How To Discipline Your Child


how to discipline your child

We want our children to learn from their mistakes and not repeat them. So the natural thought is to send them to the “time out” corner or up to their room to “think about what they’ve done.” Except they don’t. And they’re going to keep doing the same behaviors despite the punishment. So how do you know how to discipline your child?

Often, we equate the term “discipline” with punishment. But the word “discipline” comes from the Latin word “disciplina,” which means “teaching, learning.” That’s the key to correcting our kids’ behaviors – giving them the tools they need to learn a better behavior. When we discipline in a way meant only to punish and have the child “pay” for their mistake, it doesn’t help our child learn how to make the right choice next time. No one likes being ordered around – punishment can lead to power struggles, and because our kids know this poor behavior gets them attention, they’ll keep doing it.

When it comes to knowing how to discipline your child, we can focus on three key areas: giving them the positive attention they need and crave, taking time for training, and setting limits and sticking to them.

1. Fill the Attention Basket
Kids need attention, plain and simple. If we don’t keep that “attention basket” full with positive attention, kids will seek out any attention they can get – even negative attention. They’ll push our buttons with negative behaviors because to a kid, even negative attention is better that no attention at all. This doesn’t mean you have to be at your child’s side 24-7 – just taking a few minutes a day to spend one-on-one with your child, distraction-free and doing something they want to do, will reap immense rewards in their behavior.

Take 10 minutes once or twice a day with each child playing a game they’ve picked or reading their favorite book. Let the phone ring. Stick the cell phone in the closet. When you fill your children’s attention baskets positively and proactively, your kids will become more cooperative and less likely to seek out attention in negative ways. Life is busy for everyone, and finding extra time in the day may be daunting at first, but think of this as an investment in your relationship with your children and in improving their behavior. When it comes to knowing how to discipline your child, giving them what they need to avoid poor behaviors in the first place can have a great impact.

2. Take Time for Training
As you think about how to discipline your child, it’s important to remember that the word discipline is rooted in meanings of learning and teaching. The best way to discipline your child is to help her make better choices. You can role play the behaviors, using a calm voice. “I’d really like to play with that tractor when you’re done.” “I’d like a snack, please.” Switch roles and pretend you’re the child, and let your little one direct you through making better choices. Be encouraging when they do make the right choices. “I see you worked hard to clean up the playroom all on your own! That’s such a big help. I really appreciate it.” “Thank you for sharing the book with your brother. How kind!”

3. Set Limits and Stick to Them
Kids thrive when they have structure and know their boundaries. Don’t go overboard with hundreds of rules, but focus on what’s most important for your family. Be clear about the ground rules and what happens when someone breaks the rules – make sure that everyone understands the consequences ahead of time and that the discipline is related to the misbehavior. If they forget to put away their dishes after dinner, they have to load and unload the dishwasher. Cleaning their room because they didn’t do their homework isn’t related. Most importantly, be consistent. Follow through every time with the agreed-upon consequence when kids push the rules.

Overall, remember that knowing how to discipline your child is rooted in helping them learn how to make the right choice, not punishment. Be firm and give them the attention, rules and boundaries they need.

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  1. I’m a big believer in #1 – having “time-in” prevents a lot of issues (now and in the future) :)

  2. I love the simplicity of these three tips Amy. I think teaching kids during the good times is a wonderful way to discipline. I love to use play and reading books together to teach values, virtues and skills. That coupled with the following through with limits can do so much more than punishment ever can.

    • Andy – you are so right! Punishment is probably the LEAST effective way to change behavior. Thanks for all YOU do to help parents bring out the best in themselves and their kids! Happy New Year!

  3. Amy,one on one time is very important and I can certainly tell when we have given our undivided attention . We are raising our Grandchild who is 5 and has ADHD and is very challenging most of the time. We do the time out often that was recommended by our counselor. It doesn’t help at all. our day’s are repeativeness. Our grandchild has a problem with selfcontrol and acts impulsively at home and school. Any advice as to how to deal with this? Thank you!!

    • Hello T! Thanks for commenting. You are right – the “Time Out” doesn’t help at all in correcting the root cause of the behavior. If self-control is a problem – use that as a training opportunity. You can establish a non-verbal reminder between you and your grandson when he is acting “out of control.” Use the non-verbal reminder to remind him he’s getting a bit out of control and encourage him to control his body/actions. (You might try a “rewind” hand gesture which signals him to do a “re-do.”)

      Practice using your non-verbal reminder in a role-play. Then, switch roles and let him use the N-V reminder on you. It will take time – but eventually he will get it!! Best of luck to you. He is lucky to have such a wonderful grandparent!! xo

  4. Thank you for these ideas, so simple and so important! Great reminders!

    • Thanks, Julie!! All the best to you!

  5. Hello,
    I have 2little kids,a boy of 18months and a I girl of almost 2months,so, no time to follow the webinar ,
    but I’m interested and I wanted to ask you if you wrote some book on this topic that I can buy. Thank you

  6. How would you handle a three year old who does things like : won’t hold my hand in parking lot. I am carrying 18 mo old brother. I have to finally run and grab her. And wanted to squeeze her hand. She is getting worse and worse at not following directions. And, the holding hand and not sitting at the table during dinner are getting worse. I stay home with them. I honestly don’t know how I can give any more attention. When brother naps I do books and crafts with her for two hours most days. Any tips? I’m very appreciative.

    • I am in the same boat. I have 3. I stay at home and it doesn’t seem to matter how much time I spend one on one. The moment I stop, my 2 older children are doing anything for attention. My husband and I will take kids on outings to come home and have total melt downs.

    • I feel the same. I give my daughter (Miss 2) loads of attention during the day as I am a stay at home mum, but it never seems to be enough. I get her to help out with chores that I do. I give her lots of positive praise when she does the right thing and still she continues to test the boundaries. I may have to invest in Steps 2 & 3. I’m terrible with being consistent as I feel like I have no idea what to do.
      Great article, I shall follow this keenly.

  7. I feel really sorry after disciple my douther.I need this tips are helpful.