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Disciplining Your Child at Any Age

Father and son having a conversation.

Each child is different, but most children need to be given clear rules about behavior. Discipline needs to start as soon as a child is pulling up and crawling. Infants rely on their parents to provide a safe environment. Discipline should be adjusted by the age of your child. And it should teach age-appropriate behaviors.

Things to keep in mind

Some general values about discipline include:

  • Be a good role model for your child.

  • Try to recognize and praise your child when they are being good.

  • Make sure rewards for good behavior happen right away.

  • Hug your child after using discipline. Make sure the child knows it’s the behavior you’re not happy with, not your child.

  • Don’t use physical punishment.

How to lessen unwanted behavior

Try not to reward a child or give positive support for a bad behavior. For example, if your child is having a tantrum, giving them a cookie to be quiet is a reward for the bad behavior. To help lessen bad behavior, try these tactics:

  • Don’t give positive support for bad behavior. Instead, try ignoring the behavior.

  • Have the behavior result in an unpleasant result, such as punishment.

Punishment has 2 forms, including:

  • Denying your child privileges or a desired activity. This may be limiting TV or screen time, or saying "no" to dessert.

  • Requiring an activity that isn’t fun. This may include doing chores, or having a “time out.”

A behavior can also have a natural result that’s like punishment. For example, a child who won’t eat may go to bed hungry.

Keep in mind that spanking and other forms of physical punishment aren’t helpful. This type of discipline teaches a child aggressive behavior.

Tips for discipline by age

Discipline often depends on the age of a child, and how much they understand their behavior. These are some tips for discipline by age group.

Babies and toddlers

  • Safety is the main concern. Provide a safe environment that decreases the chances of things being broken by the child.

  • Babies will respond to a loud, firm voice saying "no."

  • After saying "no," direct your child to a good behavior, such as a toy.

  • Don’t reward bad behavior. Ignore temper tantrums. But confront other problems, such as biting or hitting.

  • Praise and reward good behavior.

Preschoolers

  • Preschoolers need clear and consistent rules.

  • This age group needs time to get ready for the next activity. Give your child a warning before it’s time to stop playing.

  • Preschoolers need lots of explanation as to why things are being done.

  • Use time-out for bad behavior.

  • Use praise for good behavior.

School-aged children

  • Give your child chances to explain their side and opinion.

  • Let your child express their feelings and concerns.

  • Give your child choices.

  • Give your child chances to help solve problems together regarding their behavior.

Teens

  • This age group needs patient and understanding parents. They will test all limits.

  • Teens need to be told the long-term outcomes of bad behaviors.

  • Teens need to be involved with limit-setting, based on their maturity.

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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