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How to discipline toddlers, kids, tweens and teens

What is the best way to effectively discipline your child when they misbehave? Your discipline tactics must change and adapt as your child grows. Therapist Susan Stiffelman shares her age appropriate guide to disciplining your toddler, child, teen and tween.

Mother and tween girl

Learn how to discipline toddlers, kids, tweens and teens

Children thrive on having a caring adult who’s willing to help them learn where the walls are, how to manage the less enjoyable tasks of life, and what it means to co-exist with other people with their own needs and desires. Discipline means providing the structure, routines, rituals and skills that help a child grow into a happy, self-reliant, capable adult. Although many people equate “discipline” with “punishment,” in my mind, disciplining a child is simply another aspect of loving him.

3 Factors to consider about discipline

Three factors make it more likely that your child will respond to your efforts to guide them:

Deep attachment

A child is wired to follow the lead of those key caretakers with whom they have a solid and durable attachment. Please read my previous article on forming strong attachments. One of the prerequisites for engaging a child’s willingness to cooperate is to ensure that the connection between you is strong. I can’t underestimate the importance of fortifying a loving connection with your child as a way to override their tendency to resist and defy your requests.

  quotation mark open Most of us lose our cool because of what we make our children’s behavior mean. We tell ourselves our kids are intentionally disrespecting us, or trying to hurt our feelings, when in fact, that could be completely untrue. quotation mark close

Clear authority

Another important element in disciplining children is to make it absolutely clear that you’re genuinely in charge. Children are biased to lean on whoever exudes confidence and authority. If you negotiate with your child over every request you make, or try to convince them to allow you be in charge, you come across as desperate and weak. Telling a child that you need them to do something—anything—creates a reversal in authority, handing over far too much power to them.

Managing frustration

Finally, it’s essential that parents help a child manage the frustration that comes up when they have to do something that isn’t—well—fun. Kids are motivated to enjoy themselves as much as possible; when they have to stop playing video games to start doing their homework, or go to bed when everyone else is still up, they will be disappointed. Parents who understand how to help a child manage their upset are far better able to discipline their child in ways that don’t fuel their anger or aggression.

When you take charge as the Captain of the ship in your child’s life, help her navigate her frustration, and maintain a strong attachment between the two of you, she’ll be more receptive to your discipline and guidance. Even when she doesn’t particularly want to take out the trash or stop teasing the dog, she’s more likely to comply when you’re cool, calm and connected.

Next page: Age appropriate discipline tips

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