Approaches to Discipline

This is a close-up of a young lad's face as he looks directly into the camera with a pensive glance.

All parents seek disciplinary techniques that work. However, not all techniques work for all ages or for all children. Use this list as a guide for age-appropriate discipline.

Distraction. Infants (birth to 18 months) typically do not need strong disciplinary measures. When babies "misbehave" they are often exploring and testing their boundaries. Simply directing a baby's attention elsewhere may solve the problem.

Time-Out. Many parents use time-out for all behaviors all the time. However, for time-out to work, it should be used as one tool in an arsenal of other discipline techniques for ages 2 to 8. Some basic guidelines for time-out include:

  • Make it short — 1 minute for each year of your child's age.
  • Eliminate reinforcers. Your child should not be able to play, watch television, etc.
  • Use a timer. Restart the time if your child leaves time-out.
  • Use other discipline techniques if time-out does not work.

Removal of privileges. Taking away toys, activities or outings can be an effective way to manage inappropriate behavior for children ages 18 months and older. To make sure this technique works for you:

  • Choose a meaningful privilege that your child will greatly miss.
  • Follow through on warnings to remove privileges.
  • Remove the item for a short amount of time (differs by age — several hours for a 2-year-old but several days for a 12-year-old).

Natural consequences. Parents do not need to get involved in order for natural consequences to take effect. For example, if your child refuses to eat dinner, instead of developing a power struggle, allow her to go to bed without eating. She will naturally be hungry in the morning and will be certain to eat. (Appropriate for children 2 and older.)

Logical Consequences. This is a punishment that fits the crime. Suppose your child throws a ball in the house and breaks a vase. She could be asked to work off the value of the vase or use her allowance to buy a new one.

Spanking. Spanking typically works best with ages 2 to 6. It should be used only for specific, purposeful misbehavior and should never be done in anger. As with other techniques, spanking should be used as one of many discipline tools.

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