Most parents learn quickly that the best way to deal with challenging behaviour is to prevent it. But despite a parent’s best efforts, there will be times when your child acts in a way that is not okay. The behaviour might be dangerous (to your child or others), not appropriate, or break a rule that you’ve clearly set out.
Discipline is a form of teaching your child. How you discipline will depend on your child’s age, stage of development, personality and many other factors. Discipline:
- Protects your child from danger.
- Helps your child learn self-control and self discipline.
- Helps your child learn a sense of responsibility.
- Helps instill values.
The Canadian Paediatric Society strongly discourages the use of physical punishment on children, including spanking.
What makes discipline work?
Your child needs to see discipline as being fair. He should be able to respect you as the parent and also the rights of other people.
Discipline that’s not consistent (the same whenever possible) is confusing to children, no matter how old they are. If you are inconsistent in the way you discipline your children, they will find it hard to understand.
As a parent, you have a unique bond with your child. If you discipline your child with respect and make sure that it’s consistent and fair, you’ll have lasting positive effects.
How can I help my child learn good behaviour?
- Offer praise and affection regularly.
- Know what to ignore.
- Plan transitions from one activity to the next, and talk to your child about them so he knows what to expect.
- Offer limited and realistic choices you can live with.
- Accept mistakes.
- Be a role model.
Let your child know what you expect and the rules for good behaviour. Remind her regularly about rules and limits. A good limit:
- Is appropriate to your child’s age and stage of development.
- Helps your child learn self-control.
- Protects your child’s and others’ safety.
- Is explained using simple language.
- Is enforced firmly, respectfully and kindly.
How can I deal with misbehaviour?
Redirect to another activity
- Redirection—when a bad activity is changed to a good activity—is useful for toddlers and sometimes older children. Say your toddler wants to play with a breakable glass object on a hard kitchen floor—redirect her to a safe activity by trading the breakable object for a ball.
- Explain with words that teach her what you don’t want her to do.
Use logical consequences
- When redirection doesn’t work, apply clear consequences for the action. Consequences should be related to the behaviour. If your older child throws food on the floor, make sure she helps you clean up the mess. When the mess is cleaned up, the consequence is over.
- When there isn’t a clear consequence, you can take away a privilege. For young children this must happen right away. For example, a child who is playing too roughly can be made to play away from other children for a short time.
- Allow your child to help find a solution to misbehaviour, and she will be more likely to make it happen.
- Solving problems helps your child learn about the consequences of her actions.
Time-outs are best for children who are at least 2 years old. Try counting to 3 slowly and without raising your voice before you give a time-out. Sometimes this will help your child change his behaviour.
- Time-outs should take place in a safe, quiet corner or chair, away from others and without distractions. For an older child, it could mean going to his room for a quiet time.
- Briefly explain the reason for the time-out – “No hitting” – and send your child to the designated spot.
- If he refuses, take him by the hand or carry him.
- Time-outs should last 1 minute for every year of your child’s age, to a maximum of 5 minutes. Use a clock such as an oven timer. This way your child knows that the end of the time time-out depends on the clock and not on you.
- If he is having a temper tantrum, consider not starting the clock until your child settles down.
- During time-out, ignore your child, even if she shouts or apologizes.
- When the time-out is over, clear the air by offering a new activity. Don’t lecture about the behaviour.
What do I do if my child throws temper tantrums?
Tantrums are a normal part of child development. They are caused by strong negative emotions that your child isn’t able to control or express in other ways.
You can prevent some tantrums by:
- Paying attention to good behaviour.
- Reducing triggers whenever possible, such as being hungry or overtired.
- Distracting and redirecting with “Let’s read a book” or “Let’s have a snack.”
- Asking your child to express herself in another way: “Do you feel angry?”
Tantrums can often be avoided or shortened by:
- Stepping in before your child loses complete control.
- Speaking in a calm voice and acknowledging her frustration. For example: “It is okay to be angry, but you can’t hit.”
- Helping her work out her problem.
When a tantrum does occur:
- Ignore the behaviour.
- Watch from a distance to keep your child safe. Move furniture, toys or other children out of the way.
- If your child becomes so upset and out of control that he might hurt himself or others, you should hold him, using just enough strength to restrain him. Do this carefully to avoid hurting him. At no time should you spank or use any other physical punishment.
- When the time-out is over, offer a drink of water or a face wash.
- Redirect to a new and interesting activity.
Reviewed by the following CPS Committees:
Public Education Advisory Committee
Last updated: April 2008