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How to discipline toddlers, kids, tweens and teens

Here are some tips for disciplining children as they grow:

Disciplining Toddlers

Avoid time outs, which create anxiety and clinginess, and do your best to play what I call the Captain of the ship game. Rather than punishing or scolding a child after she’s been naughty, consider how you can avoid the triggers that prompt her to misbehave.

A child who is hungry, tired, or over-stimulated is far more likely to fall apart. If he does something wrong, describe it in positive language with a minimum of words: “Kitty likes to be touched softly.” And acknowledge her when she’s doing something you appreciate: “I love how gently you’re playing with Kitty…and she loves it, too!”

Disciplining Kids

Mom and daughter doing chores

Use family meetings to establish household routines, chores and expectations. And look for ways to put kids “in charge”—of feeding the fish, sweeping the sidewalks, or sorting the laundry—to help them develop responsibility.

Rather than focusing on a child’s misdeeds with long lectures and/or punishments, catch him doing something you appreciate. Speak from your heart about how their behavior touched you: “I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I came home and saw that you’d already started your homework, sweetheart. Thank you!”

Disciplining Tweens

As children move toward adolescence, they’re keenly on the lookout for any evidence that you might be treating them like they’re little kids. Speak confidently when you make a request (using minimum words!) and don’t hover to see if they’re doing what you ask.

Offer explanations for why they need to do something if and only if they ask without whining or sass. Avoid power struggles; hear them out when they’re upset, but resist the impulse to engage in debates and negotiations.

Disciplining Teens

See section on Toddlers. Just kidding. Disciplining a teenager is largely about gently helping them discover what’s right as you guide them towards developing their own internal compass. Create receptivity by asking them their opinions about things from drinking at parties to rushing through homework, and listen without interruption or judgment. Speak to them with respect and a sincere desire to better understand their point of view as they sort through the events of their life. Your job now is to help them uncover their own healthy sensibilities about living their best life.

It’s not easy to play “disciplinarian” in a child’s life. Recognize that with your support in learning accountability and responsibility, you’ll be helping your kids move towards a healthy and successful adult life.

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