Do you feel your kids are misbehaving and you struggle to deal with it? Do you feel they lack discipline and wonder how to teach them? 

The first step is understanding the developmental phase they are in: teaching discipline to toddlers is different from school kids and teens. Children may be “misbehaving” due to not being able to express their emotions or trying to see your response to them exerting control. Let’s keep in mind that having control over our lives is a human need. 

We can all agree that a certain level of discipline is needed to fit into society. When teaching children discipline, the aim is to change their behaviour – we guide them towards positive change without anger and punishment. The best way to learn is to have caring, respectful role models who accept age-appropriate behaviour and “mistakes” and allow individuality in their approach to teaching discipline.

In this blog, we focus on good-feeling discipline, meaning that the child has positive experiences based on the tone of voice, the behaviour, and the words you are using while teaching them discipline. 

Here are 8 ways to teach your kids discipline: 

1 Clear rules and expectations 

Depending on your child’s age, set up rules such as “no sweets before dinner” and “no use of electronics after 9 p.m.”. Always explain the reason for each rule and what you expect in easy language: “No chocolate now as we have dinner soon. I expect no discussion, as you know, as this is our rule.”

2 Choices 

Give your children a say in what they would like to do first so they do not feel controlled and learn to choose and prioritize: “Do you prefer putting your PJs on first or starting by brushing your teeth?” 

3 Time outs 

Make one specific spot in the designated time-out area and send your child there to calm down whenever needed. Once calm, explain what went wrong: “Hitting others is not allowed.” Ideally, a time-out lasts 1 minute per year of age and no longer than 5 minutes. 

4 Count to 5

Never ask your child more than twice to do something: “I ask you to please put on your clothes”. If nothing happens, add the consequence: “I have asked you to please put on your clothes; if you haven’t done it by the time I count to 5, you cannot join your friends for the playdate.” Start counting slowly. If your child is not listening, it is important to apply the negative consequences, or else you lose credibility. 

5 Coach approach

Ask open questions starting with “what” and “how” instead of closed ones requiring only a yes or no answer. This will make your child reflect and reach their goals after coming up with their own solutions: “What could you do differently next time?” Give them time to apply it. 

6 Logical consequences

Link consequences to your child’s behaviour for them to learn something: “You fell asleep in school today; you will go to bed half an hour earlier for the rest of the week.” Or “You did not come home at 8 as promised; you will not go out again this week.”

7 Compromise and be flexible

Make your position clear, let your child express themselves, then find the middle ground instead of dictating: “You can have 30 minutes on the phone”, your child asks for 1 hour – “How about we meet in the middle and I allow 45 minutes? If you can do all the homework, we can speak about a little more time in the future.” Negotiations lead to cooperative behaviour going forward.

8 Unconditional love

Even when they make mistakes, make sure to communicate that you love your kids every day. Give them positive feedback when they do well; praise them and reassure them that you have their back. 

Teaching kids discipline is important and difficult – especially when they are ready to discuss, throw tantrums, argue, and blame you for being unfair. Stay calm, respectful, and consequent, and keep setting limits – remember: Children feel secure when there are clear boundaries in place and a reliable caretaker by their side. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with the Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in sexuality, relationship issues, trauma and general mental health.