skip to Main Content


An Effective Way To Discipline Your Child

All parents secretly wish their kids arrived in this world with an instruction manual. Instead, despite holding one of the most important jobs ever, we are pretty much left to our own devices, navigating our way through parenthood, hoping to get it right.

Here’s the good news: Developmentally, the attachment between a parent and child is the most important gift that a child can receive. That’s why nurturing a genuine, intimate, and loving connection with your children will go farther than any parenting advice out there.

Something else to keep in mind: Children learn right and wrong, as well as impulse control, over time. Don’t forget that the human brain takes about twenty-five years to fully develop. Your task, then, is to finish the job.

One of the most challenging parts of this process is discipline. It may help knowing that the word ‘discipline’ comes from the Latin ‘disciplina,’ which means to “instruct, educate, train.” It does not mean “to punish.”

Punishment is to teach through hurting. Evidence shows how damaging punishment is to a young person’s overall wellbeing. One study, led by Harvard Medical School’s Akemi Tomoda, MD and PhD, found reduced prefrontal cortical gray matter volume in the brains of young adults who had been subject to harsh corporal punishment as children. This was particularly prevalent in areas linked to self-knowledge and to understanding other people’s perceptions and behaviors.

It’s not only corporal punishment that harms children, but also things like verbal abuse, removal of privileges, and harsh time-outs. While punishment may immediately stop negative behavior, it works only for the short term. Positive discipline, on the other hand, helps children develop a lifelong capacity for self-control and appropriate behavior. However, positive discipline strategies depend on which developmental stage a child is in.

Early Childhood | 0-5 years

Renowned educator and author Kim John Payne says that parents are “Governors.” “What the youngest child needs at this stage,” he says, “is for her parent to be her Governor. It is the parent who decides what children need, and acts accordingly.”

“In order to do this,” Payne cautions, “we need to avoid asking endless questions, like, ‘What do you want for breakfast?’ ‘Do you want to go to the park today?’ ‘What do you feel like wearing today?’”

Instead, we want to limit choices for young children. “Do you want cereal or yogurt? Do you want to play at the park or at home? Do you want to wear a dress or shorts today?” Providing pre-selected choices can help reduce power struggles, even at this young age.

As any good Governor, your job is to limit choices and establish the rules.

Dr. Michael H. Popkin, founder and president of Active Parenting Publishers, offers these guidelines for setting rules:

1. Make only the ones you really need.
2. Give one rule at a time.
3. Say the rule in a positive way (“The bed is for sitting,” instead of, “Stop jumping!”).
4. Say the rule like you mean it (serious tone of voice).
5. Be consistent in rule enforcement.
6. Encourage your children when they remember the rule.


Mid-Childhood To Adolescence | 6-17 years

Up until the age of twelve or so, while most children are not yet ready to make all decisions or choices for themselves, they need to know that their requests are being heard and carefully considered. At this stage, parents won’t get away with simply issuing instructions. Instead, they must watch, listen, cultivate, and look for the right time to harvest appropriate responses from their children.

Once reaching their teen years, children are eager for greater independence and ready to try their hand at making their own choices and decisions.

As a parent, you are there to shepherd your teens towards making these decisions, ask guiding questions, and suggest ideas they may not be considering. At this stage, teens do not want to be told what to do, so offer your opinions with great subtlety and care. When a poor choice is made, sit down with your son or daughter to talk about how to make better decisions in the future. Remember: you are preparing your children for adulthood when they will have to make these choices on their own.

Because choices and consequences are directly related to responsibility, parents must provide freedom of choice and participation to allow their children to experience the consequences of these choices. As children learn to accept responsibility for what happens to them, they learn to prevent or solve their own problems.

Dr. Popkin offers these simple guidelines for providing logical consequences:

• Use an “either/or” choice or a “when/then” choice.
• Give the choice only once, then act on it.
• Give options you will follow through on.
• Allow children to try again after experiencing the consequences.

All Behavior Is Communication

Regardless of the stage of development your children are in, keep in mind that all behavior, especially misbehavior, is an expression of an underlying emotion that they may not yet be capable of expressing in peaceful language. By nurturing a genuine, intimate, and loving connection with your children, you will be able to “listen to the behavior,” discover its true cause, and re-direct it in a positive way.

Ready to learn more? Sign up for an Active Parenting course through Olive Crest or learn how you can host a course at your site. You can also reach us by phone at (714) 543-5437 ext. 9065.

Parenting Education is a program of Olive Crest. Funded by: OC Health Care Agency (HCA), Mental Health and Recovery Services, Office of Suicide Prevention, Mental Health Services Act/Prop. 63.

Back To Top