Health Encyclopedia

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

  • 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.

School-aged children

  • 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.

Adolescents

  • 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.



Medical Reviewers:

  • Finke, Amy, RN, BSN
  • MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician