Discipline & Young Children

Physical punishment may not only endanger the welfare of a child but also is likely to be counterproductive. According to the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, kids don’t need to be hit in order to learn proper behavior. This is not to say that parents can’t occasionally swat the small hand that’s reaching for a hot stove or a forbidden treat. But using physical force as a routine form of discipline can have disastrous results.

Here are some positive steps:

  • Show respect for the child and expect respect in return. Aim to teach self-esteem, which motivates youngsters to discipline themselves.
  • Set an example of self-control and good manners. If you lose your temper, try to get away for a few minutes if you can, or at least turn on the radio or find some other way to distract and calm yourself. Anybody who looks after children gets angry sometimes. But what you do sets an example for the child. If you get so angry that you scream or lose control, apologize when you’ve calmed down.
  • Set rules for behavior and for the daily routine when caring for children. Small kids, especially, feel more secure if they know when to expect a bath, meals, play, or sleep.
  • Remember that babies and most toddlers are not yet capable of following rules. Children under the age of three or four may endanger themselves, break objects, and do the exact opposite of what you tell them. If you fight with them, you're sure to lose, and hitting them accomplishes nothing. (An infant, of course, should never be hit, and no child should ever be shaken.) If a toddler heads into danger, it's the adult’s job to rescue her. Offer an explanation: "You'll get hurt out in the street; I don’t want you to get hurt." But if she doesn't understand you or repeats her action anyway, remove her from temptation.
  • When you say no, be sure the child understands your reason. Be sure you understand it, too.
  • Always praise good behavior.
  • Give the child some voice in decisions that affect him. Allow him to say how he feels and what he thinks. When setting limits, offer choices when possible: "You can play in the sandbox or on the swing, but you can’t throw sand."
  • Call "time out." If the child loses his temper or disobeys repeatedly, try isolating him for a while and offering some quiet but constructive activity. Later, give him a chance to make amends or apologize. Don’t hold his anger against him. Make him feel worthwhile.
  • If a child has broken a rule (for example, "you can't hit your brother") and you feel punishment is in order, take away privileges for a limited time, or if she is hitting and fighting, isolate the child from playmates. If a child has broken something or written on the wall with crayon, get her to clean it up or at least help you clean it up. Always be clear about what the punishment is for, how long it is to last, and what you expect it to accomplish.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 22 Jun 2010

Last Modified: 06 Nov 2014