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    Disciplining Your Child at Any Age

    Father and son having a conversation.

    Each child is different, but most children need to be given clear rules about behavior. Discipline needs to start as soon as a child is pulling up and crawling. Infants rely on their parents to provide a safe environment. Discipline should be age-focused. And it should teach age-appropriate behaviors.

    Things to keep in mind

    Some general values about discipline include:

    • Be a good role model for your child.

    • Try to recognize and praise your child when he or she is being good.

    • Make sure rewards for good behavior happen right away.

    • Hug your child after using discipline. Make sure the child knows it’s the behavior you’re not happy with, not your child.

    • Don’t use physical punishment.

    How to lessen unwanted behavior

    Try not to reward a child or give positive support for a bad behavior. For example, if your child is having a tantrum, giving him or her a cookie to be quiet is a reward for the bad behavior. To help lessen bad behavior, try these tactics:

    • Don’t give positive support for bad behavior. Instead, try ignoring the behavior.

    • Have the behavior result in an unpleasant result, such as punishment.

    Punishment has 2 forms, including:

    • Denying your child privileges or a desired activity. This may be limiting TV time, or saying "no" to dessert.

    • Requiring an activity that isn’t fun. This may include doing chores, or having a “time out.”

    A behavior can also have a natural result that’s like punishment. For example, a child who won’t eat may go to bed hungry.

    Keep in mind that spanking and other forms of physical punishment aren’t helpful. This type of discipline teaches a child aggressive behavior.

    Tips for discipline by age

    Discipline often depends on the age of a child, and how much he or she understands his or her behavior. These are some tips for discipline by age group.

    Babies and toddlers

    • Safety is the main concern. Provide a safe environment that decreases the chances of things being broken by the child.

    • Babies will respond to a loud, firm voice saying "no."

    • After saying "no," direct your child to a good behavior, such as a toy.

    • Don’t reward bad behavior. Ignore temper tantrums. But confront other problems, such as biting or hitting.

    • Praise and reward good behavior.


    • Preschoolers need clear and consistent rules.

    • This age group needs time to get ready for the next activity. Give your child a warning before it’s time to stop playing.

    • Preschoolers need lots of explanation as to why things are being done.

    • Use time-out for bad behavior.

    • Use praise for good behavior.

    School-aged children

    • Give your child chances to explain his or her side and opinion.

    • Let your child express his or her feelings and concerns.

    • Give your child choices.

    • Give your child chances to help solve problems together regarding his or her behavior.


    • This age group needs patient and understanding parents. They will test all limits.

    • Teens need to be told the long-term outcomes of bad behaviors.

    • Teens need to be involved with limit-setting, based on their maturity.

    Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
    Online Medical Reviewer: Heather Trevino
    Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
    Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2018
    © 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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