21 Mom-Tested Discipline Tricks

When it comes to fixing bad behavior, moms are the real experts. Read on for smart strategies that will put a stop to whining, tantrums, back talk, and more.

  • Stephanie Rausser

    Bedtime Battles: Offer an Incentive

    "When we were teaching our son Anthony to stay in bed at night, we gave him a special paper lunch bag to sleep with. If he went down without a fuss, he'd find a surprise in the sack when he woke up. While he was asleep, I would sneak in a picture of the park we'd visit that day, a toy from the dollar store, or something else. Whatever the case, it worked."

    Sarah Hoflich
    Austin, Texas, mom of 2

  • Bedtime Battles: Provide Choices

    "Bedtime was becoming a struggle, so we decided to let Jacob control as many things as possible. We'd ask him, 'Do you want to use the blue or red toothbrush?' 'Right leg first or left leg first into the pj's?' and so on. Finally, I'd say, 'Want me to stay for three more minutes or five?' After five minutes, I'd give him a kiss and say, 'I'm leaving now. Do want the door open a little bit or opened wide?' All of a sudden Jacob was in bed wondering, 'How did I get here?'"

    Natalie McElroy
    Denver, Colorado, mom of 1

  • iStock

    Bedtime Battles: Say It With Pictures

    "To help our foster daughter adjust, we took digital photos of each part of the nighttime routine: taking a bath, brushing teeth, putting on jammies, reading a book. Then we'd hang them on her door. This let her see each activity so she knew exactly what was coming next."

    Jennifer Rochelle
    Austin, Texas, mom of 2

  • How to Discipline Your Kids
    How to Discipline Your Kids
  • Stephanie Rausser

    Tantrums: Turn No Into Yes

    "Instead of saying 'No,' which usually triggers a tantrum, I try to give a positive reply instead. If my kids ask, 'Mommy, can I have a cookie?' I'll say, 'Of course you can -- right after you eat dinner.' Or if they want to watch TV, I'll say, 'Sure, after you're done picking up your toys' or 'As soon as you play outside for an hour.'"

    Lisa Greene
    Seattle, Washington, mom of 2

  • istock

    Tantrums: Walk Away

    "As long as they're safe, I will usually walk away from my kids when they're having a tantrum. I don't try to calm them down. If we're in a store, I'll go around the corner, not far away, where I can see them and they can't see me. Once they realize I won't pay attention, the meltdowns stop."

    Liessa Alperin
    St. Louis, Missouri, mom of 2

  • Greg Scheidemann

    Tantrums: Validate Their Feelings

    "When my kids are about to explode I affirm what they're feeling. For example, 'You're mad you can't have ice cream now.' This lets them know I understand their frustration and gives them the words to express it."

    Gretchen Patterson
    Fairfield, Connecticut, mom of 3

  • Fancy Photography/Veer

    Sibling Squabbles: Make Chores, Not War

    "If they have time to argue about watching television, they have time to do work around the house, so I promptly assign them some new tasks. And if they argue about that, I give them more."

    Jody Hook
    Carmel, Indiana, mom of 4

  • Image Source/Veer

    Sibling Squabbles: Change the Setting

    "My kids fight when they've spent too much time together in the house. So I'll make them go into the backyard. The change of scenery helps them cool down and settle their differences."

    Cindy Steven
    Charlotte, North Carolina, mom of 2

  • Greg Scheidemann

    Sibling Squabbles: Enforce Affection

    "When our kids fight over a toy, they've got to give each other five big hugs. And if they yell at one another? They need to sit on the couch and hold hands for three minutes."

    Karen Baum
    Indianapolis, Indiana, mom of 2

  • Shannon Greer

    The Gimmes: Start a Wish List

    "If my kids want to buy something, I'll say, 'Let's put it on your Santa list.' They're okay after that."

    Lisa Marone
    Pass-a-Grille, Florida, mom of 2

  • iStockphoto

    The Gimmes: Delay the Decision

    "'If my daughter wants an item, I'll ask her, 'How much is in your piggy bank? Where will you put it?' Then she can come back another day with her own money."

    Kathy Robinson
    Winchester, Massachusetts, mom of 3

  • Alloy Photography/Veer

    The Gimmes: Get Them to Pitch In

    "At the store, two kids find stuff we need and a third puts it in the cart. So they're way too busy to think about things they want."

    Amy Rosman
    Roslyn, New York, mom of 3

  • Fancy Photography/Veer

    Tricky Transitions: Try Reverse Psychology

    "Usually when I drop my daughter off somewhere new, I have to scrape her off me. Recently, I switched my strategy. I said, 'Bria, I hope it's okay if I come into preschool with you. Do you mind if I stay a while?' It was the total opposite of what she expected, so when I needed to leave she was ready for me to go."

    Julianne Weiner
    Boyds, Maryland, mom of 2

  • iStockphoto

    Tricky Transitions: Get Goofy

    "If we're at a party and I'm trying to get my kids to leave, I find it helps to have them do something very silly. I'll say, 'Do you want to walk backward or hop on one foot to the car?"

    Natalie Reeder
    Mesa, Arizona, mom of 2

  • iStock

    Tricky Transitions: Change the Topic

    "When we need to end a playdate, I'll say, 'It's time to go so we can have lunch. Would you like peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese?' My kids start focusing on the meal, and they forget to protest that we're walking out the door."

    Corinne Carrico
    Woodlawn, Tennessee, mom of 4

  • Greg Scheidemann

    Back Talk: Take a Time-out

    "I make my daughter sit in the corner of our dining room for five minutes whenever she talks back. She comes away like nothing happened, and she's ready to behave."

    Tracey Seiden
    Moorestown, New Jersey, mom of 2

  • iStockphoto

    Back Talk: Turn Off the Volume

    "When my kids speak disrespectfully, I tell them they don't have the freedom to talk until they can use a gentle, controlled voice. A moment or two of silence usually does the trick."

    Betsy Loehr
    Donahue, Iowa, mom of 2

  • Stephanie Rausser

    Back Talk: Add Some Humor

    "To stop back talk, my husband will make a rhyme with the last phrase our kids say. So if they say, 'Stop it!' he'll say 'Plop it?' This gets them laughing, and it ends the tension."

    Onir Spiegel
    Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, mom of 2

  • Shannon Greer

    Whining: Do Now, Discuss Later

    "My kids have a bad habit of questioning a command to avoid obeying it. So we established a new rule: They have to do what we say first, and then we can talk about it later. I find this policy is especially effective in public places, where you can't get into a back-and-forth with your child."

    Barb Seidle
    Ewing, New Jersey, mom of 4

  • Shannon Greer

    Whining: Use a Timer

    "When my kids start to whine, I tell them to stop, and I set a kitchen timer for five minutes. When it buzzes, they can come back and talk in a nice tone of voice."

    Deana Trotter
    Park View, Iowa, mom of 3

  • Buff Stickland

    Whining: Stick to Your Script

    "If I've said 'No' to something and they keep asking, I pick a phrase such as, 'I know' or 'I'm not going to talk about this anymore.' Then I'll repeat it calmly -- sometimes many times -- until they just give up."

    Jen DeBusk
    Auburn, California, mom of 3

    Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Parents magazine.