When Not to Discipline a Child

Are there times, occasions, and situations when I should simply "chill out" and refrain from "getting tough" with a kid who misbehaves? I'm fairly new at the parenting game, and I need all the help and advice I can get in this area. When should I not discipline my child?

Perhaps some of the most helpful advice we can give is to encourage you to relax, take one day at a time, and simply allow the parent-child relationship to unfold of its own accord.

Some of this is just a matter of common sense. To a certain extent, child discipline is more an art than a science – a skill moms and dads acquire gradually and almost imperceptibly. We’re confident that as the years go by you’ll perfect your skills in a very normal and natural way.

In the meantime, we can suggest some situations when it wouldn’t be appropriate to respond to a child’s behavior with traditional disciplinary measures:

Normal exploratory behavior in infants and toddlers

Children at this stage need the freedom to become acquainted with their environment on their own terms without getting their hands slapped. Punishing them for the mishaps they may cause in the process won’t do them any good. It’s a much better idea to “childproof” your home by keeping fragile or precious items out of their reach.

Toilet training

This will happen when the child is ready. It can’t be rushed, and you’ll only create confusion and frustration in the child’s mind if you respond to failure harshly.


This is a physiological event that is not under conscious control and will rarely (if ever) respond to rewards or punishment.

Speech problems

Delayed or garbled speech is not a character-development issue, nor does it have anything to do with willful disobedience (which is really the only kind of behavior that merits disciplinary action). Speech problems can arise from a number of complicated causes, including auditory defects, and for this reason they should be assessed by a professional who specializes in this area. Their correction may require extensive therapy and a lot of work at home.


Here again, if the behavior was neither willful nor intentional, it doesn’t really call for a disciplinary response. It would certainly be fair and appropriate to require an older child to be involved with cleanup, repair, or restitution, especially if carelessness was involved. But punishment is clearly out of place here.

Irritability and negativity specifically related to illness or extreme fatigue

Nobody should be held accountable for feeling poorly when they’re simply under the weather.

Report cards that fall short of perfection

Children should not be punished for failing to bring home straight A’s. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with setting up appropriate ground rules governing the amount of effort a child puts forth at home. For example, it’s a good idea to require kids to get their homework done before turning to fun and games.

If a child’s school performance is falling short of his or her capability, more self-discipline may be the answer, but there’s also a possibility that specific learning disabilities are involved.

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) problems

A child with ADHD may have tremendous difficulty with impulse control. He may also find it hard to learn from his mistakes, even when he wants to do the right thing. This is not to deny that, along with many other things (including perhaps medication), kids with ADHD do need discipline and training if they’re to make progress and survive in the world. Parenting a child with this particular disorder is an art and a true test of one’s patience and stamina.

Performance in sports

Dropping the ball in center field or failing to make a team shouldn’t provoke disciplinary measures at home. Quite the contrary. If the child chooses to engage in sports and cares deeply about succeeding, then parental support and encouragement can be extremely important at such times. On the other hand, if the child does not want to participate, he shouldn’t be forced to do so against his will. Compulsory participation in sports can be extremely detrimental to the child’s development of a healthy self-concept.

If you’d like to discuss this subject with a member of our staff, get in touch with Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. Our trained counselors would be more than happy to speak with you over the phone for a free consultation.


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

The Well-Behaved Child: Discipline That Really Works

Focus on the Family Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care

You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded)

Have a New Kid by Friday

The New Dare to Discipline

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

Other books on Discipline

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