How Do You Discipline Children?

A lovely reader of Planning With Kids, “Lifewith3boyz” wrote me a great email recently and one of the questions she asked me was:

“I was also wondering what sort of discipline tools you use. What happens in your house when someone does the wrong thing.”

I find the subject of discipline a really interesting one when it comes to children. I think the word itself brings up different meanings to different people. To answer this question, I thought I would first share a definition of discipline that I feel most aligned to, then give a brief description of some of the theory that I have used a base for my parenting and then give some examples of what I do when my children “do the wrong thing”.


Disciplining your child means teaching them responsible behaviour and self-control. With appropriate and consistent discipline, your child will learn about consequences and taking responsibility for their own actions. The ultimate aim is to encourage the child to control themselves and manage their own behaviour.

Source: Better Health Channel

This is my aim with my children. Discipline does not equate to punishment for me. If you look at the roots of the word discipline, it comes from the word “disciple”, meaning “to teach”.

But I do have to admit that I find discipline is by far the hardest part of parenting. Getting the balance of children to behave considerately and encouraging them to have regulate their own behaviour is not always easy.

As a parent when we read parenting books, some stick with us more than others and a number of years ago I came across a book that really helped me define the discipline I wanted to have for my children.

I have talked about this book previously on the website and it is by Louise Porter and titled “Children are People Too – a parent’s guide to young children’s behaviour.” It is a book that I still go back to frequently and would probably name it as my most useful parent book that I own.

It was from this book that I grasped the concept of considerate behaviour in children as opposed to children doing as they are told. Porter points out that teaching children to be compliant and obedient is actually quite dangerous on three counts:

    (1). Sexual abuse: children need to know that they can and sometime should say no.
    (2). Bullying: often involves one ringleader talking their friends into teasing or hurting another child.
    (3). Societies: would be safer if people did not follow commands of brutal and violent dictators.

Discipline is therefore most potent when it teaches children how to behave coniserately through:


Self discipline.

    They need to practice at regulating their own behaviour.

Expressing their feelings appropriately.

    Part of childhood’s journey involves moving from acting on every feeling they have to learning to choose when and how to express their emotions.

Co-operating with others.

    Children live in a family and are part of a community. Children need to learn that achieve tasks and function effectively cooperation is required by all.


    Children need to believe that they can make a difference by the decisions they make in their life. That is “children would not only know right from wrong but would feel powerful enough to act on their knowledge.”

So what do I do when my children don’t behave considerately? This does happen in our house and some days it can happen frequently!

I think that it is essential to set up the foundations (the old prevention is better that cure philosophy 🙂 ) that will create a nurturing environment within which children have the opportunity to feel safe, loved and can behave considerately. In reality this means that as parents we need to:

    Be consistent but not inflexible with the children.
    Have clear expectations about what is considerate behaviour.
    Have defined responsibilities within the house.
    Have a routine which provides a framework for the children to operate in.
    Role model considerate behaviour.

When inconsiderate behaviour arises my response will vary slightly depending on the age of the child involved. There are a range of responses that I use, but below I list the two most frequently used strategies for the defined age groups. (Please note that the strategies used are mostly derived from Porter’s book.)

Toddler and Preschooler
Bring Them In Close– This strategy I use for tantrums of all types and sizes. This strategy needs to be explained in advance to children about how you will react when they lose control of themselves and especially when you start this, you need to be consistently doing it for every episode that occurs.

Losing control of themselves is in essence what has happened to a child when they have a tantrum and I find it really helps to look at this way, as opposed to thinking that they are “just trying to manipulate me” or “screaming until I give in”.

So if my preschooler “loses it” I will bring her in close and sit her on my knee and tel her that I am you going to help her get herself calm. I am signaling to her that this behaviour is not considerate and needs to be changed. Depending on the size of the tantrum bringing them in close may just involve a cuddle and holding her for a time until she has recomposed herself.

For other tantrums though, their will be a struggle to get away from me and more yelling and tears. I need to remain calm and gently increase the firmness of my hold (NB. This never means hurting or using holding her as a punishment). Then with as few words as possible, I explain to her that I know she can get herself calm and I will just wait for her to do this. I find less talk is better when children have lost control of themselves.

As the preschooler calms, I also relax the firmness of the hold and it turns into a cuddle. I have found that from past experience, that you really do need to wait until this point of calmness before letting them go, other wise the chance of the behaviour being repeated is very high.

Once she is calm, we then go about life as normal. I do not reprimand her further as the emotional toll of the tantrum and the calming process is enough.

Repeating Myself
These age groups love to go on and on and on, sometimes, completely indifferent to my response. If they are asking for something that I have said no to and my response is reasonable, I simply stick to it and repeat it.

I like to make sure that the children know that I understand them, but there is a valid reason for my permission not being granted on this occasion. For example when the toddler asks for crackers as I am finishing off dinner, I will say something along the lines of:

” I know that you are hungry and am sorry you have to wait. Dinner will be ready in five minutes, so I will need you to wait until then for something to eat.”

If the requests continues, with genuine feeling (parroting this phrase ad nausea will just increase frustration) I will repeat my response along the lines of this. He will either get sick of this or it may turn into a full blown tantrum, which if this is the case, I will then deal with using the above strategy!

School Age Children
“I feel” statements
This is really my way of sending an assertive message to my children. The theoretical form is:
When you (do such and such)
I feel (xxxx)
Because (my rights are being violated in this way).

In reality is sounds a little something like this:

“I feel frustrated when you do not do your jobs without being reminded, because then I have to stop what I am doing and spend time finding you and reminding you do it.”

Collaborative Problem Solving
Quite often when one of the older boys is doing something which I feel is not considerate to my feelings or another family members, I will ask them what they think a solution is that would be acceptable to all involved.

It is amazing how often they will come up with a solution that I feel meets my needs and that they are also happy with. Sometimes with the younger school age children, they may need some help via questioning or exploring the issue to come up with the solution, but by working through it together, the outcome is resolved with everyone feeling that their needs were taken into account.

If this form of discipline interests you, Louise Porter has a down loadable article on Guiding Children’s Behaviour, which I can highly recommend.

So how do you deal with inconsiderate behaviour in your house?