Everyone wants to raise good children. Parents expect to have to teach children how to do a lot of things, such as how to ride a bike and how to cross the street safely. Parents also need to teach their children how they want them to behave, and they need to set limits to teach children how to get along in the world.
Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective methods of teaching children. We all appreciate hearing what we did well. A good general rule is to provide about four or five times as much positive reinforcement as negative reinforcement (such as “don't do this” and “stop it”).
While it may seem easier to respond to behavior in negative ways, positive reinforcement is much more effective in the long run, since children want to receive praise and please adults. Also, like adults, children tend to tune out when they hear too many “don'ts."
Using time outs or removing children from activities they are enjoying can also be effective discipline for children over age two. Time outs are more effective at changing behavior than corporal punishment (such as spanking or hitting). A good general rule is one minute of time out per year of age.
However, parents need to understand their child's development and what they can expect from the child at each age. Sometimes discipline may be used inappropriately as a response to a child's normal developmental stage; for example, is it the “terrible twos” or normal exploratory play? Discipline that uses corporal punishment may not only escalate to more serious child abuse, but is also found to be ineffective in teaching children good behavior.
When a child misbehaves, these techniques may be more appropriate and more effective than corporal punishment:
- Set up the home environment so that the child can succeed: For example, remove all breakable objects from children's reach, install safety gates and make developmentally appropriate toys available.
- Use distraction: For example, if a toddler reaches for every item at the grocery store checkout line, redirect his attention by offering a small toy brought from home.
- Use "natural" and "logical" consequences: The punishment should fit the crime. For example, if a child writes on the walls in crayon, an appropriate punishment might be to have them help to clean up their mess.
- Making sure the child knows what they did wrong: Clearly outline what the correct behavior should be, and give the child a chance to try again relatively soon (in child time) to succeed.
A child's pediatrician can be an excellent resource for further information about appropriate discipline for your child’s age. In addition, the following resources may be helpful: