When your child misbehaves: Tips for positive discipline

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When your child misbehaves: Tips for positive discipline

Highlights
  • If you discipline your child with respect and make sure that it’s consistent and fair, you’ll have lasting positive effects. 
  • Discipline that’s not consistent (the same whenever possible) is confusing to children.
  • At no time should you spank or use any other physical punishment.

Discipline is a form of teaching your child. When discipline is positive, its goals are to:

  • Protect your child from danger.
  • Help your child learn self-control.
  • Help your child learn a sense of responsibility.
  • Help instill values.

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.

The Canadian Paediatric Society strongly discourages the use of physical punishment on children, including spanking.

What makes discipline work?

The best way to deal with challenging behaviours is to prevent them. But there will be times when your child acts in a way that is not okay. When this happens, your child needs to see discipline as fair. Discipline that’s not consistent (the same whenever possible) is confusing to children.

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 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 and others.
  • Is explained using simple language.
  • Is enforced firmly, respectfully and kindly.

How can I deal with misbehaviour?

How you discipline will depend on your child’s age, stage of development, personality and many other factors. Here are some strategies to help:

Redirect to another activity

  • Redirection—switching from one activity to another—works well with toddlers and sometimes older children.
  • When you redirect your child, be sure to explain with words that teach her what you don’t want her to do.

Use logical consequences

  • Apply clear consequences for your child's action that relate to the behaviour. For example, if your preschooler 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.

Encourage problem-solving

  • Solving problems helps your child learn about the consequences of her actions. Allow your child to help find a solution to misbehaviour and she will be more likely to make it happen.

Use a time-out

  • A time-out is one way to take your child out of a situation where he is doing something unacceptable. They are best for children who are at least 2 years old. The CPS has tips and suggestions on how to use time-outs.

What do I do if my child throws a temper tantrum?

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:

  • Praising good behaviour.
  • Reducing triggers whenever possible, such as being hungry or overtired.
  • Distracting and redirecting with other activities.
  • Asking your child to express herself in another way: “Do you feel angry?”

Tantrums can often be 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 your child work out a problem or frustration.

When a tantrum does happen:

  • 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 tantrum 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: November 2013