One day, your child will break a rule, refuse to cooperate and test their limits. Before that happens, you need to set up a discipline plan for your child.

Fair, consistent, appropriate discipline will give your child a solid foundation for childhood.

There is a difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline is to lovingly teach your child to correct a wrong behavior. Punishment is to penalize your child for something they did wrong.

By the age of 3, your child should know the difference between simple right and wrong behavior. At this same age, your child is ready to show some independence by refusing to eat at mealtime, refusing to cooperate at the grocery store or stalling at bedtime.

Never shake or hit your child.

If you think you are losing control, make sure your child is safe and take a 10-minute time out. If you are still not calm, call a friend, neighbor or relative to come over and help you.

If you have no other options, call your local crisis nursery or First Call for Help at 651-291-0211 or dial 211.

Be consistent with discipline

Your child will misbehave every now and then. Being consistent in your discipline is important. At some age, your child will test your limits. This includes everything from turning off the TV to going to bed on time.

Your child will catch on if you say one thing and do another. If you’re in the park and you tell your child you’re leaving in 5 minutes, you need to leave in 5 minutes, not in 10 or 15 minutes. Giving advanced notice — even if your child can’t tell time — will teach them that you mean what you say.

You and your partner must be consistent about discipline together. Your child will be confused if you say one thing but your partner says another. Talk with your partner about your discipline styles and work out compromises when you differ.

Give time outs

Give your child time outs to think about what they did wrong. Time outs teach your child there are consequences for breaking the rules. Limit the time out to 1 minute for each year old your child is.

Don’t be afraid to use humor or positive reinforcement. If you ask your child to help with cleaning and they don’t want to, make a game of out of it. See who can sweep the floors better or who can pick up toys off the floor faster. Tell your child if you can both get the work done in 1 hour, you will play their favorite game or go play catch.

Tell your child they made a bad choice or decision.

When giving your child discipline, make sure to give them your support and love. Explain — in words they can understand — what they did wrong and why it was wrong. Work out a solution together and use positive reinforcement.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5, sixth edition, ped-ah-91554
First Published: 02/01/2010
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2022