How Should I Discipline my Child?

Parents face many challenges and can be pushed to their limits, especially when their children behave badly. By setting clear boundaries, removing privileges and rewarding positive behaviour, your children can be encouraged to do as they are told

A reward chart used for child disciplineParents face many challenges and can be pushed to their limits – especially when their children behave badly. We hope that our children will do as they are told, and behave well, but when they don’t, many parents wonder how best to discipline their child. This guide will give you some ideas of the best ways of disciplining your child and (hopefully!) avoiding bad behaviour.

What is discipline?

Discipline means giving your child rules to encourage positive behaviour and self-control. It also means explaining and showing them the consequences if they don’t follow these rules. Sometimes people think that discipline means punishment – but this is not always the case. Discipline includes telling children how you want them to behave, offering incentives, explaining how their bad behaviour affects others, and what will happen if they don’t comply. Discipline is very much an individual choice. You will have to find what works best in your situation. Everyone is different.

How can I set rules and boundaries for my children?

If children know what you expect of them – and what you don’t – then discipline becomes much easier. It will help a great deal if you set rules and boundaries for your children. These should explain how you expect them to behave. Print out some ‘House Rules'. Be clear about the consequences if rules are broken (a lecture, no privileges or extra chores for example). Make your rules part of family life and get relatives to maintain discipline too. Granny must know exactly what to do if the children misbehave. Ensure that your child knows what behaviour is unacceptable.

On the positive side, reinforce good behaviour. Praise your child when they have done well. All stick and no carrot can be less effective.

How do I decide what is bad behaviour?

Deciding what is good and what is bad behaviour is subjective. Some parents will accept behaviour that others would not tolerate. Whatever you decide, make sure your child knows where you stand.

What causes bad behaviour in children?

There are many reasons why children might misbehave. See if you can find any reasons which explain bad behaviour. For example, is your child bored or hungry, or maybe jealous of a sibling? Most children will misbehave at times, but occasionally there are serious triggers, like a change in family circumstances or the loss of someone close.

Misbehaviour may be a way of gaining your attention or rebelling against your control. Your child might be going through bullying or depression. They might also have anger issues. Keep a diary of incidents and if you are worried, talk to your school or doctor.

Are there any tips on child discipline?

The NSPCC’s Positive Parenting approach offers useful strategies for disciplining children in a positive way. Here are some tips which might help you to discipline your child:

  • Talk to your child in a rational manner explaining how you would like them to behave and what you expect of them
  • Phrase things positively. ‘Please be quiet,’ is better than ‘Stop shouting,’ because it focuses on the good behaviour you want
  • Teach children to reflect on their bad behaviour. Get them into a routine of behaving in an appropriate manner
  • Children will imitate your behaviour and attitude, so be a good role model for them. If they witness you shouting or swearing when you’re angry, they will probably copy you
  • Remain calm and try to understand their feelings. Make sure your child knows that their opinion matters
  • Give them a practical task to teach self-discipline and to help them to control their emotions
  • A ‘time out’ area is a great idea to stop an incident escalating. Find a quiet space where they can go for a very short period of time to reflect on their behaviour. If they move, calmly ask them to go back to the space
  • Be consistent

Children seem to know exactly what to say or do to provoke a reaction and it can be a challenge to remain composed!

Is it acceptable to smack my child?

There are times when you may feel that smacking your child is the only way forward, but is this acceptable? Corporal punishment (hitting a child) is outlawed by UNESCO and other bodies. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe states that corporal punishment is a breach of children's ‘fundamental right to human dignity and physical integrity’, and violates children's ‘equally fundamental right to the same legal protection as adults’. It is important that you make sure you are always fair and only deliver appropriate punishments.

Hitting a child teaches them that violence is acceptable and it will make them fearful of you. Research suggests that smacking children causes mental health issues. A 2016 analysis of five decades of research found that spanking led to anti-social behaviour, aggression, and mental health problems. Always refrain from smacking. Instead, walk away to defuse a potentially heated situation.

Should I take privileges away from my child?

One way to discipline your child is to take away their privileges. This can mean taking away a beloved toy or preventing your child doing something they like (watching TV for example) or going somewhere they want to (like a friend’s house). Take something away only for a short period of time, no longer than a few hours, or a day, at most.

This can be a useful tactic if used in the correct manner. It works especially well as a warning – before the bad behaviour occurs. Many parents wrongly employ it as punishment in the first instance of bad behaviour and don’t clearly explain to their child why a privilege has been taken away.

Young girl being disciplined by sitting on the naughty step

The privilege removed should have a connection to their behaviour. For example, if they have mistreated a toy, take the toy away for a short time. If they are incessantly shouting at a party, take them away until they stop.

Older children will feel that taking away their mobile phone, video game or computer access is the ultimate punishment. Work out what has most impact on your child. Persist and don’t back down, no matter how much they cry or plead.

Should I reward my child’s good behaviour?

Discipline isn’t all about punishment. Sometimes you may want to reward your child’s good behaviour. Praise your child when they do something positive, especially without you telling them to. A rewards chart is a great idea. Add a sticker whenever they behave well. When they’ve reached a certain number, they could receive a treat – or just feel the satisfaction of filling a row or chart. If one child sees another benefiting from good behaviour they will want to do the same.

So, how should we discipline our children? You can’t control your child through fear without damaging them and your relationship with them. So use positive discipline. Children are constantly learning – self-control and self-discipline are very valuable lessons.

For further reading on parenting you’ll find our Knowledge Bank of interest. We have articles which offer tips and advice to parents alongside others which aim to answer questions on education. If there’s something you’ve always wondered, then you might find the answer right there at your fingertips!

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