10 ways to discipline your kids without losing your cool

Kinderling News & Features

Little ones getting into big trouble? Raising Children Network's Executive Director Julie Green recently chatted to Kinderling Conversation and shared her invaluble advice for re-establishing law and order in a smart and sensitive way.

"Discipline doesn’t have to mean punishment," says Julie. "It's all about helping children to behave appropriately and understand the basics of good behaviour. In fact, a lot of it is built on talking and listening and works best when parents have a warm, loving relationship with their children."

Here’s her ten expert tips to setting house rules and the best way to make them work for everyone.

Listen to Julie's interview with Kinderling Conversation:

1. Set boundaries early

“The toddler years are a very good time to start introducing some boundaries and discipline because that’s a time when young children are really experimenting with different behaviours," Julie says. "But be aware that your toddlers' brains are still very young and they may not understand the connection between behaviour and consequences.”

2. Establish your family rules and stick to them

“It’s important for families to introduce their own rules about what’s okay and what’s not okay, where the limits are and what you as parents expect from your children in terms of behaviour," explains Julie. "A mantra that can be helpful is being ‘firm but fair’.”  

3. Explain the negative consequences

“It’s important for children to see that if they do something that crosses the line, there will be consequences for it. Time Out is a goodie to use or you might reduce screen time," she advises.

4. But don’t forget positive reinforcement 

Remember to use positive behaviours as part of raising a family, too. "Praise children when you see them behave really well, when they speak in a lovely way to their little sister or little brother, when they do something kind for someone in the family,” Julie explains.

5. Explain how bad behaviour makes you feel 

“Children take their cues from parents so modelling the sort of behaviour where you don’t yell is really powerful. Share with your child how it makes you feel (when they yell at you, for example.) You can tell them 'That hurts my feelings,' and 'I feel sad when you do that.' Even for a young child, say four years of age, that is something they do understand.”

6. Limit your Time Outs

“We know from the evidence that time out can be useful, but it needs to be appropriate and it needs to have some boundaries as well. What’s helpful is to be clear on the length of time out so five minutes might be all it takes. Say 'I want you to go into your bedroom for five minutes', but reassure your child by adding 'I will be here', because we don’t want to alarm children."

Julie continues; "Set times according to something kids can understand, depending on their age. Say 'Go into your room until dinner time' or 'Stay in your room until Mum or Dad gets home' so they understand when the punishment is going to finish.”

7. Don’t use an angry voice 

We don't want to scare our kids as they need to feel safe even when being disciplined, cautions Julie; "Getting angry doesn’t always produce the outcome you’re looking for. It’s not that different to when a little baby might be pulling your hair or pulling your earring or something like that. A simple no, repeated if needs be, even a young baby comprehends that and can take it in.”

8. Don’t smack them

“Smacking isn’t good for children and it doesn’t teach them how to behave or how to control their behaviour," Julie says. "It also sends a message that smacking is okay, which it isn’t. Smacking might injure a child and it may even contribute to longer term harm.”

9. Learn the motive for misbehaving

Whether they're throwing things or fighting, be firm. "Say something like 'That is not okay. We don't throw things in our family.' It’s important to try and understand what’s behind that sort of behaviour. Ask 'What are your feelings at the moment? Why are you upset?' and try to unpack what’s going on," Julie recommends.

"Children are learning how to behave towards other people and how to manage their emotions. They take their cues from others around them. They misbehave for lots of different reasons, including their temperament, having trouble adjusting to changes or simply because theyre  overtired or frustrated."

10. Clamp down on biting

“Grown-ups need to be really consistent and discourage behaviours like biting. What’s usually happening here is that children use whatever's at their disposal to test the boundaries of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Biting is not socially acceptable, as we know, so we do need to be firm around just saying no," Julie suggests.

"At age two, kids aren’t necessarily making the links between the undesirable behaviour and the punishment so we just need to be very clear and send very simple messages 'That’s not okay,' 'We don’t do that' and really just maintain the line there.”

Hear Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm or grab the podcast.