Discipline is not the same as physical punishment. Discipline is one way you can teach your child. It helps children learn to behave in acceptable ways. Discipline also teaches children how to make decisions and solve problems. Discipline helps your child feel safe and loved.
Discipline (Ages 0-1)
During the child’s first year, you can guide them by:
- meeting their physical needs
- loving them and responding to their needs
- providing them with a safe environment in which they can grow and explore
You cannot spoil a baby. When you meet your baby’s needs, they will learn that the world is a safe place. Your baby will learn to trust that their needs will be met.
After about 6 months, your baby will start practicing new skills. They will throw things, bang things, and put everything in their mouth. When they start to crawl, they will explore everything within reach. That is how they learn.
As your baby learns to use their hands, they will reach for everything. They do not know that there are things they should not reach for. Your job is to stop them from getting into things they should not get into. The best way to do this is to think ahead and baby proof your house.
Physical punishment, such as slapping your child’s hands when they reach for things, will not correct their behaviour. It can hurt the trust that you are building with your child. A firm “no” and re-direction of their attention will be more effective. Re-directing your child means that you are directing your child to a new or different activity. If your child pulls your hair or hits you, doing the same to them will not teach them to stop doing these behaviours. Your child does not understand that they hurt you. Again, a firm “no hitting” or “no pulling” will help stop the behaviour. Your child may have to hear this many times to begin to change their behaviour.
Discipline (Ages 1-3)
Physical punishment and discipline are not the same thing. Discipline is one way you can teach your child. It helps children learn to behave in acceptable ways. Discipline also teaches children how to make decisions and solve problems. Discipline should help your child feel safe and loved.
Your toddler is starting to learn what good and bad means. They do not understand rules or warnings. You can expect your child to do almost anything. They will not always do the things you want them to do.
Eventually, your child will understand what you expect from them. This will help them develop self-control.
For caregivers, the most difficult thing can be to remain calm. It is important to remember your child is learning, growing, and testing their independence. They need to know what their limits are. They also needs to be able to have lots of room so that they can grow and discover.
Your toddler can learn that there are limits to their behaviour. They need to know that when they misbehaves, you will stop them. It is important that consequences are immediate, to the point, and brief. By using a firm, calm, loving manner, these situations can provide learning opportunities.
Set out rules that are reasonable, age appropriate, and achievable. These will help your child succeed. Success will help build your child’s self-esteem.
Children are more likely to behave positively if that is a family expectation. If you expect nothing of your child, they will not have guidelines for their behaviour. If your expectations are too high, they will constantly feel like they are failing. By encouraging them to meet reasonable expectations, they will develop feelings of self-worth.
When your child makes a mistake, they need to know that a mistake has been made. Help them to understand that they are responsible. Never leave a child alone to figure this out. Children need guidance and support every step of the way.
Respond in a calm way. The control you show in helping your child learn right from wrong helps them to learn how to control their behaviours.
Importance of Praise
Your child wants to please you. Praise and positive attention from you will motivate your child. Praise your child’s positive behaviours. For example, “You put away all your toys? Good job.” Praise your child’s actions. This tells them what pleases you.
Your child will continue to do things that they know please you.
Discipline (Ages 4-5)
By age four, your child will have some control over their emotions. However, they will still struggle for control over their world. They may even act in ways that seem like they are trying to annoy you on purpose.
Your child is starting to develop a sense of cause and effect, “If I do that, this happens.”
Your child is learning to express their emotions through words. They need help explaining their problems and feelings. Teach them the words for their feelings. “It looks to me like you are very sad right now.” By being able to express their anger and frustration with words, they will be less likely to act out their anger, e.g., hit you.
Teaching through Discipline
Discipline is not about having control over your child. The goal of discipline is for your child to learn self-control.
This does not mean letting your child control or intimidate you. They need to know what reasonable limits are. Your child will learn to set their own limits by having you set reasonable limits for them while they are young.
It is important to reward positive behaviour. Your child wants to please you and have your attention. By responding to positive behaviours, you are showing your child what pleases you. By giving your child attention for positive behaviours, you also increase the likelihood that your child will repeat these behaviours.
Self-control is part of your child’s healthy development and is based on your unconditional love. Their self-control will develop well if they have strong relationships in their family.
Your child needs encouragement to develop self-control. Sharing time and activities with your child builds a foundation of affection and trust. Make time for yourself and your child.
When you need to correct your child, talk about your child’s behaviour. Do not talk about your child. Saying “You hurt Kim when you hit them” will help them understand their actions. Saying “You’re a very bad child” will lead them to believe that they are bad.
It is important to be fair. Trust your child within the boundaries that you have set. Although your child may complain, they will know that you love them enough to set limits.
Routine and Freedom
By the time your child is 4, they will understand what is expected of them on a daily basis.
You may want to set up a simple schedule with pictures. Include meals, bedtime, and daily routines on the schedule. This allows your child to take some control of their day.
Transitions can be difficult. Having a routine can help you avoid conflict. Children have little concept of time. Having a routine, for example at bedtime, helps prepare for changes in activity.
Your child needs some freedom to choose their own friends, clothes, and games. They will make mistakes. With your help, they will learn from these.
Avoid nagging, bribing, and threats. Your child will learn over time to tune you out, especially if there is no follow-through. Bribes and threats seldom work and can teach your child that in order to get what they want, they have to threaten or bribe others.
Avoid spanking. It may temporarily stop the undesired behaviour, but the long-term lesson for your child will be that hitting is a way to solve problems.
One of the skills that children learn is how to self-soothe. Self-soothing means that they can calm themselves. Self-soothing helps in many areas of a child’s life, including sleep, behaviour, impulse control, problem solving, and discipline.
Teach your child resiliency skills to help them self-soothe.
Sometimes, in order for your child to calm down or re-direct their behaviour, they may need to be physically separated from the environment that they are in. This separation is not about correction or thinking about behaviour. Instead, the goal is to give the child a break and allow them to self-soothe. With young children, you may have to spend this “time in” with your child to help them to calm down.
Creating a positive space can help. This space can be filled with things that help your child feel safe and self-soothe, for example, a blanket or teddy bear. Being in this space should not be a punishment.
1. Use “No” Sparingly
“No” is an important word. However, if you use it too frequently, your child will not respond. If they hear it only a few times a day, they will be more likely to pay attention.
Decide what limits are most important to you. Be consistent. It is very confusing to a child when a behaviour is okay one day and not the next.
Say “no” by saying “yes”. For example, instead of saying, “No, you cannot have a cookie”; say “Yes, you can have a cookie after lunch.”
2. Positive Approach
Think about your approach. Try to be positive.
Instead of constantly saying “no” or “don’t”, tell your child what they should do. For example, instead of saying “Don’t tear the book”, you can say “Books are for reading, not for tearing. Let’s read the book together.”
Distraction is a good way to change children’s behaviour. This can be used to guide the child to more appropriate activities or behaviours. For example, instead of saying “No, do not touch the TV”, you can distract them by saying “Here is your ball. Can you roll it to me?”
This technique shows your child what they can do. They learn what behaviours and activities are appropriate.
4. Give Choices
Give children choices. Keep these simple. For example, “Do you want your lunch in the kitchen or at the picnic table?” Giving choices helps your child learn how to solve problem, and feel like they have control and success in their environment. Giving choices can also increase your child’s enthusiasm about the activity.
Be careful not to offer a choice where none exist. A question of “Do you want to go to bed now?” is likely to receive a response of “no.” Instead, say “It is bedtime now. What story do you want to read?” This will be more likely to receive a positive response.
5. Removal From a Situation
If your child is behaving in a way that is not safe or is inappropriate, it is important that you remain calm and do not raise your voice. Remove them from the activity.
For a young child, distraction with another activity is usually all that is needed. Remember that very young children do not understand cause and effect.
For 3-5 year olds, you may need to remove them to a separate, safe place. Some children may be very afraid of being put in their room with the door shut. Remove them to a spot that is within your view. You may even want to be with your child at this time. Your child can rejoin the activity once they have calmed down. Some children may need music or another self-soothing technique to calm down.
Think ahead and identify situations or activities where your child may need some boundaries and guidelines. Before your child joins the activity, tell them what the behaviour is that you expect. “We don’t hit the puppy. We pet the puppy gently, like this.”
If your child is unable to follow the expected behaviour, then they are not ready for that activity. This is the natural consequence of not being able to follow certain boundaries or guidelines. It is very different from physical punishment.
6. Announce Activity Changes
Sometimes it may be hard for your child to stop an activity. Instead of having a power struggle or becoming frustrated, announce a few minutes ahead of time that you will want them to do something else. The change from one activity to another will be much easier this way.
7. Remind Your Child about Expectations
Before going out, remind your child about how you expect them to behave. Let them know that they can come to you if they have a problem.
8. Reinforce Positive Behaviours
An important part of discipline is reinforcing positive behaviours. Your young child wants to please you.
If your child is engaging in a positive activity, it is important not to ignore this behaviour. Instead, tell them “I like the way you line up all of your books”. They are getting your attention and praise, and this will reinforce the positive behaviour.
Keep your praise sincere, honest, and specific.
9. Logical Rewards, not Bribes
Logical rewards for a particular behaviour should occur as a result of that behaviour. For example, “If you help me pick up the toys, we will have time for another story”. Logical rewards are not to be used as bribes. They are a result of positive discipline. Compliments are also logical rewards for a positive behaviour.
Every child enjoys receiving compliments. Focus compliments on the activity. It recognizes their ability to do the task and do it well. This helps them feel competent and able to learn more.
10. Quiet Time
Over-excitement and over-stimulation can be stressful for children.
Quiet time can be a time for calming and self-soothing. Taking some time for oneself to do a quiet activity is a healthy way of dealing with too much stress. The idea is not to punish the child, but to recognize the need for rest and relaxation in order to get back in control. Parents need quiet times as well to deal with their own feelings of stress or frustrations.
Reasons for Discipline
Positive discipline is part of loving your child. There are no easy answers and no magical solutions. There are many reasons for discipline. Some of these are listed below.
- Discipline can help keep children safe from physical harm.
- Discipline helps children learn about responsibility. Responsibilities that are age-appropriate can help raise your child’s self-esteem.
- Discipline helps children learn a sense of right and wrong. This allows children to set limits for themselves when they are on their own. Children need to learn how to think, not just what to think.
- Discipline helps your child learn the natural results of their behaviour. For example, if your child leaves their favourite book outside, it may get wet and damaged.
- Discipline helps to develop social skills.
- Discipline helps to maintain some order. Consistent, loving discipline at home gives you the best chance of helping your child be healthy, happy, and well-adjusted.
Physical punishment forces your child to meet your expectations. Physical punishment keeps a child dependent and fearful. It can harm their sense of dignity and self-worth.
Never resort to physical punishment that physically or emotionally hurts your child. Spanking, slapping, beating, belittling, and screaming at children of any age does more harm than good. Below are some reasons why.
- The child may stop misbehaving for a moment, but physical and emotional punishment teaches them that it is okay to hit and yell when they are upset or angry. Remember that you are your child’s role model. Children, who are hit, grow up thinking that hitting is a way to solve problems.
- Physical punishment, like hitting or spanking, can harm your child. Sometimes in the anger of the moment, you may hit your child harder than intended.
- Physical punishment teaches your child to behave out of fear of being hit. This will not teach them positive behaviour skills. What it will teach them is that it is okay to misbehave as long as they do not get caught.
- Physical punishment gives your child attention. If this is the only time they get attention, they are likely to continue misbehaving. To a child, any attention is better than no attention.
- Every time you use physical punishment, you lose the opportunity to model a positive coping skill for your child. You are your child’s first teacher. It is a big responsibility.
Changing Your Parenting Style
It is never too late to change. If you are reading this, you may realize that you would like to stop using physical punishment. The first step is to learn about alternative ways to deal with your child.
The second step is to get to know yourself and recognize how you feel when you are angry. When you feel yourself getting angry, step back from the situation.
You can use some of the following techniques to calm down.
- Walk away and ask yourself, “What do I need?”
- Get some quiet time. Have someone else look after your child while you go out for a walk.
- Make sure that your child is safe and go to a different room for 10 minutes.
- Get rid of stress by ripping up old newspapers or magazines and throwing them out.
- Count to 10 and take three slow deep breaths. Once you are calm, then deal with your child.
- Call a friend and talk.
- Enhance your parenting skills and your peer support. Join a parenting group or class.
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Unconditional love means that you will always love your child and be there for them. Unconditional love does not mean that you will always like your child’s behaviours. You are human. Sometimes your child will make you mad, frustrated, and confused.
Having a healthy self-esteem or self-worth means that you believe in yourself and your worth.
Self-discipline refers to the ability to work towards goal even when there are obstacles or temptations to do something different.
For children, independence is about competency. That is, being able to influence your environment and having the skills to do what you want to/have to do during the day.
A consequence is the result or effect of an action.
Self-respect means that you feel pride in yourself and confident of your skills. Self-respect also refers to acting in a way that is proper and honorable, e.g., being kind to other people.
Self-control is almost the same as impulse control. It refers to the ability to control your emotions, desires, and behaviours even in times when it is tempting to act differently.
Boundaries are about setting limits or rules in place around behaviours. Boundaries help children to feel safe and in control.