Mighty Blog

Effective and positive discipline strategies to teach your child acceptable behavior

Kids tend to spend more time indoors and are less active during the cold winter months. When the family is stuck inside, tensions in the house can rise and it’s easier for your child’s behavior to get out of control.

Dr. Sarah Jerstad, medical director of outpatient mental health at Children’s Minnesota, specializes in how to manage a child’s behavior and shared the following effective and positive discipline strategies.

What’s your first strategy when a child tests the rules?

Before going straight to consequences, try praise and encouragement or incentivize. For example, if it’s time for the bedtime routine to begin but your child refuses to put away their toys. Give them an incentive or reward for getting their bedtime routine done on time each night, such as a sticker or allowing them to pick the movie the family will watch Saturday night. Don’t wait until the end of the week to let them know they did a good job. Notice and praise their good behaviors. For example, “Good job picking up your toys and getting to bed on time.”

How important is consistency with discipline?

Consistency is key when it comes to fostering acceptable behaviors in children. Parents must set clear and consistent rules for their child to follow and explain them in age-appropriate terms they understand. We understand that parents are busy, but if you don’t follow through on consequences for bad behavior, over time your child will learn that you’re not serious and the behavior won’t change. Be calm and firm when explaining the consequences for breaking the rules.

A note on consequences versus punishment: In the psychology field, we prefer the term “consequences” over “punishment.” Consequences can teach children good behavior. Punishments like spanking or harsh words can make a child feel angry or resentful at the parent.

What are effective consequences for kids?

Timeouts and removal of privileges, like screen time, are the most effective discipline tools. For example, you tell your child that if they don’t put away their toys, they are going to lose screen privileges. Remember, meals are not a privilege and should not be removed as a consequence of bad behavior.

When you call a timeout, remind your child what they did wrong with as little emotion as possible and remove them from the situation for a set amount of time. As a rule of thumb: one minute per year of age. When they are done with timeout, don’t spend time lecturing. Just give a quick reminder and then move on.

How can parents prevent bad behavior?

One of the most powerful tools to reinforce good behaviors and discourage bad is giving your child attention. Sometimes a child acts out and disobeys the rules to get their parent’s attention.

Building in positive time with your child every day through one-on-one play or a game can have a positive effect – even just five minutes has been shown to be effective.

What if my child’s behavioral problems are more significant?

The discipline strategies above are effective for almost any kid who displays disruptive behavior. However, if you feel like you’ve tried the strategies, and your child still has significant trouble controlling their emotions and behaviors – seek out help from a therapist. A therapist can provide extra help with coaching and help your child better regulate their mood. Remember, there is no shame in seeking help.

If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, a good starting place would be your primary care provider or your school counselor, they can help provide resources.

Nick Petersen