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Disciplining Your Child at Any Age
Each child is different, but most children need to be given clear rules about behavior. Discipline needs to begin as soon as a child is pulling up and crawling. Young infants rely on their parents to provide a safe environment. Discipline should be age-focused. And it should teach age-appropriate behaviors.
Things to keep in mind
Some general values about discipline include:
Be a good role model for your child.
Try to recognize and praise your child when he or she is being good.
Make sure rewards for good behavior happen right away.
Hug your child after using discipline. Make sure the child knows it’s the behavior you’re not happy with, not your child.
Don’t use physical punishment.
How to lessen unwanted behavior
Try not to reward a child or give positive support for a bad behavior. For example, if your child is having a tantrum, giving him or her a cookie to be quiet is a reward for the bad behavior. In order to help lessen bad behavior, here are some tactics to try:
Don’t give positive support for bad behavior. Instead, try ignoring the behavior.
Have the behavior result in an unpleasant result, such as punishment.
Punishment has two forms, including:
Denying your child privileges or a desired activity. This may be limiting TV time, or saying no to dessert.
Requiring an activity that isn’t fun. This may include doing chores, or having a “time out.”
A behavior can also have a natural result that’s like punishment. For example, a child who won’t eat may go to bed hungry.
Keep in mind that spanking and other forms of physical punishment aren’t helpful. This type of discipline teaches a child aggressive behavior.
Tips for discipline by age
Discipline often depends on the age of a child, and how much he or she understands his or her behavior. The following are some tips for discipline by age group.
Infants and toddlers
Safety is the main concern. Provide a safe environment that decreases the chances of things being broken by the child.
Infants will respond to a loud, firm voice saying "no."
After saying "no," direct your child to a good behavior, such as a toy.
Don’t reward bad behavior. Ignore temper tantrums. But confront other problems, such as biting or hitting.
Praise and reward good behavior.
Preschoolers need clear and consistent rules.
This age group needs time to get ready for the next activity. Give your child a warning before it’s time to stop playing.
Preschoolers need lots of explanation as to why things are being done.
Use time-out for bad behavior.
Use praise for good behavior.
Give your child chances to explain his or her side and opinion.
Let your child express his or her feelings and concerns.
Give your child choices.
Give your child chances to help solve problems together regarding his or her behavior.
This age group needs patient and understanding parents. They will test all limits.
Adolescents need to be told the long-term outcomes of bad behaviors.
Adolescents need to be involved with limit-setting, based on their maturity.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Finke, Amy, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer:
MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed:
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