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How to discipline your child

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

It can be hard for parents to get the balance right when it comes to discipline. You don’t want to come across as a full on sergeant major but neither do you want your kids to think of you as a push over.

Discipline doesn’t mean punishment, it means teaching children the right way to behave. From pre-schoolers to teenagers the same rules apply even if the behaviour is very different depending on their age.

Praise good behaviour

Instead of always picking your kids up on their bad behaviour try praising them for their good behaviour.

It’s called positive reinforcement and the idea is it’s more likely to change your child’s behaviour than being negative. So if for example you catch your child being loving to their little sibling make a point of saying, "It makes me so happy that you act in such a caring way to your sister." Or if your teenager is back by curfew say something like, "I really appreciate you sticking to our curfew; I feel I can really trust you to keep to your promises. Thank you."

Be consistent

Be consistent. Children don’t like it when they don’t know how you’ll react to certain behaviour. They need firm rules that are always adhered to.

For example, if weekday bedtime for your child is always 8.30pm, even if they nag you to stay up later always stick to the rule. If some days you give in and say ok you can stay up till 9pm your child will from then on try their luck as they know you aren’t consistent with your rules.

You can adapt this to fit the age of the children but it may help to make a family rules list. Don’t make an exhaustive chart just a few simple rules which you expect children to stick to which they know about ahead of time.

Be clear

Be clear about what you expect. Spell out in simple terms exactly what you want your child to do. Rather than "tidy your room, it’s a pigsty" say "please put your dirty washing in the washing machine, put the rubbish in the downstairs bin and then vacuum the floor." If your instructions are vague children will be more likely to ignore them.

Children benefit from having specific rules and instructions. They should be taught the right thing to do rather than be told off for the wrong behaviour. For example, "You need to take your muddy shoes off before you put your feet on the sofa as it’ll get dirty," rather than yelling, "Get your muddy feet off the sofa, now!"

Even as they get older when they push boundaries and break rules they still appreciate structure in their lives, even if they wouldn’t admit it.

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