How to Discipline Your Child

Don't expect young children to do what you say all the time.

What to do when your child doesn't behave:

  • Try to focus your child's attention on something else. Suggest a new activity or introduce a new toy.
  • Use humour. Change uncooperative behaviour by making your child laugh and have fun doing what you are asking. Make a game of how to set the table or tidy a room.
  • Have a time out, or a time in. Sometimes children need to be removed from a situation in order to calm down. Or you may need to leave the room so your child can be alone to calm down.

    A "time in" can be helpful in some situations. A few minutes alone with you may be all that your child needs to feel more secure and behave better.

  • Allow natural consequences. Sometimes allowing children to experience natural, non-life- threatening consequences can help them learn. For example, "If I throw my toy across the room, it breaks."
  • Be practical about consequences for behaviour. Clearly explain ahead of time what privileges will be lost if a child doesn't behave. "Remember not to throw your toys this time - or we'll put them away until after nap time," not "You'll never be able to play with them again."
    Think Twice1

Other hints to help you get through:

  • Stay calm and be patient. Try to set a good example by not losing your own temper.
  • Take your child to a safe, calm place to cry it out.
  • Stay close by, but leave the talking for later.
  • Once she will allow it, soothe your child by gently holding him and reassuring him.
  • Help your child talk about what happened, how he felt and why he was angry.
  • Don't be embarrassed if other adults are around when your child has a tantrum. They have all been in your shoes and chances are they're silently wishing you well.
    Bringing Up Your Baby2

Use discipline as an opportunity to teach

As children grow, they become capable of more exploration, discovery and experimentation. In the process, they often also experience more confusion and frustration. At times, their feelings can become very intense.

As children explore their ever-expanding world, they need limits and consistent, loving adult supervision. Studies reveal that the way in which adults provide discipline - which really means to teach - is crucial to their children's later development.

The First Years Last Forever3

How can I discipline my young child?

Young children are normally impulsive and will hit, yell or fall apart at times because their feelings of frustration and anger exceed their ability to control themselves. Helping them learn self-control is a long-term process.

It is also normal for children to "test" a rule by breaking it. When you respond in a supportive, consistent way, you help your child to feel safe in the world.

The First Years Last Forever3

Setting limits

  • Communicate to your child what needs to be done at that moment: "I know you are having fun at the park, but it's time to get ready to go now."
  • Redirect your child's attention or activity by using neutral or positive language: "It's not OK to draw on the wall, but here is some paper you can use."
  • Say "No" while maintaining love: "I love you, but I don't love what you're doing."
  • Give the reason for your rule: "Don't run with scissors. You might fall and hurt yourself."
  • Give limited tasks and be specific in your request: "Please pick up your stuffed animals" instead of "Please clean up your room."
  • Acknowledge children's feelings, but set limits: "I know you're angry, but no biting."
  • Help children see how their actions affect others: "Your sister is upset because you pinched her. How would you feel if she hurt you?"
  • Help children see how they can use their words to communicate their feelings. "Tell your brother you don't like it when he hits you."
  • Acknowledge positive behaviour: "You did a good job picking up your stuffed animals. Thank you."
    The First Years Last Forever3

1Adapted with the permission of Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.

2Adapted with the permission of Invest in Kids.

3Adapted with the permission of the Canadian Institute of Child Health.