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Guiding your child with positive discipline

  • The Canadian Paediatric Society strongly discourages the use of physical punishment on children, including spanking.
  • Good behaviour isn’t just luck. There is a lot that parents can do to foster it.
  • Your child has her own temperament (a built-in style of behaviour) that affects how she reacts to events and people in her world.

Disciplining your child is one of the most important things you’ll do as a parent. It's also one of the hardest. 

The Canadian Paediatric Society strongly discourages the use of physical punishment on children, including spanking. Physical punishment can physically and emotionally hurt your child. There are other, more effective ways to discipline children.

Positive discipline teaches and guides children and is part of a comforting family environment. It helps your child grow up to be a happy, caring person who has:

  • Self-esteem (feeling good about oneself).
  • Respect for others.
  • Problem solving and other life skills.

How you discipline your child will depend on her age, stage of development, personality and many other factors, but here are some basic ideas to help guide you.

How do I set the stage for good behaviour?

Good behaviour isn’t just luck—there is a lot that you can do to foster it. It may help to know what affects your child’s behaviour.

External forces are things that families have some control over:

  • Physical space: A  calm, comfortable and organized space will foster good behaviour. Materials: Toys that are right for your child’s age will excite and entertain him. These do not need to be commercially bought toys and can often be found all around you.
  • Routine: Organize your day with your child so he knows what to expect. You can include planned and unplanned activities as well as quiet time and physical activities. Try to spend part of every day playing outside.
  • Sleep: Naps are important for young children and should be part of your routine. As much as possible, keep bedtimes and wake times the same and make sure your child is getting enough nighttime sleep.
  • Food: A hungry child can be a cranky child. Keep regular mealtimes and offer healthy snacks between meals.
  • Peers: How your child’s friends treat him will affect his own behaviour. Get to know your child’s friends. When friends come to visit, explain your house rules and expect the same respectful behaviour from everyone.
  • Television and other mediaLimit your child’s screen time. While high quality children’s shows may promote positive behaviour, violent shows and games may make your child feel anxious and even encourage aggressive behaviour in some children.

Internal forces are things you can’t control. Your child has her own temperament (a built-in style of behaviour) that affects how she reacts to events and people in her world. She also has a unique personality that you will come to understand over time. You can support your child by:

  • Respecting your child’s feelings and thoughts.
  • Respecting your child’s ideas and contributions.
  • Being honest with your child.
  • Listening when your child talks.

How does developmental stage affect my child’s behaviour?

Your child’s behaviour has a lot to do with his age and stage—what he can do, what he is learning, how he understands and experiences the world around him.  If you know what to expect as  he grows, you can discipline him in a way he can understand.

  Normal behaviour What parents can do
Under 1 year of age
  • Cries to make needs known.
  • Gets into everything.
  • Learns by touch, taste, smell, sight and sound.
  • Let your baby learn to self-soothe. Comforting your baby when he is sick, hurt or upset―rather than ignoring or brushing off the feeling―will help him learn how to do this.
  • Say no when your baby does something you don’t want him to, like biting you.
  • Don’t use techniques such as time-out or consequences.
Young toddler
1 to 2 years
  • Is starting to test limits as she explores her independence.
  • May be fearful when separating from you.
  • Will learn to say no.
  • Curious and wants to explore.
  • Too young to remember rules.
Older toddler
2 to 3 years
  • Is becoming more independent.
  • Becomes frustrated when you set limits, and will show it.
  • Becomes very possessive, doesn’t understand the concept of “mine” versus “someone else’s.”
  • Is easily distracted.
  • Some frustration is good because it helps your child start to learn how to problem-solve. But, remember, there are situations your child won’t be able to handle.
  • Give choices when you can.
  • Use time-out to discourage major unwanted behaviours, like hitting.
  • Explain briefly why the behaviour is unacceptable.
3 to 5 years
  • Should be able to better accept limits, but won’t always make good decisions.
  • Tries to please and wants to feel important.
  • Can follow simple instructions.
  • Can make choices.
  • Asks lots of questions.
  • Independent.
  • Tries to tell other children what to do.
  • May tell on others.
  • Needs clear and consistent rules.
  • Set an example through your own actions.
  • Time-out continues to be a good technique.
  • Small and appropriate consequences also work.
  • Approval and praise will encourage your child to do good things.
  • Long lectures do not work.

What can I do to promote good behaviour?

  • Spend time alone with your child each day.
  • Be comforting. Give your child hugs, cuddles or a gentle pat on the back.
  • If your child is sad or angry, respect her feelings. Try to understand why she is sad or angry.
  • Do things that are fun. Laugh together.
  • If you make a promise, do your best to keep it. It is important that your child trusts you, and she will want you to trust her, too.
  • Always look for opportunities to praise your child for good behaviour.
  • Ignore little things. Before you raise your voice, ask yourself, “Is this important?”

Additional reading

  • No More Misbehavin’: 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them, by Michele Borba
  • Kids are Worth It!: Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline, by Barbara Coloroso
  • How to Behave So Your Child Will, Too!, by Sal Severe
  • Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Kurcinka
  • The Difficult Child, by Stanley Turecki
  • Your Defiant Child: 8 Steps to Better Behavior, by Russel A. Barkley, Christine M. Benton

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Public Education Advisory Committee

Last Updated: November 2013