Effective Ways to Discipline Your Children

Learn about other methods besides spanking

young girl in timeout on couch

From a from very early age, children need to be taught correct behavior. For many parents, that means spanking − an approach with which I personally disagree.

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Physical  discipline is something a lot of people turn to, but it’s not a very good choice for kids.  It teaches them it’s OK to hit someone when they’re angry, and it’s something that can be physically and mentally damaging.

Other alternatives to spanking

One of the most important things parents can do, I believe, is to clearly delineate boundaries. From babies through teenagers, kids need to know what’s expected of them. Parents should clearly explain limits, and they should do it during a calm time rather than during the heat of the moment.

I also advise parents to spell out the consequences for incorrect behavior. If a child has a friend over for a play date, they need to understand what will happen if they don’t treat their friend respectfully or fail to clean up after themselves.

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The truth behind timeouts

If used well, timeouts can be an effective form of discipline, though the child must be old enough to understand what he or she did, and to be able to stay in a designated area by themselves. Typically you won’t be giving timeouts to kids under 2.
We often suggest giving one minute of timeout per year of age, or until they calm down. Also be sure to have a timeout area selected before it’s needed. If a child’s room has computers, video games or other fun distractions, having a timeout there can defeat the purpose of discipline.

Reward good behavior

One thing you don’t hear about much is rewarding good behavior. You really want to “catch” them when they’re being good. Tell them, “Oh, you did such a good job of making your bed today without being asked,” or, “You were very quiet during the car ride and I appreciated it.” That changes behavior more than punishment.

For younger children, you might consider carrying around stickers to give out as rewards for positive behaviors.

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Parents must be consistent

Whether or not a child’s parents live together, they must be consistent in administering discipline. Parents should talk about discipline and expectations together. Children need to know they can’t get away with something when they’re with Dad that Mom wouldn’t tolerate.

Parents should also lead by example and model desired behavior and attitudes. Always talk to your children as you would expect them to talk with their friends or with you.

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Emma Raizman, MD

Emma Raizman, MD, is a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children's who enjoys working with families and children, from newborns to adolescents.
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