7 Techniques to Discipline Children

When you hear ‘discipline,’ you’re likely to conjure images of unruly kids and their parents trying to rein them in. Maybe some involve a system like time outs or counting to three, or punishment, grounding and spanking. Yet so often we forget that discipline in its basic form means teaching a code of conduct that yes, includes how we shouldn’t act, but also includes how we should. Discipline doesn’t always lie on the negative side of parenting and instead involves both positive and negative experiences working hand in hand.

Discipline: More than just time-outsAnd so, giving blanket discipline advice can be tricky under these circumstances. We can tell a fellow mom to try time outs, but how much do we really know about her situation, her children or how she handles other aspects of parenting? While discipline often involves “what to do when your kid acts up,” it should also include teaching your child how to act in general.

That said, since discipline often connotes misbehavior, I thought about how I approach it with my son and wondered if any patterns popped up.

These methods will help discipline children effectively:

  • Find the reason behind the outburst. Sometimes I can’t believe what sets my three-year-old off: it could be because I used the wrong color crayon or because he would rather stay in the van than go inside. But when I stop and think about what else could be bothering him, most cases point to the same culprits: he’s hungry, sick, tired, or emotional. When I can address any of those issues first rather than try to rationalize why it’s perfectly fine to use orange, we can usually avoid a catastrophe in waiting.
  • Maintain a sense of calm. You’re here to help your child, and the best way to do that is to try to remain calm. Yes, even when she’s yelling and crying and you’re ready to drag her by the arm and march her to a corner. You’re on the same team, and often, matching her frustration with your own does little to calm her down. Perhaps the most difficult piece of advice to follow, trying to stay calm can work wonders, especially since kids feed off your emotions.
  • Assert authority. One of the most important reasons to stand your ground is to protect your child from himself. When he’s throwing a tantrum, emotions are flying high, and he needs someone bigger than him to rein in his frustrations. Explain what is acceptable and what isn’t (“We do not do that,” “You have no right to hit her,”). Most importantly, follow through and remain consistent.
  • Redirect. If possible, redirect your child’s antics to something similar but more appropriate. Your son wants to color on the wall? Honor the impulse and acknowledge his desire to color, but redirect him to a more appropriate activity, such as coloring on paper or outside with chalk. The activity should be similar enough to the impulse—don’t suggest playing with a ball when he wanted to color.
  • Set boundaries where it matters but allow plenty of leeway where it doesn’t. We all have to pick our battles. Choose the non-negotiable boundaries you deem important and stick to it; in return, let the little things slide. Your child will learn what’s important to your family while still feeling able to explore within those limits.
  • Apply natural consequences. “Punishment” can work when the consequences follow the act. Is your kid thrashing around a toy and potentially breaking it? A natural consequence could be to take the toy away from him until he learns not to do that. Telling him he can’t go to to the park isn’t enough of a natural tie to the misbehavior.
  • Listen. We’re so reactive that we feed off one another’s emotions like wildfire before we really know what’s going on. Instead, stop and listen, whether you’re literally hearing out what your child is complaining about, or figuratively, such as taking a breath and assessing the situation before acting.

As you can see, discipline can be a mixture of different methods, and what may work one day may not work the next. And as any parent can attest, sometimes you just lose your cool. It happens, and we all try to do our best. Still, discipline should really be thought of as teaching our kids how to act appropriately, deal with frustrations, and harness their self-control. Not the punishment or tactic we use after the kids act up, but rather what we do every day to show them right and wrong.

How do you define ‘discipline’? What discipline methods have worked for you, and which haven’t?


Nina is a working mom to three boys—a five-year-old and toddler twins. She blogs about parenting at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she's learning about being mom and all its joys and challenges. She also covers topics like how kids learn and play, family life, being a working mom and life with twins. Download her free ebook, "Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom" for more tips.


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    • says

      Same here, Steph. I think if the punishment is a natural consequence of the kid’s misbehavior, then sure, but if it’s too much of a stretch, I’m not sure how punishment can be effective. Plus I think punishment should also be a second thought; we really should focus more on the other points like finding out the reason behind the misbehavior, or showing empathy, etc.
      Nina recently posted..Discipline: More than just time-outsMy Profile

  1. says

    Thanks for sharing this post Nina. Very informative and really useful. Sometimes, it’s difficult to discipline my little boy especially if I can feel that they are really sad and low. There’s always a temptation to just hug them tight and pretend that nothing happened but we all know that disciplining our kids is essential and also for their own good. Just not too much disciplining. :)

    • says

      Janet, sometimes a good hug works just as well :) Just yesterday my kiddo was fussy and after trying to figure out what in the world is going on to no avail, I just said, “Come here for a hug.” I guess he was feeling emotional and needed a nice tight hug.
      Nina recently posted..Discipline: More than just time-outsMy Profile

  2. says

    One thing I have realized in the last 5+ years of being a parent is that what works for one kid won’t always work for another. For me, one of the biggest challenges of having three kids is continuing to figure out what discipline approach works for each of them – and at each stage. I thought I had it all figured out when my oldest was a baby. And then his brother came along. And then their sister. And I’m still learning every day. :)
    Kristen @ Motherese recently posted..“And Ain’t I a Woman?”My Profile

    • says

      Absolutely, Kristen! It’s funny how you think you have a formula down but then it doesn’t work the next time, even with the same kid lol. I’m expecting twins soon and I’m curious to see how their temperaments match up to discipline—what may have worked wonderfully and easily with my three year old just may not cut it with another kid.
      Nina recently posted..Discipline: More than just time-outsMy Profile

  3. says

    While my son is not quite 2 yet, I also try to explain why he is getting “in trouble.” I find talking to him about the situation calms me down and he picks up on key words. Context seems so important to the action.