Discipline Strategies

Smacking used to be a frequent punishment – but that doesn’t mean it was effective! Children who are smacked don’t necessarily associate their actions with the pain. Smacking teaches that violence is an appropriate response to frustration, and that bigger people can hurt smaller. This isn’t what we want children to learn!

Smacking defiant children reinforces their sense of injustice, and makes their behaviour worse. Many children deny that the smacks hurt, so parents find themselves becoming increasingly violent. Whenever the parent loses control, no-one wins.

Ultimately we want children to learn to control their own behaviour, so that they don’t only behave when their parents are around. There are many strategies that more effectively teach children how to behave appropriately. These strategies are also less damaging to the child-parent relationship. Start with more minor strategies, rather than always rely on the same ones or immediately use major punishments when minor ones might do.

  • Praise: Parental attention is essential to children. Compliment your children on their efforts, as well as their achievements.

  • Ignoring: giving attention for good behaviour and ignoring poor behaviour often is more effective than we expect. If poor behaviour isn’t causing a real problem, ignoring it can be effective in eliminating it. Of course you can’t afford to ignore behaviour that you have already spoken to your child about.

  • Natural consequences: there are some situations in which it’s okay to let your child experience the natural outcome of his or her choices. If your 6 year old refuses to put a jumper on, allow him to go outside without a jumper and feel the cold – it may well teach him much more than your words ever will. If your 4 year old won’t eat her tea, allow her to go to bed hungry; she won’t starve overnight and the hunger pains may teach her the benefit of eating her vegetables.

  • Logical consequences: in many situations there are no appropriate or safe natural consequences, but you can apply a consequence that teaches the lesson you want. For example if your 5 year old won’t play quietly when asked while you are reading a bedtime story to your toddler, it may be helpful to explain that his failure to play quietly when asked means that he will have to go to another room. Of course you have to make sure he obeys this instruction.

  • Time out chair: Many families find that having a ‘time out’ or ‘quiet’ chair is an effective but low-key training tool. A chair in the hall or corner of the lounge room can be used to disrupt poor behaviour cycles. This can be used with even very young children (if they are aware of the rules and have been reminded but still choose to misbehave), though they may need to be placed on the chair several times until they learn that their penalty will continue until they learn to sit still on the chair. Although the children are still able to see and hear all that is going on, for many children the disruption to their play that the chair imposes is sufficient punishment, and a reminder of the rules.

  • Removal of favourite toys or privileges: Depriving a child of his or her favourite toy (not a security object) or activity can be a powerful discipline strategy if not over-used. Removal should only be brief. Keeping the object in view but out of reach can reinforce the message. Where possible, the removal and the misbehaviour should be linked (eg remove a toy if the child strikes another child with it; don’t allow the child to watch his favourite television show if he hasn’t done his homework).

  • Brief isolation: When children have become over-excited and out-of-control, sometimes time alone in a safe place is needed. This is a strategy to be used after others have proved unsuccessful, rather than a first line of defence. The safe place is often a bedroom, but some toys and sources of stimulation may need to be removed first. Alternatively a ‘time out’ chair can sometimes work in this way. The aim of the isolation is to allow the child to calm down and to remind him or her that his or her behaviour has been unacceptable. The isolation period need only be very brief, as the aim is to help the child calm him or herself down, not to frighten or distress. For pre-schoolers, a couple of minutes can be long enough. The time only starts when the child is quiet; the child should be informed of this, and for the first few times should be rewarded by being allowed out almost immediately after quietening.