How To Discipline A Child Effectively Without Losing It: An Ultimate Guide

Girl (child) lying on a playground crying
Photo by Denise-is-here on Pixabay

I think we can all agree that discipline is one of the hardest things we as parents have to learn, something that does not really come naturally for most of us. In this post, I will discuss how to effectively discipline a child based on science and research, expert advice in the field and personal experience from myself as well as parents I have met.

First of all, we all need to remind ourselves of the following all the time: what is it that we are doing and why? I will also talk about some basic rules for discipline followed by some age-specific behavior management techniques.

Why do you want to do it?

When you positively think about discipline, your aim should be to teach your child something. He or she has behaved in a bad way and you need to teach them that this is unacceptable. Your ultimate goal is to help them take in those rules and apply them to different situations in life as they grow up without your assistance. You want them to learn self-discipline and self-regulation. The way to do this is to create an association between the bad behavior and a consequence and then later find ways to eliminate this behavior.

The basis of discipline

You should show your child and help them know and understand that you love them. To discipline a child effectively, it needs to be built on love, trust and mutual respect. You might think it is obvious, but, your child needs to know this. Please remember that this will take time, you will need to repeat this many times to establish those rules.

During this process, avoid the following:

  • Avoid humiliating your child.
  • Do not hit or physically punish them.
  • Avoid yelling, shouting or intimidating.
  • You should not be mean to them.
  • Stay away from anything that would affect your child's self-esteem or confidence.

But wait, you are a human being! When your child did something silly for the 100th time in the same day, you might have yelled at them and became angry. Does that mean you are a bad parent?

I don't think so. Keep reading to find out how we can approach this differently.

Your are not aiming to turn your toddler into someone he is not. A child starts to develop a personality and an attitude and some children are just more rebellious than others. I don't see parenting as a way to change my child but rather a way to adjust their behavior so that they can cope with life.

Tension is infectious! 

-Dr. Christopher Green



 General rules when disciplining a child:

Keep your cool:

As Dr. Christopher Green says in his book (Toddler Taming): tension is infectious. Try to stay as calm as possible. Remember that this is part of parenting and is a teaching opportunity for your child rather than an act of punishment. It is better to look at parenting from a positive perspective and to do it with empathy and a focus on the relationship. It helps to have a plan agreed with your partner on what to do to tackle difficult behavior. This way you are are actively parenting rather than having an emotional reaction every time your toddler misbehaves.


Ideally, you want to prevent bad behavior so you don't even have to discipline them for doing it again. A simple way to do this is to observe Antecedents, Behaviors and Consequences. Watch out for things or situations that trigger tantrums or certain behaviors and try to avoid those or at least anticipate them and have a plan.

Photo of a boy crying while sitting on the ground
Photo by Pexabay on

Help them understand what is happening:

This applies more to older kids. Remember that you want your child to understand and learn something (e.g. if you hit your brother you are not going out). There is no point in trying to do this if your child is unable to understand. For example, they are too young, or they are screaming their lungs out at this moment in time. In the latter case, you need to wait until they are in a state that allows them to learn.

The aim is to make sure the child understand that what he did is wrong, and that this is the reason he is getting punished or disciplined. This will, of course, depend on the age. How much "explanation" you do will also vary according to their age and their mental abilities.

Be a good role-model:

How many times have you seen people act just like their parents, even decades later? If there is a big difference between what you are doing and what you are asking your child to do, try to shrink that gap.

Give praise:

In response to good behavior or coping well with a situation, make sure you praise, thank and support your child. Use appropriate level for their age. For older children who are at school, make the praise specific so they know you really mean it. Telling a 18 month old they did a "great job" because they were able to say "dada" would not be suitable for the same task in a 7 year old.

Be consistent:

Because otherwise, your child will get confused and will not learn. Also, discuss your plans with your partner or any other carer for the child. Agree not to argue in front of your children or disagree on parenting issues.

Sensible expectations and sensible consequences:

You probably cannot expect a 1 year old not to make a mess while eating! You should start thinking whether this is something that is worth the hassle or not. Similarly, do not threaten a child with exaggerated consequences that you can't actually apply. You will need to tailor your methods both to their developmental progress and their personality.

Stick around:

Try to stay with your child and don't ignore them for long. This helps a) to make sure they stay safe and b) it just sends the message: "I'm here for you". Sometimes you as a parent will need to remove yourself from the situation and go to another room to maintain your sanity and calm down, which is fine as long as the child is kept safe (for example the other parent is there with them).

Move on:

As soon as the behavior stops, the tantrum is over or the toddler is able to control himself, try to explain what happened in simple words, praise them for calming themselves and give attention. Then, try to quickly move on.  Distract the child and help him find something else to do. This will teach your child about what would be acceptable behavior within society in the future. Watch this video by psychologist Jordan Peterson where he explains it nicely. Now, as a side note I disagree with most of his political views and I think they are appalling but I think the video is useful.

Move on! As soon as your child is able to control himself, praise them and move on.

When to discipline?

You don't want to discipline (or punish, although I don't like that word) while your child is at a highly emotional state. They will not listen to you while they are having a tantrum. On the other hand, you don't want to wait too long that they are not able to understand the "cause and effect" process.

Effective discipline methods by age:

One to two year olds

You want to pick your battles and only use discipline when it is necessary and you think there is a problematic behavior. If a behavior is normal for their age (e.g. a 10-month old making a mess while eating), no discipline is needed.

As mentioned above, we should explain what is happening to children and tell them what we expect from them. We should explain why they might be disciplined. Any child under 1 year old would not be able to understand that. At that age, you just want to introduce some routine and system into their life but not discipline.

In older children who are just starting to communicate with sounds and words, you could use very simple words (one or two words) as an explanation. For example, a simple, firm "No!" or "No - yucky" if they touch something dirty, for example. They will probably start throwing temper tantrums around this age so let's see how we are going to handle this.

How to discipline a 2 year old child

At around 24 months (roughly), some changes become more prominent in children. They can now communicate more, explore more (walking and moving is better) and "socialize". They also have strong emotions which they have not learned how to handle yet. Start by making sure the child is safe by removing them from danger or removing dangerous items. Help the child calm down but make sure you stand your ground. It will pass. More on this below.

Toddlers above 2 years old

Your child can now understand a bit more than a 2 year old he is not logical enough to take everything on board. There is the basic understanding about what is bad and consequences. Simple consequences that are related to the behavior could help your child make that association. An example would be to clean the floor after they have dropped something. As a general rule for this age and older, try to avoid lecturing the child while this is going on, it just does not work.

In addition to this "consequences" method, you may also want to use time out from around the age of 3. In some children, you can use time-out earlier if you think they would understand. Keep reading to find out how to use the time out technique.

Children older than 6 years old

At this stage, you could start using time out as well as other methods.. But before reaching this stage, try to explain to your child what constitutes acceptable vs unacceptable behavior. Do this at a time then they are calm. Tell your child what you expect from them  and any possible consequences. 

How to do timeouts or corner-time?

Experts advice that time out should be done for a limited time. The general advice is 1 minute for each year of your kid's age (e.g. 5 minutes for a 5 year old). It must be done in a safe environment.
The time out area should be "boring" and should not have toys or excess stimulation in it. Your goal is to give the child time to calm down and reflect on their behavior.

What if my toddler won't stay in timeout?

Depending on the age and situation. The child could be leaving because they are, of course, annoyed and don't understand what you are trying to achieve and are just too young to get it. There is no one size fits all method. Some children are just too distressed by the experience of a time out. In this situation you can resort to just holding your child (without violence) until they calm down.However, if your child is doing this as a form of disobedience or disregard to the rules, you need to bring them back but without using excessive force. The video I put above talks about this.

Alternatives to time out:

1- We have already covered the concept of consequences which can be a more simple technique.

2-Another way to discipline is by using rewards! You can make a deal with your kid that they can have something they want -or maybe the gift- if they behave in a certain way. Use this method cautiously and don't make it a routine. The problem with using it so often is that your child will always expect something in return for every act This starts a really harmful negotiating patterns and turns rewards in to bribes!

3-"Taking privileges away":
Like other methods, it is better when this is relevant to the behavior. For example, screaming at the supermarket means they will have to leave the supermarket for sometime (accompanied by a family member) or not come the next time.

What I have not discussed:

I have not discussed adolescents or teenagers. Although the general rules and basis for discipline might apply, I feel this needs a separate post. Also, I am not a psychologist or a parenting expert. I am a busy mother who is trying to find the best way to parent my child. I have also researched the topic and have spoken to many many parents about this.

If you are struggling or not coping, make sure you ask for support and advice. Not just from family and friends but also from a health professional or a parenting expert who can give advice.

Here are some signs that mean you should seek help from a professional (this could be your doctor, a mental health practitioner, a psychologist, school, counselor, etc). This is not an exhaustive list:

-If your child breaks any law(s).
-Your child is bullying others or is being bullied.
-They are refusing to comply with any rules coming from adults.
-They are truant from school or ran away from home.
-They are tearful and low most of the time.
-They appear anxious or scared.
-Your child has been starting physical fights or has ever used anything as a weapon in a fight.
-They are cruel to animals.
-If you suspect they are using drugs or alcohol.
-If you suspect they have been subject to any form of abuse.

I know this is a large topic to cover and I tried to summarize all the information in a simple way. Please share your own experience or any suggestions/questions in the comments below.

Thank you.

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