Discipline is a necessary tool for helping children grow and mature into adults who have an understanding of actions and consequences. A hard part of parenting is remaining calm while providing appropriate discipline. Many parents require a great deal of patience to discipline with a firm but age-appropriate approach. A key to disciplining kids is to plan in advance. The question is not if you will have to discipline your children — it’s when and how you will discipline them.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a three-step approach to discipline. First, develop a positive relationship with your child. You will need to establish a loving foundation of care. Second, use positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors. Third, if you feel that discipline is needed, use age-appropriate, non-physical punishment.
The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) aligns with the AAP on physical punishment. Both agree that the use of spanking or other forms of physical punishment only teaches children aggressive behavior and will become ineffective. In addition, this further teaches them to associate discipline with pain rather than with an opportunity to guide improved behavior.
Age 0-2 years
Infants and toddlers do not have bad behavior; they are learning and developing through discovery of the environment. A child’s actions are not outright defiant behaviors, but part of normal development. The best management for this age is to plan in advance for such discovery.
Be prepared to redirect and provide other options. If your toddler has an object that may be harmful, rather than just taking the object, calmly exchange it for a safe one. If your toddler is in a dangerous situation — climbing on a chair or up furniture, for example — remove and place her in a safe environment.
Distract her with new activities or safe toys. Timeouts are also effective methods to use with the one-and-a-half and two-year-old. Place your child in a designated area for no longer than one minute per year of life (one minute for the one-and-a-half-year-old, two minutes for the two-year-old).
Age 3-5 years
Children of this age are beginning to develop more and have limited ability to connect behavior with actions and consequences. This is the time to start using simple explanations of rules and limits. Remaining calm is key. Your child will begin to mimic your behavior. If you yell, she will think screaming is the way to manage a situation. Remember to reward the good behavior to encourage the positive. When discipline is required, continue to use consequences appropriate to the situation. For example, if your child colors on a wall, she will need to help clean it and she will not be allowed to use crayons the rest of the day. Cleaning the mess is an example of natural consequence; not being allowed to use the crayons for the day is a logical consequence.
Timeouts are still appropriate for this age child, to a maximum of five minutes. Timeouts over five minutes lose effectiveness for the purpose of discipline.
Age 6-8 years
By the time children are in the school-age range, they are able to understand consequences and follow set rules and limits. For this age, consistency of discipline is very important. Discipline should be directly connected with the action or behavior to be corrected. However, be careful not to set unrealistic expectations or discipline for your child. Also, be aware of how your own anger may influence your discipline.
Take time to calm down if necessary before deciding on the appropriate discipline. Discipline in the heat of the moment may result in punishment that is unrealistic or not helpful. Do not threaten to take away all electronics when your child may require access to a computer for school. You won’t be able to enforce that punishment. Also, if you remove all items for an entire month, your child then has no reason to improve her behavior, as she has already lost all privileges. Take a few moments to calm down and provide a punishment appropriate to the situation.
Age 9-12 years
For many parents this preteen stage of life begins the period of children testing limits and pushing boundaries. Remember, the goal of discipline is to guide your child to develop an awareness of behavior and choices and consequences. When kids of this age require discipline, the best solution is the use of natural or logical consequences.
If your child has a project due for school and does not ask for the supplies in advance or complete the project, don’t save her by going out at the last minute to buy the supplies or helping her stay up to finish. Allow her to experience the natural consequences of a bad grade to help her learn to plan better in the future. This will assist her in maturing and managing her needs as she grows. It is normal to want our kids to be successful, but sometimes we have to let them learn to succeed through negative experiences.
Age 13+ years
At this point your child is maturing and experiencing the in-between childhood to adulthood phase of the teenage years. You will have laid the foundation for behavior and discipline by this point. You must set firm limits and rules and make certain your teen is aware of the rules and consequences in advance.
If a rule is broken, it is important to follow up with the consequences in a calm, yet firm way. Do not vacillate on enforcement of limits. If your teen breaks curfew, listen to the explanation, then enforce the rules as set. Rescind the privilege of going out the next weekend if that was the predetermined discipline. However, do not set unrealistic expectations. In addition, allow your child to have more choice and input in the decision. Discuss where he wants to go and why and what might be an appropriate curfew for that specific event. Begin to allow more freedom to guide your child into maturing. Allow more natural consequences to occur to continue his individual personal development.
Rules to Remember
* Develop a positive relationship with your child.
* Use more positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior.
*If discipline is needed, do not spank or use physical punishment.
* Remain calm when disciplining your child.
* Children will mimic your behavior.
* Discipline needs to be age- and situation-specific.
* Discipline with love and the idea to guide your child’s development.
Disciplining children can be as difficult for you as it is for your child. Remember, the purpose of discipline is to guide your child to develop good behavior and to have an understanding of actions, behavior and consequences. Using the appropriate discipline in the right way will help set your child up to grow and mature into an adult who understands the consequences for his behavior and actions.
Stephanie C. Evans, PhD, RN, CPNP-PC, is an Assistant Professor at Texas Christian University and works as a PNP at Bumps n’ Bruises Urgent Care. Her research focus is mental health and children, specifically ways to have positive mental health in children.