Top Tips for Disciplining Children

Happy new year to all our clients and blog readers. We trust you had a good Christmas. With many people thinking about new beginnings etc. at this time of year, some of our readers may be considering making changes to their parenting approach. So in this week’s #ThursdayThoughts we are looking at Owen’s tips for disciplining children. Let us know on our social media profiles if you have any tips of your own.


For example, is it ok to hit a small child who wouldn’t understand verbal reasoning because they’ve gone out on the road?

When a child goes out on the road, some parents are tempted to hit the child, to teach them that going out on the road is dangerous, but it is much better to remove children from danger than to hit them. Remember: your child doesn’t have the library of information that says “That stop sign means stop” or “If I go on the road I may get hit.”
You, the parent, are the one that knows those things and you also know that your child, if unattended, will run out on the road. Therefore, if you let your child play on a street where there are passing cars then you’re asking for trouble. I used to joke with my mum that because there were so many of us, she used to let us play on the tram tracks!

children crossing road

But to return to the issue at hand, I’m saying that children don’t know that if they run onto the street, there could be a car coming that could kill them. If a ball goes onto the road, their attention is focused on the ball and the game, not the car. When they’re with you on a road or pathway, they need to be contained, but if they do run out onto the road and you hit them for doing it, do you think that will make any difference to the child? No. It will only make them think that you’re cruel for hitting them, because they are too young to understand that running out onto the road is a problem. YOU are the one that got a fright, so you wanted to thump them because YOU were scared or upset. THEY weren’t scared – they were just doing what a child does. Taking the child from the danger and pointing out to them that going out on the road is dangerous is much more important than the smack, because when you explain the dangers, you’re building up a library of information in them and building a caring parent-child relationship. The smack won’t keep them from going onto the road in future. By hitting them, you’re only building fear into them. If you communicate through fear, they will live fearfully. They’ll be afraid to go out onto the road. And that’s not good because there should be times when you can go out onto the road.

Fear-driven learning is not successful. There are enough fears in us, so we don’t need to learn more from our families, particularly from the people who are supposed to be caring for us. Children have a lot of reasoning power as early as two, so two is not too young to explain to them not to go out on the road. In fact, age two is the time when you’re trying to impress upon them that your “yes” means “yes” and “no” means “no,” so it’s a good time to emphasise that going onto the road is a “no-no.”

If you want your child to learn about hitting, then hit them. If you don’t want them to learn about it, then don’t hit them. They’re going to get all these knocks and blows from their peers at school so they’ll learn all about that type of interaction soon enough. But the big bully adult should not engage in smacking. I think lots of parents would be upset at me saying that, and a case could possibly be made for the gentle tap on the bottom as a little reminder, but beating children into submission is unacceptable. On this island, loads of cases of this type of abuse are coming to light at the moment. When I was growing up, we were slapped by teachers and if we went home and told our parents, we got another slap! And we were told we probably deserved it! We have a generation of adults now who got so many thumps and smacks that they think that’s the only way to raise children, but a lot of the people who got punished in this way got deeply scarred by it. Some who got hit like that went too far the other way, however, and are against disciplining children. But disciplining must be done, and the best way is to put a discipline chair somewhere in the house, and say “You must stay there till you apologise or work it out.” (It’s best to leave them in the chair for a minute per year-of-age, e.g. three minutes for a three-year-old and five minutes for a five-year-old). Children hate to go into those chairs, so, if you start it young, you’ll find them saying “Sorry Mummy” or “Sorry Dad” and that’s much more effective than the smack. Children don’t have a lot of patience but you’re the one that must have the patience. You’re the one with the 30-40 years of experience who can teach the child the way they should go. Nobody likes to learn in a place where they’re bullied, criticised and smacked. If your children are bullied, criticised or smacked at home, will they learn from their parents? No. But if they’re treated with love and respect, they will learn at home.

Top 10 Discipline Tips

1. Be Decisive. Children’s radar picks up the maybe in the no! State it assertively and decisively. Use yes rather then no. For example, “Yes, you can have it when your homework is finished.” Delineate tasks for boys. For example, “I would like you to clean your room tonight. That includes putting your clothes away, making your bed, and putting away your toys where they belong.”

2. Be Positive. Direct attention away from what your child doesn’t want to do, to what he does want to do. “As soon as you get out of the bath and brush your teeth, we can read a story.”

3. Explain Yourself. This promotes the child’s reasoning skills. “Hold the knife carefully, cutting away from you, or you’ll cut yourself.”

4. Make Rules Impersonal. Make the conflict between the child and the rule instead of the child and you. Change “I don’t want you to drink juice in the living room” to “The rule is: food and drink in the kitchen only, please.”

5. Be Brief and Clear. When disciplining a child it is not a time to give them a sermon on why you have come up with this philosophy on cleanliness or table manners.

6. Offer a Choice Whenever Possible. “You need to have your room tided up before you go to bed tonight. Do you want to do it now or after dinner?

7. Reward Good Behaviour. Give praise, prizes, and hugs for being “caught” doing good! Ask the child for ideas. This is an excellent way to prove you are interested and really listen.

8. Know When Not to Get Involved. This will be different for each family, but often it will include school issues and sibling issues. Let a child work out a conflict at school on his own, or resolve a conflict with a sibling without your help.

9. Work Together. The effective parent does not say, “Get going” but instead says, “Let’s go.” State the problem areas, Ask for suggestions, Come up with a workable approach.

10. Pick Your Battles. Adjusting expectations may increase cooperation.
a. Choose your issues. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to set a limit here? Is it important for the child’s growth or is it just a personal preference of mine that can be negotiated?”
b. Is this request age-appropriate? For example, is it reasonable to ask a six-year-old to stop asking questions, or to ask a two-year-old to not request snacks between meals?

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