV-time) or the temporary confiscation of a favorite game or toy.

On the other side of the coin, it’s equally important to “catch your child being good” and to recognize any attempt on his part to cooperate and observe the rules of the household. We’re not thinking here in terms of rewards, which can promote selfishness if offered in excess, but rather of family celebrations. A good way to do this is to place a glass jar in a prominent place and allow your child to put a marble in the jar every time he does something you want him to do. Then, when the jar is full, you can celebrate by planning a family outing or devising a creative way to get involved in serving friends and neighbors as a parent-child team.

It’s crucial to add that these recommendations probably won’t work if your child is dealing with mental or emotional issues such as ADHD or Anxiety Disorder. In that case, you will need to learn and implement a whole different set of disciplinary measures. For assistance in this area we strongly recommend that you seek the counsel of a trained professional. Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department can provide you with a list of qualified Christian family therapists practicing in your area. They would also enjoy discussing your concerns with you over the phone. Call our counselors for a free consultation.

If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Have a New Kid by Friday

The New Dare to Discipline

The New Strong-Willed Child

Boundaries With Kids: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life

Other books on Discipline

John Rosemond: Parenting with Love and Leadership

Family and Home Network


Effective Biblical Discipline

Early Childhood (ages 4-8) and Tween (ages 9-12) landing pages


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