Disciplining Children


Parents have been asking me for some advice on the best way to discipline their young children. Well, let me see if I can behave appropriately and provide some information on this topic.

Some Best Practices

  • Parents, model the behaviors you want to see in your children to teach them right from wrong using calm words and actions.
  • Set limits with clear and consistent rules in age-appropriate language they can understand. 
  • Once a child’s language skills are in place, place consequences on their undesired behavior and follow through on those consequences. 
  • Listening is important. Listen to your children as to how and why they acted as they did and then talk about it with them rather than just inflict consequences. Giving them your undivided attention to reinforce the good behaviors and discourage others goes a long way to getting your kids to behave. Call more attention to what they do right rather than what they do wrong.
  • Praise them for their successes rather than berate them for failures.  If the bad behavior is not dangerous, but simply annoying, ignore that irritating behavior and the lack of attention will likely make it go away. If you think your children are going to act out because they are bored—then distract them into another activity before the bad behavior flares up. 
  • For younger children, time-outs may be useful to remove them from a safety situation and break the frenzy, but you can get further as your children get older by emphasizing the positive more than using time outs – unless an older child simply says they are taking a time out to calm themselves down, or you take one to calm yourself down.

What Not to Do

Whatever you do, please do not spank your child or use harsh words and yelling to discipline them. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent policy statement on effective discipline provides evidence that spanking and other forms of corporal punishment do not work. The same is true for yelling or shaming a child, which can even lead to long-term damage to a child’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Berating and criticizing your children only increases their feelings of anger and aggression – and one thing our world doesn’t need right now is more anger and aggression.

Hopefully, tips like these will hit the spot rather than result in a need to physically punish your children when it comes to helping them develop good behavior. 

Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5.

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