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Types of Discipline

There are a number of ways that you can discipline a child and this depends on the age, development and temperament of the child.

Parents should refrain from hurting the child’s self-esteem by instilling shame, guilt, loss of trust or a sense of abandonment while trying to discipline the child.


Violent methods of child discipline should not be used, but they are widespread and are used in all socio-economic settings.  In most countries, children from the poorest households are as likely to experience violent punishment as children from the richest households.


Violent discipline is defined as actions taken by a parent or caregiver that are intended to cause a child physical pain or emotional distress as a way to correct behaviour and act as a deterrent.


Violent discipline can take two forms: psychological aggression and physical, or corporal, punishment. The former includes shouting, yelling and screaming at the child, and addressing her or him with offensive names.


Physical or corporal punishment comprises actions intended to cause the child physical pain or discomfort but not injuries. Minor physical punishment includes shaking the child and slapping or hitting him or her on the hand, arm, leg or bottom. Severe physical punishment includes hitting the child on the face, head or ears, or hitting the child hard or repeatedly.

Here are some forms of discipline

Using consequences

Consequences for unacceptable behaviour can help your child learn.  They need to suit your child’s level of understanding and be understood by everyone.

If you involve your child in making the rules and deciding on any consequences for breaking them, they are more likely to cooperate.  When you apply consequences, make sure they are consistent, and:

  • happen as soon as possible after the misbehaviour

  • are safe for your child

  • fit the behaviour

  • help your child know how to do things better.

There are ‘natural consequences’ and ‘related or logical consequences’ as follows.

Natural consequences

Natural consequences are what you can expect to happen as a result of something your child does.  For example, if your child does not put away their toys when you ask, and then they can’t find their favourite toy, it is a natural consequence. The natural outcome - not being able to find a toy - is the teacher. You have not needed to do any teaching.

This can help your child to learn to take responsibility for what they do.

Related or logical consequences

You can use a related consequence to logically follow something your child does.  For example, when your child is running around the yard, you might ask them to keep away from an area so they don’t damage the plants. If they keep running in that area and knock over a potted plant, you could get them to clean up the mess. 

You might also get them to help you repot the plant.

When a consequence is related to the behaviour in this way, it can help your child see the connection between their actions and how they can make up for mistakes.


Time in’

‘Time in’ means removing your child from a situation where they are not coping well - but staying with them. You might sit close to your child to help them settle, or hold them gently until they are calm again.


By staying with your child you are helping them learn to manage strong feelings and difficult situations. Once they are calm you can talk with them about what happened and what they could do next time.


‘Time in’ sends a message to your child that you will not let them do anything to harm themselves or others. It also lets them know you will not let their feelings drive you away. It strengthens the relationship with your child. Go to Time in: guiding your child's behaviour.


‘Time out’

Time out is when a child is told to go somewhere (like a chair or facing a wall) alone for a number of minutes, often to think about what they have done and what they could do differently.  Time-out is one of the most effective disciplinary techniques available to parents of young children, aged two years through primary school years. The time-out strategy is effective because it keeps the child from receiving attention that may inadvertently reinforce inappropriate behaviour.


Like any other procedure, time-out must be used correctly to be effective. It must be used unemotionally and consistently every time the child misbehaves. How time-out is initiated is important, as is what the child does during this time, how time-out is terminated, and what the parent does when it is over.


The chosen time-out place should be free of distractions like the television and the time-out should not last more than a minute per age of the child.  


Before putting the child in time out' help him/her connect the behaviour with the time-out, like telling them, "no hitting" and the during the period of the time-out the child should be ignored and not spoken to at all.  After time out, create a new start and do not discuss the unwanted behaviour.


Losing a privilege

Some parents try to teach their child a lesson by taking away something important to them, - eg: banning TV when they are late home.


Losing a privilege might not work as well as other forms of discipline for the following reasons because it is not related to the behaviour the child might only obey if he does not want to lose a privilege, but it doesn’t help them learn what to do and it can even cause them to get 'sneaky'.


Physical punishment

Some parents believe smacking does not harm a child because it happened to them and they turned out OK.


However, research tells a different story - which has led to over 30 countries banning smacking. These studies tell us that children who are hit can:


  • change the behaviour for the moment, but will probably repeat it - they have only learned what not to do, rather than what is expected

  • learn not to do the action in the adult’s presence

  • learn to tell lies, cheat or blame others to avoid being hit

  • have strong feelings of anger, injustice and hurt and forget the reasons for the punishment

  • become withdrawn, anxious or depressed

  • feel shamed and humiliated

  • lose respect and trust

  • not learn the behaviour you want

  • be more aggressive to other children, rebel as teenagers or use violence as an adult

  • be more likely to bully others - smacking teaches children it’s OK to hit others when you are bigger and stronger, when you are angry, or to get what you want.

  • Smacking can also lead to more or harsher smacking if a parent thinks the first smack didn’t work, or accidentally injure a child if a stressed parent loses control.

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