Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
and Your Child
As a parent, it is your job
to teach your child the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
But getting your child to behave the way you want is not as hard as you think.
This brochure will help you learn effective ways to discipline your child.
Because learning takes time, especially for a young child, you may find that it
takes several weeks of working on a behavior before you see a change. Try not to
get frustrated when you don’t see the results of your efforts right away.
Many parents think
discipline and punishment are the same thing. However, they are really quite
different. Discipline is a whole system of teaching based on a good
relationship, praise, and instruction for the child on how to control his
behavior. Punishment is negative; an unpleasant consequence for doing or not
doing something. Punishment should only be a very small part of discipline.
Effective discipline should take place all the time, not just when children
misbehave. Children are more likely to change their behavior when they feel
encouraged and valued, not shamed and humiliated. When children feel good about
themselves and cherish their relationship with their parents, they are more
likely to listen and
behavior from infancy
You can begin
laying the groundwork for good behavior from the time your child is born. When
you respond to your infant cries, you are teaching her that you are there, you
can be counted on when she needs you, and that she can trust you. When your
child is about 2 months of age, start to modify your responses and encourage
your baby to establish good sleeping patterns by letting her fall asleep on her
own. By keeping a reasonably steady schedule, you can guide her toward eating,
sleeping, and playing at times that are appropriate for your family. This lays
the groundwork for acceptable behavior later on. Once your baby starts to crawl
(between 6 and 9 months of age) and as she learns to walk (between 9 and 16
months of age), safety is the most critical discipline issue. The best thing you
can do for your child at this age is to give her the freedom to explore certain
things and make other things off-limits. For example, put childproof locks on
some cabinets, such as those that contain heavy dishes or pots, but leave other
cabinets open. Fill the open cabinets with plastic containers or soft materials
that your child can play with. This feeds your baby’s need to explore and
practice, but in safe ways that are acceptable to you. You will need to provide
extra supervision during this period. If your child moves toward a dangerous
object, such as a hot stove, simply pick her up, firmly say, “no,
hot!” and offer her a toy to play with instead. She may laugh at first as
she tries to understand you but, after a few weeks, she will learn. Discipline
issues become more complex at about 18 months of age. At this time, a child
wants to know how much power she has and will test the limit of that power over
and over again. It is important for parents to decide ‘ together ‘
what those limits will be and stick to them. Parents need to be very clear about
what is acceptable behavior. This will reduce the child’s confusion and
her need to test. Setting consistent guidelines for children when they are young
also will help establish important rules for the
Tips to avoid
The first thing to remember
is to avoid power struggles whenever possible. Instead, address only those
issues that truly are important to you. The following tips may
- Offer choices whenever possible. By giving
choices, you can set limits and still allow your child some independence. For
example, try saying, “Would you like to pick up your toys yourself, or
should I help you?”
- Make a game out of good behavior. Your
child is more likely to do what you want if you make it fun. For example, you
might say, “Let’s have a race and see who can put his coat on
- Plan ahead. If you know that certain
circumstances always cause trouble, such as a trip to the store, discuss with
your child ahead of time what behavior is acceptable and what the consequences
will be if he does not obey. Try to plan the shopping trip for a time when your
child is well rested and well fed, and take along a book or small toy to amuse
him if he gets bored.
- Praise good behavior. Whenever your child
remembers to follow the rules, offer encouragement and praise about how well he
did. You do not need any elaborate system of rewards. You can simply say,
“Thank you for coming right away,” and hug your
Of course you cannot
avoid trouble all of the time. Sooner or later your child will test you. It is
your child’s way of finding out whether you can be trusted and really will
do what you say you will do if she does not listen to you. When your child does
not listen, try the following techniques. Not only will they encourage your
child to cooperate now, but they will teach her how to behave in the future as
- Natural consequences. When a child sees
the natural consequences of her actions, she experiences the direct results of
her choices. (But be sure the consequences do not place her in any danger.) For
example, if your child spills her milk on purpose, she will not have milk to
drink. If she throws and breaks her toy, she will not be able to play with it.
It will not be long before your child learns to not spill her milk and to play
carefully with her toys. When you use this method, resist the urge to lecture
your child or to rescue her (by getting more milk, for example). Your child will
learn best when she learns for herself and will not blame you for the
consequences she receives.
- Logical consequences. Natural consequences
work best, but they are not always appropriate. For example, if your child does
not pick up her toys, they may be in the way. But chances are she will not care
as much as you do. In this situation, you will need to step in; creating a
consequence that is closely connected to her actions. You might tell her that if
she does not pick up her toys, then you will put them away but she will not play
with them again for a whole day. When you use this method, it is important that
you mean what you say and that you are prepared to follow through
immediately. Let your child know that you are serious. You do not have to
yell and scream to do this. You can say it in a calm, matter-of-fact way.
- Withholding privileges. In the heat of the
moment, you will not always be able to think of a logical consequence. That is
when you may want to tell your child that, if she does not cooperate, she will
have to give something up she likes. The following are a few things to keep in
mind when you use this technique:
take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal.
something that your child really likes.
- Be sure
you can follow through on your promise.
Time-out. Time-out should be your last
resort and you should use it only when other responses do not work. Time-outs
work well when the behavior you are trying to punish is clearly defined and you
know when it occurred. Time-outs can be helpful if you need a break in the
action (for example, if your child is hitting a sibling or friend). You can use
a time-out with a child as young as 1 year old. Follow these steps to make a
1. Choose a time-out spot. This
should be a boring place with no distractions, such as a chair. Bathrooms can be
dangerous and bedrooms may become playgrounds.) Decide what two or three
behaviors ill be punished with time-out and explain this to your child.
2. When your child does something
she knows will result in a time-out, you may warn her once (unless t is
aggression). If it happens again, send her to her time-out spot
immediately. Tell her what she did wrong in s few words as possible. A
rule of thumb is 1 minute of time out for every year of your child’s age.
(For xample, a 4-year-old would get a 4-minute time-out.) But even 15 seconds
will work. If your child will not to to the spot on her own, pick her up and
carry her there. If she will not stay, stand behind her and hold her gently but
firmly by the shoulders or restrain her in your lap and say, ‘I am holding
you here because you have to have a time-out.’ Do not discuss it any
further. It should only take a couple of weeks before she learns to cooperate.
3. Once your child is capable of
sitting quietly, set a timer so that she will know when the time-out is over. If
fussing starts again, restart the timer. Wait until your child stops protesting
before you set the timer.
the time is up, help your child return to a positive activity. Your child has
‘served her time.’ Hug her and welcome her back. If you need to
discuss her behavior, wait several minutes before doing so.
Tips to make discipline
You will have days when
it seems impossible to get your child to behave. But there are ways to ease
frustration and avoid unnecessary conflict with your child.
aware of your child’s abilities and limitations. Children develop at
different rates and have different strengths and weaknesses. When your child
misbehaves, it may be that he simply cannot do what you are asking of him.
before you speak. Once you make a rule or promise, you will need to stick to
it. Be sure you are being realistic.
that children do what ‘works.’ If your child throws a temper
tantrum in the grocery store and you bribe him to stop by giving him candy, he
will probably throw another tantrum the next time you go. Make an effort to
avoid reinforcing the wrong kinds of behavior, even with just your attention.
toward consistency. No one is consistent all of the time. But try to make
sure that your goals, rules, and approaches to discipline stay the same from
day to day. Children find frequent changes confusing and may resort to testing
limits just to find out what the limits are.
attention to your child’s feelings. If you can figure out why
your child is misbehaving, you are one step closer to solving the problem.
Often it helps to let your child know that you understand. For example,
‘I know you are feeling sad that your friend is leaving, but you still
have to pick up your toys.’
to see mistakes ‘including your own’ as opportunities to learn.
If you do not handle a situation well the first time, don’t despair.
Figure out what you could have done differently, and do it the next time. If
you feel you have made a real mistake in the heat of the moment, wait to cool
down, apologize to your child, and explain how you will handle the situation in
spanking is not the best choice
recommended that if punishment is needed, alternatives to spanking should be
Although most of us were spanked as
children, we now know that it has several important side effects.
- It may
seem to work at the moment, but it is no more effective in changing behavior
than a time-out.
increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility.
may intend to stay calm but often do not, and regret their actions later.
most parents do not want to spank, they are less likely to be
makes other consequences less effective, such as those used at day care or
school. Gradually, even spanking loses its impact.
can lead to physical struggles and even escalate to the point of harming the
who are spanked are more likely to be depressed, use alcohol, have more anger,
hit their own children, approve of and hit their spouses, and engage in crime
and violence as adults. These results make sense since spanking teaches the
child that causing others pain is justified to control them even with those they
love. If you are having trouble disciplining your child or need more
information on alternatives to spanking, talk to your pediatrician.
Telling your child how
to behave is an important part of discipline, but showing her how to
behave is even more significant. Children learn a lot about temper and
self-control from watching their parents and other adults interact. If they see
adults relating in a positive way toward one another, they will learn that this
is how others should be treated. This is how children learn to act respectfully.
Even though your childrenÕs behavior and values seem to be on the right
track, your children will still
you because it is in their nature and is a part of growing up. Children are
constantly learning what their limits are, and they need their parents to help
them understand those limits. By doing so, parents can help their children feel
capable and loved, learn right from wrong, and develop good behavior and a
positive approach toward life.