How to discipline your child with age-appropriate methods

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Disciplining a child is a necessary part of parenting. Much like other aspects of parenting, there’s no real guidebook, or definitive ways to ensure your child reacts in the way you want. Often, disciplining is seen as a bad word –when in reality it’s one of the most noble forms of teaching your child self-love and care. The connection is not evident immediately. Discipline is essential to building a long-term approach to achieving goals –regardless of which sphere of life they may be in. 

Kids often don’t see the longer-term view because they’re not required to. As parents, adults, or even as guardians our responsibility comes into play in showing them the way and helping them become disciplined overall. Here lies a catch. Discipline is not about enforcing our views, or coercing a child.

It’s about helping them act and behave in ways that benefit them. In today’s world, it no longer works to impose our ideas often, as kids are very effective at countering your logic. Therefore, appealing to their rational mind is also an important element. The time of “because I said so” rarely works anymore. When it comes to effectively disciplining our children, it’s crucial to establish clear expectations and recognize when it’s appropriate not to react. In this blog post, we’ll provide some guidance on how to discipline your child with age-appropriate methods

Role of consistency in disciplining 

The most important predictor of success in discipline is consistency is key in disciplining your child. Sporadic disciplining won’t command their respect or cooperation.  Set unequivocal rules and standards and consistently uphold them.

But we can’t parent oblivious to our child’s emotional state and mind frame. If they’re already fatigued or irritable, they may react with frustration or have a meltdown.  You may already know that it’s wise to pick your battles wisely and make a judgement for better timing to get the point home. While minor issues can be overlooked now, and then, for more serious issues sometimes, hitting the iron while it’s hot is not ideal.

Demonstrate your love for your child, even when you’re disciplining them. Always using a rational tone of voice, and not blaming them is key to them knowing that you want to address the behaviour. There’s a need to differentiate between the situation, the issue, and them. This approach helps them understand that your intention isn’t to punish but to guide them toward healthy and responsible behaviour.

Tools to help discipline your kids, across ages

Create a ritual of 1 on 1 time

In a time-starved world, knowing that your parents took time to spend it with you is a special kind of joy for kids, whether they admit it or not. These moments are what form core memories, as we now know them. This doesn’t have to be structured. It could be as short as 20 minutes or even just 5 minutes. You can incorporate it into daily activities, such as washing dishes together while singing a song or having a conversation while hanging out in the laundry.

The key is to make sure you’re fully present and engaged with your child. This means switching off the TV and putting away your phone, physically getting down to their eye level, and making it a meaningful one-on-one interaction between you and your child. This is suitable for kids of all ages above 5 years. 

Problem-solving with consequences

If your child does something that isn’t solving the problem, then give them a consequence. This will help them to see that their actions have consequences. Framing it as options, or different scenarios helps them feel in control, while also helping them evaluate the results of their choices. In this of course, you can limit the choices to whatever you think is reasonable or nudge them in the direction you want.

For example, if you want them to eat breakfast and they want to eat a sweet instead, you can ask them to eat breakfast, and then eat the sweet if they feel like it, or you can make them breakfast which is a bit sweet but is better for them. This way there are options but, in either scenario, you get to help them choose better. As soon as kids can communicate with you with words, they can understand the consequences. This method is useful for kids of all ages, but more with kids older than 8 years of age.

Your attention to solving tantrums

Sometimes, all a kid needs is your attention and it stops their tantrum. Especially for kids in the ages of 1-10 years, competing for your attention is one of nature’s pre-programing. Giving them your full focus, and attention typically will stop a child from having a meltdown. Listening to you soothe their anxiety, or refusal to calm down, in a quiet and relaxing way helps ease their stress hormones.

Recognising a tantrum is important though. You may see this behaviour more when they’re outside in new environments, in front of new people, or even when they’re just out and about. This is their way of seeking reassurance without words. Their actions, tantrums or overall behaviour is a call for giving them some re-affirming love.

Also knowing when to discipline them because they’re being a nuisance is about knowing your child well. If they know throwing a tantrum will likely get your attention, they will also learn how to manipulate it quickly. As a result, creating a balance of reactions, and knowing how to handle them in different scenarios is what makes disciplining a very dynamic task. 

What happens when tactics don’t work?

As a parent, you’re likely to experience scenarios where none of the above tactics outlined work. You have tried them all and then you’re ready to throw in the towel and take them to a camp which will discipline them. While it may be needed for some kids, not all kids need such measures. With kids, usually, reasoning works fairly well. To see reason, they need to be calm and understand what happens if they fail to follow your instructions or don’t do what’s being asked of them. 

Using time outs for your child and yourself

It’s not surprising that there are days when parenting seems like a difficult job you didn’t sign up for! By using time outs, you allow yourself and your child to take a break from escalating emotions and situations. When everyone has calmed down, of course, you can have more effective conversations. The benefit of doing this is you show your child through actions that you are stepping away from environments when you’re not fully prepared to handle them well.

It allows you to compose yourself, and keep you from saying or doing things that you may end up regretting. Putting your child in a timeout, also allows him or her to process their anger or dysregulation and come back to you calmer. Granted, you can help too, if you’re able to. Giving your child opportunities to self-soothe is also healthy. You can always break down and discuss the problem at hand once things have cooled off and high emotions have settled.

Set clear consequences

Part of growing up is learning that if you do something, something can happen as a result. Defining this for your child is a simple process that encourages better behaviour while teaching them about responsibility.

It might be surprising, but consequences work on kids as young as 3 years old. As long as they have abilities of speech cognition, they can understand what you’re saying. If you start by disciplining your child early on, the latter years are a lot easier because your child knows what to expect of you. 

Offer praise for good behaviour with caution

Offering praise for good behaviour can be a bit of a double-edged sword. You don’t want your child to feel like they have to act a certain way or behave in specific ways to win your praise and affection. This approach works if you’re –as a parent, or guardian–generous with praise in other areas too.

For example, aside from recognising their behaviour, you also recognise their efforts with something else, and in turn also have different moments to show your love, without any action. It’s often suggested that praising good actions is better than praising the outcome your child achieves to encourage them to take risks, and enjoy the process rather than being focused on specific outcomes. 

Here are a few things you can praise your child for:

  • Doing their homework on time, or without being prompted
  • Putting away their toys on time
  • Being kind to their siblings on a day when their sibling is having a hard time
  • Listening to you without interrupting 
  • Eating their food without watching something
  • Brushing their teeth without being told, or reminded
  • Taking a bath and getting themselves dressed
  • Saying please and thank you
  • Trying new experiences, or doing things that are beyond their usual 

By showing them appreciation and recognition for unusual behaviours, you’re showing them that you take notice. At the same time, you’re also cueing them to understand that acting in positive ways is helpful. It’s also common for parents to sandwich their praise –for example, “You got dressed yesterday! Why can’t you do it today?!” 

While as a tired, and often sleep-deprived parent, you’re right and venting your frustration, what your child is hearing is just that –your frustration. They miss your appreciation. Be mindful of these cues. Be specific, genuine, and frequent to have a lasting impact.

Create a positive home environment

Positive home settings are essential for kids of all ages. A home is where anyone needs to feel secure and loved. This method involves spending time with them, paying attention to them, and being there for them. It is a way of establishing a safe space and offering structure. Children need to feel like their home is a sanctuary, which is a sure place of comfort, and a place where they don’t have to deal with any ambiguity in their basic needs of food, shelter, love and security. 

Another essential component is having stimulating toys and things for them to do which motivates them to attempt new experiences. It makes it easier for you to praise their adventure and spirit. It’s also essential to be a role model of the behaviour you want them to follow. If you need them to be kind and thoughtful, be kind and thoughtful yourself. 

Talk to your child about their feelings

It is not uncommon for children to feel stressed and anxious at times. Some level of stress and anxiety is a normal part of childhood development. However, when stress and anxiety become overwhelming and start to interfere with daily life, it may be time to seek help.

There are several things you can do to help reduce stress and anxiety in your child. Identify the source of the stress or anxiety –is it fear, bullying, loss of a friend, or other issues causing your little one to worry? 

If your child is stressed or anxious due to school, talk to their teacher or the school counsellor about ways to help your child feel more comfortable and succeed in school. If your child is having difficulty making friends, there are several social skills groups or activities that can help them meet new friends and build social skills.

It is also important to help your child develop healthy coping skills. This may include teaching them how to relax through deep breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques. Helping them to identify and express their feelings healthily is also important. Encouraging them to stay active and get regular exercise can also help reduce stress and anxiety.

Express empathy and love

When you begin to discipline your toddler, always emphasise that you’re acting out of love. Let your child know that you care for them by saying something like, “I know you want to walk downstairs, but it is not safe for you to go there yet.” Hug your child and show that the limits you set are there for their safety and welfare.

Understanding that most of the trouble your young child gets into is the result of them being naturally curious, not bad or willfully misbehaving. You must understand your child’s mental development will help you see the world from your child’s eyes a bit more, and inspire you to treat your child with greater empathy. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” You’re the parent and must govern your child’s behaviour.

Advice for parents

Parenthood is a rewarding journey filled with love and joy, but it can also be demanding and exhausting. Incorporate physical activity into your routine, even if it’s a short daily walk or a quick home workout. Manage your expectations and remember that perfection isn’t attainable. Focus on doing your best rather than striving for perfection in parenting. Nourish your body with balanced meals. Plan and prep ahead to make mealtime less stressful and enjoy your family time moments.

Disciplining your child will have its moments of feeling like you’re not making headway but as your child grows he or she will develop a personality. Reading your child, knowing how to negotiate with them, and helping them navigate their emotions a key components to developing a strong bond.