Whatever the age of your child, it’s important to be consistent when it comes to discipline. If you don’t stick to  rules and their consequences your children are not going to do so either.

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To many people, discipline means punishment. But, actually, “to discipline” means “to teach”. Rather than punishment, discipline should be seen as a positive way of helping and guiding children to achieve self-control. Parents are the child’s first teachers. The purpose of discipline, is to teach children acceptable behavior so that they will make informed decisions when dealing with situations and problems.

Discipline helps children to:

  • Think and act in an orderly manner
  • Understand the logical consequences of their actions
  • Learn common rules that everyone lives by, such as respect for others’ property
  • Learn the values that are held by their family and community.

Ages 0 to 2

Babies and toddlers are naturally curious.They learn by watching adults, particularly their parents. Don’t do anything you do not want your baby to do. And it’s wise to eliminate temptations. Keep all items such as TVs and video equipment, stereos, jewelry, cleaning supplies, medicines etc out of reach.

A crawling baby may be old enough to make mischief, but it is not old enough to learn the difference between right and wrong. Real discipline — the kind that teaches lessons and changes behaviors — will have to wait.

Even though your baby can’t grasp discipline, this is a great time to start practising that will work in the months and years to come. When your crawling baby or roving toddler heads toward an unacceptable or dangerous play object, calmly say “No” and either remove your child from the area or distract him or her with an appropriate activity.

Timeouts can be effective discipline for toddlers. A child who has been hitting, biting, or throwing food, for example, should be told why the behavior is unacceptable and taken to a designated timeout area from which it cannot move out, for a minute or two to calm down (longer timeouts are not effective for toddlers).

It’s important to not  hit, or slap a child of any age. Babies and toddlers are especially unlikely to be able to make any connection between their behavior and physical punishment. They will only feel the pain of the hit.

Age 3 to 5

As your child grows and begins to understand the connection between actions and consequences, make sure you start communicating the rules of your family’s home. Again, remember that you have to be a role model. You’ll make a much stronger impression by putting your own belongings away rather than just issuing orders to your child to pick up toys while your stuff is left strewn around.

Explain to kids what you expect of them before you punish them for a certain behavior. For instance, if the child scribbles on the wall don’t yell, shout, ot beat the child. Tell the child why it is not allowed and what will happen if he/she does it again (e.g. “If you do it again you will have to help clean the wall and will not be able to use the crayons for the rest of the day). If the wall gets decorated again a few days later, issue a reminder that crayons are for paper only and then enforce the consequences.

The earlier that parents establish rules and consequences for breaking them, the better for everyone. It is  important for parents to discuss and decide together on the rules nad enforce them consistently. Chuildren are very quick to spot inconsistencies, and identify the lenient parent, to get away with what is not allowed. Once you allow this to happen, then mre and more rules get broken with the child taking shelter with the lenient parent, till it becomes a problem of indiscipline. .

Do not focus on bad behaviour. As far as possible minimise attention to bad behaviour. Focus more on good behavior. Discipline is not just about punishment for bad behaviour but also about recognizing good behavior. Be specific when praising good behaviour; Don’t just say, “Good job!”, but “You are really good. I am happy that you are sharing your toy”

Timeouts also can work well for kids at this age. Establish a suitable timeout place (child’s room, corner of a room, or a “thinking chair”) that’s free of distractions and will force your child to think about how he or she has behaved. Remember, time out doesn’t have an impact if a TV, computer, or video games are there.

The length of “time out” varies. For minor inractions 1 minute for each year of age is a good rule of thumb. For more severe infractions / tantrums etc, the child should remain in timeout until the child is calmed down (to teach self-regulation).

It’s important to tell child what to do, rather than what not to do. Say “darling, sit on the chair with your feet on the floor.”, instead of shouting ” “Don’t jump on the chair,”

Ages 6 to 8

Timeouts and consequences are effective discipline strategies for this age group. Consistency is crucial, as is follow-through. If you promise the child something make sure you do it. Otherwise the child will begin to suspect you and stop obeying you because you are cheating. If you promises a consequence, be sure to follow through or the child will realise that it is only an empy threat and stop obeying you. Your child has to believe that you mean what you say. If you want to give second chances or allow a certain margin of error, explain to the child that that is wnat you are doing and that you are not just letting it off.

Be careful not to make unrealistic threats of punishment in anger, since not following through could weaken all your threats.Huge punishments may take away your power as a parent. If you take away the TV privilege for a month your child may not feel motivated to change behaviors because the most important motivation has already been taken away. Also, the punishment should suit the infraction.

Discipline Tips

  1. Set a good example. You are the role model for your children. For example, if you want to teach your child that physical violence is not the way to resolve conflicts or problems, then don’t use physical punishment.
  2. Set limits, but be careful not to impose too many rules. Before making a rule, ask yourself: Is it necessary? Does the rule protect a child’s health and safety? Does it protect the rights or property of others? Too many rules are hard, if not impossible, to enforce.
  3. Keep rules simple and understandable.
  4. Involve children as much as possible in making family rules. They are less likely to break rules that they have helped establish.
  5. Explain to your child what happens when rules are broken. If you and your 4-year-old son agree that he shouldn’t cross the street alone, and he breaks this rule, be ready to enforce the consequences.
  6. Act quickly when a child misbehaves. Don’t let a problem build up over time.
  7. Be consistent. This way a child always knows what will happen if he or she does not follow the rules.
  8. Discuss, and reach an understanding, with your spouse on the methods to be adopted. This will help ensure that the disciplining is across-the-board. Do not undermine your spouse in your child’s presence.
  9. Some rules may work when a child is young, but as children get older, they need and want more independence. Encourage independence and responsibility.
  10. Help your child develop self-control. Young children do not have the self-control needed to follow all the rules all of the time. A 5-year-old may not have the self-control needed not to take a biscuit from the jar before dinner. To help the child resist, a parent can move the jar out of sight or offer a snack that is allowed.
  11. Praise a child for good behaviour and accomplishments. Let the child know you appreciate his or her efforts.
  12. Offer positive suggestions. Avoid criticism and nagging. Criticism and nagging can cause your child to become resentful or angry.
  13. Issues related to discipline should be conducted in private. Do not publicly humiliate your child.
  14. Tell your children how much you love them. When they misbehave, let them know it is their behaviour that you dislike, not them.

Ages 9 to 12

As your child matures and becomes more independent and responsibile, teachinghim/her to deal with the consequences of their behavior is an effective and appropriate method of discipline. For example, if the homework isn’t done before bedtime, don’tmake the child stay up to do it or even lend a hand yourself. If the homework is incomplete, your child will go to school the next day without it and suffer the resulting consequences. It is more important to teach a key life lesson. than to get the homework done. 

It is natural for you to want to protect your child from mistakes and their consequences (especially mistakes that you made as a child yourself). But in the long run it is better to allow the child to make the mistake and suffer tyhe consequences and learn the lesson the hard way so that the child realises the consequence of behaving improperly  and probably won’t repeat the mistake. However, if your child does not seem to be learning from natural consequences, you will then have to set up some of your own to help modify the behavior.

Ages 13 and Up

By now you should have laid the groundwork. Your child knows what’s expected and that you mean what you say about the penalties for bad behavior. Now is the crucial period, when the teen ager starts testing you. Don’t wait for the teenager to start missing homework for friends, have sleep overs or a boistrous time with friends, or start staying out late before setting down the rules. Set up the  rules and discuss them with your child beforehand so there will be no misunderstandings. Your adolescent will probably complain from time to time, but also will realize that you’re in control. Remember that teenagers still want you to set limits and enforce order in their lives, even as they want greater freedom and responsibility.

When your teen breaks a rule, taking away privileges may seem the best plan of action. But each time you do so discuss why you are doing it, and how the undesrable behaviour is affecting you and the family. Remember, that you have to make the teenager feel that he/she is in control. Discussing the consequence of coming home very late after going out for a friend’s birthday party, and explaining that it makes you anxious and sleepless and worried, and that your happiness is in your child’s hands, may have a greater impact that cutting off the pocket money and limit the number of power struggles you have, 

It is also important to focus on the positives. For example, you can tell your teen that he/she can stay out later the next time providing he/she demonstrates positive behavior and comes home early for the next one month, AND informs you earlier about the time he/she is going to be a little late. it will help your teen respect the decisions that you do need to make. You should allow a younger teen to make his/her own decisions  concerning school clothes, hair styles, or even the condition of his or her room. As your teen gets older, that realm of control might be extended to include an occasional relaxation of time to get home from an outing.