What is discipline?

Discipline means to teach. The purpose of discipline is to teach our children appropriate behavior so they may get along with others and live effectively in the world. It involves guiding children to make wise decisions about their conduct and gradually allowing them to accept the responsibility for their choices. Providing direction, correcting undesirable behavior and teaching acceptable responses is an important part of being a parent.

How do I change unacceptable behavior?

Children usually want to please their parents. Unacceptable behavior can be changed by communicating displeasure, by firmly saying "no" with a short explanation, by being consistent and explaining consequences. It is important to provide an appropriate model in our actions.

Do children need discipline or limits?

Yes, limits are very important. They teach respect for oneself and others, promote security and self-esteem, and allow development of self-control. Appropriate parental responses allow us to enjoy our children as interesting individuals.

What promotes effective discipline?

Communicating that you understand your child's feelings as you are setting firm, kind, consistent limits is important. Consequences that are acted upon immediately and directly related to the situation will be constructive.

What are some effective methods of discipline?

Time-outs, rewards and restricting privileges such as television or video games, are effective methods. Discussion at a later time when feelings are not so intense will help prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Should discipline be different at different ages?

Yes. Although effective discipline always promotes self-control and respect, to be effective it must be tailored to the age and development of the child. For example, a frustrated two year old may need to calm down for a while, whereas a seven year old may need a time-out. Young children are easily distracted or redirected to stop inappropriate behavior. School-age children need to be reminded of consequences, and parents need to enforce them.

Does saying "no" hurt my child?

No, it actually helps your child. You are teaching what is and is not acceptable. It is the beginning of learning to say "no" to oneself and to develop self-control.

What about physical punishment or spanking?

Spanking may stop the immediate behavior. However, if it is the primary or frequent method of discipline, it is not helpful. Then it promotes the use of physical force to have an impact on others, to settle arguments and disagreements.

What do I do if I ask 10 times and my child still doesn't listen?

It is important to make sure attention is being paid to what is said and that your behavior matches your words. For example, if the request is made to turn off the TV, the child must listen to you and not the TV. If the child is still not cooperating, you may have to turn off the TV yourself to show you are serious. Allowing children to disregard our requests communicates they do not have to listen to us until we are really angry. Asking three times may be okay for young children, while asking them less often is appropriate for older children. It is important to decide what is comfortable for you and to provide effective discipline if the child doesn't listen.

How can I keep unwanted behavior from happening in the first place?

This is not always possible. Children need to experiment to find out the rules and limits. The better you know your child, the better you are able to anticipate and prevent problem behavior.


In summary, appropriate, positive discipline is one of the most important tasks of parenthood. It is also one of the most difficult. Many parents are able to discipline their children with confidence and minimal frustration. However, if parents are unsure of their skills in this area or if they can identify a specific difficulty, it is helpful to consult a child psychologist to clarify the issue. Services may range from a brief consultation, to parent guidance sessions, to psychotherapy, depending upon the nature of the issue.


When to Seek Professional Consultation

Many of the problems experienced by children or adolescents can be addressed by the family, although many families seek professional help at some point. They do so when they or the school observe the child exhibiting emotional, learning or behavior problems that interfere with his or her adjustment, success and self-esteem. A consultation with a psychologist can help to clarify the situation, determine if professional assistance is needed, and develop a plan of action. Depending on the issues, services such as parent guidance, individual child therapy or family counseling can be very helpful. Psychological testing can pinpoint the nature of a child's learning problems. Follow-up parent guidance can help work out an appropriate plan of educational intervention and support.