Discipline Tactics For Every Age

Discipline isn't punishment, and there's more than one way to correct your child's behavior--without yelling. Here's a tactic for every age.

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    Praise the Positive

    Who? Birth and up

    Why? Discipline won't work if the only time you focus on your child is when he's acting up. Children crave recognition from their parents, and, although positive attention is ideal, they'll take what they can get--even if that means an angry reaction to the whack they just gave their little brother. Barbara Stefanacci, a mother of two from Clifton, New Jersey, recognizes that her children's tantrums are a cry for attention: "They're close in age and always competing with each other." So how does she handle this rivalry? "I talk to them. If that doesn't work, I give them a huge hug, which usually puts them back in a good mood."

    How? Try to "catch" children being good. It's as simple as thanking your son for picking the toy trucks off the floor (never mind that he's the reason they're there in the first place) or for sharing his toys with his sister. It's important to be specific when offering praise. Phrases like "good boy" don't encourage a behavior--they'll make your child think that he (and not his action) is either good or bad, rather than teaching him that sharing, for example, is the practice that makes you proud.

  • Kathryn Gamble

    Create a Diversion

    Who? 6 to 24 months

    Why? The word "no" becomes more common when babies start crawling and can get into things previously out of their reach. While their behavior may be irksome, kids are just indulging their natural curiosity.

    How? When you catch your baby reaching for a lamp cord, get her attention by calling her name or making a funny sound. Offer her a more acceptable toy, explaining, "Let's play with these blocks rather than that cord--I wouldn't want the lamp to fall and hurt you." While most children this age aren't able to remember rules, they are easily distracted.

  • Disciplining Kids of Different Ages
    Disciplining Kids of Different Ages
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    Set a Schedule

    Who? 6 months and up

    Why? Power struggles and meltdowns over bedtime and cleaning up are common with toddlers. With consistent routines, children are more likely to feel they have control over what happens to them, which can help to reduce outbursts.

    Although it may be hard to believe when your kid refuses to forgo playing with her new toy and take a bath, children do take comfort in being able to predict, it's bathtime now, which means that bedtime must be coming soon. Routines provide a sense of security, and it's your job as a parent to provide these feelings of safety and love.

    How? Routines, and the rules that come with them, vary from household to household, but the trick here is to make sure you set limits you know you'll follow through on, such as a 7 p.m. bedtime or always washing your hands before eating. Otherwise, kids become what Lynn Lott, coauthor of Positive Discipline A-Z, calls parent deaf: When parents give an order, children tune out the instructions because the rules haven't been enforced in the past and therefore probably won't be enforced this time.

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    Explain Yourself

    Who? 24 months and up

    Why? At this age children are beginning to grasp the difference between right and wrong. By giving your child a reason for your instruction, you're allowing her to understand why one behavior is better than another, which "sets kids up for being able to handle similar decisions on their own in the future," Lott explains.

    How? Instead of always telling a child what not to do, explain to her what you'd like her to do, then follow up with specifics. For instance, if you see your daughter starting to scrawl a masterpiece on your wall, resist the urge to yell, "No!" while yanking the crayon out of her hand. Explain that although coloring is a great idea, you shouldn't do it on walls. Let her know that in the future, she needs to do all her coloring on paper.

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    Break Up the Action

    Who? 24 months and up

    Why? "Time-outs are a way of breaking the behavior cycle," says T. Berry Brazelton, coauthor of Discipline: The Brazelton Way. They not only allow your child time to calm down, but they offer a minute of relief for you as well.

    How? Time-outs are just a break from the tension of the moment, so they shouldn't last more than a couple of minutes, or until the child has calmed down, even if it takes only 30 seconds. Lead him to a chair away from toys. Explain that he needs to stay there until he can calm down. When he's ready to talk, tell him why you think he was misbehaving (e.g., "You were mad because Tommy took your toy"). This will help him recognize and deal with his feelings. Once the air is cleared, offer him a hug so he knows you were unhappy with his behavior, not with him. "This is the time to show your child that he can be in the wrong and still be forgiven, respected, and loved," adds Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution.

  • Kathryn Gamble

    Tantrum Tip

    Tantrums are a toddler's way of voicing frustration. When Kristine Mancusi, a mother from Wallington, New Jersey, senses a tantrum coming on, her tactic is simple: "I wait a few seconds, take a deep breath, and let my son go with it." Intense emotions are a natural part of life, so allow your child the chance to be angry. Let her know that you're ready to talk once she's calmed down--and do talk to her. You may be happy to get past the fit, but if you discuss the reasons behind the fireworks, you'll help avoid a similar scene in the future.

    Copyright © 2009 Meredith Corporation.