20 Tips for Disciplining Your Child

It takes a lot of patience, attention and cooperation on your part to protect your child from harm and teach acceptable behavior. Since every child is different, you may need to adjust your discipline approach to match your child's specific needs. When used correctly, positive discipline techniques, like natural and logical consequences and positive time out, will keep your child safe and foster dignity, self-esteem and self-control in your growing child.

  • Natural consequences. In some cases, your child will understand the natural results of actions without your intervention or punishment. For example, a bike left in the rain will rust. Make sure that your child is aware of the consequences, and if your child does or doesn't do something to prevent them, resist the urge to say "I told you so."
  • Logical consequences. Logical consequences show children what happens based on their behavior and should be used when natural outcomes are unsafe. Children who don't do what they know they're supposed to do lose the chance to do what they want. For example, your child knows to wear a helmet when bike riding, but forgets to put it on. You respond by simply taking the bike for a few days without added punishment, anger or lectures. Remember that logical consequences are only effective when you follow through. Don't threaten to take away your child's bike if you don't intend to do it.
  • Positive time outs. When used correctly, positive time outs encourage your child to behave. Quiet time alone gives your child a chance to calm down. Time out should not be used as punishment, but as a chance for children to correct their behavior and learn from their mistakes.

Stages of positive discipline

Birth to 2 years old

Your baby needs to be held, talked to and comforted. When you have to discipline, remember that your toddler doesn't communicate like you. Your toddler can try your patience, cannot share and can't plan. The most effective ways to discipline your baby include the following:

  • Create a safe environment for your baby to play inside your home.
  • Establish routines based on your child's needs.
  • Redirect. Infants and toddlers are too young to understand time outs, and should never be left alone. Instead, draw your child's attention to something positive.
  • Ignore misbehavior when it's safe to do so.
  • Praise your child to encourage learning, independence and positive self-esteem.
  • Show your child natural and logical consequences to teach problem solving.
  • Set a good example. Children learn more by watching adults than in any other way.
  • Give your child choices that will avoid power struggles. For example, "Would you like apple slices or raisins?" A little power can give your child a lot of confidence!
  • Avoid physical punishment. Spanking, slapping or hitting may get your child's attention, but it won't teach how to behave and it may upset your child too much to listen to your words. Using physical punishment teaches your child that aggressive acts are an acceptable way to solve problems and could lead to low self-esteem, embarrassment or abuse. If you start to slap or spank your child, walk away from the situation to allow yourself to calm down and think before reacting purely on emotion.
  • Parent with the end in mind. Look at long-term solutions that will eventually help kids make their own decisions. Show your child respect and understand that criticizing, discouraging, blaming and shaming can damage self-esteem. Never tell children that they are bad, lazy, stupid or a failure; instead, help children learn how to change their behavior.

2 to 6 years old

Between ages two and six, your child learns by exploring and asking questions. During this phase, kids are developing language and social skills, including sharing. They may want to try simple tasks on their own and will probably learn by trying new things and taking risks. Help your preschooler by adding the following age-appropriate discipline techniques to those already in place (from birth to 2 years old):

  • Use positive time out when your child needs a cooling-off period. Parenting experts agree that time outs should be no longer than one minute for each year of your child's life, and you should surround your child with comfort items to help him or her to calm down.
  • Focus on what your child should do instead of what not to do.
  • Praise good behavior rather than punish misbehavior. Rewards are fine, but remember that you don't want your child to place more importance on the reward than the good behavior.
  • Establish rules, set clear limits and follow through if rules are broken.
  • Discourage tattling. Offer to listen while kids talk through their problems and use their own problem-solving skills to work things out instead of having you solve problems for them.
  • Discourage whining. Ignore kids when they whine, making sure they know why, but listen and respond quickly when they make a request without whining.

6 to 12 years old

Your child now has more self-control and can follow rules, accept responsibility and make decisions. Build on the positive discipline techniques already in place with the following:

Adjusting positive time outs. If time outs become less effective, try a new location that's better suited to your older child. Don't send kids to their room, and never lock them in their room as a punishment. This uses guilt and shame, which may make your child feel worse. If needed, sit with and soothe your child, or offer a comfort item.

  • Answering "why" questions in simple terms.
  • Involving your child in the problem-solving process. If your kids constantly argue in the back seat of the car, hold a family meeting to discuss the problem. Ask both children to offer solutions and discuss why the arguing is a distraction and a safety issue. Tell them that when there are problems in the back seat, you will be pulling over to the side of the road until things calm down, and be prepared to follow through if a problem arises.
  • Make requests effective and positive. How you say something is just as important as what you say. Nagging, criticizing and threatening can be discouraging to your child. Instead, save yourself from repeating instructions by asking kids to repeat what you've just told them. Once you're sure they understand, you won't need to mention it again. When you do address their behavior, keep it short, or they may learn to tune you out.
  • Use more actions and fewer words. Keep explanations brief to avoid confusion, and be sure to follow through. If you tell your child that you'll put the blocks away if they are thrown, but the child does it anyway, simply follow through and put away the blocks as you said you would; no words are needed.

Discipline problems are a natural part of growing up. Your responses to your child's behavior issues are valuable opportunities to teach kids the skills they'll need to become successful adults. Using natural and logical consequences can help children

  • Learn from their mistakes and problem solve.
  • Value themselves as individuals.
  • Understand that you love and trust them.

If you've tried these positive discipline strategies for several weeks without improvement, your child's doctor may be able to suggest more specific ways to guide your child.


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