Infants (birth to 12 months)
Infants need a schedule around feeding, sleeping and play or interaction with others.
The schedule helps regulate autonomic functions and provides a sense of predictability and safety. Infants should not be overstimulated.
They should be allowed to develop some tolerance to frustration and the ability to self-soothe. Discipline should not involve techniques such as time-out, spanking or consequences.
Late toddlers (two years to three years)
The struggle for mastery, independence and self-assertion continues.
The child’s frustration at realizing limitations in such struggles leads to temper outbursts. This does not necessarily express anger or willful defiance. The caregiver should have empathy, realizing the meaning of these manifestations. At the same time, the caregiver should continue to supervise, set limits and routines, and have realistic expectations of the child’s achievement capabilities.
Knowing the child’s pattern of reactions helps prevent situations in which frustrations flare up. When the child regains control, the parent should give some simple verbal explanation and reassurance. The child should be redirected to some other activity, preferably away from the scene of the tantrum. The toddler cannot regulate behaviour based on verbal prohibitions or directions alone.
Example: The toddler has a temper tantrum in a public place. Remove the child from the place of misbehaviour. Hold the child gently until the toddler gains control. Give a short verbal instruction or reassurance followed by supervision and an example.
School-age children (six years to 12 years)
The child's increasing independence may lead to conflicts.
School-age children tend to act autonomously, choose their own activities and friends, and, to some extent, recognize other than parental authority.
Parents should continue to supervise, provide good behavioural models, set rules consistently, but also allow the child to become increasingly autonomous. Parents should continue to make the important decisions because school-age children cannot always put reasoning and judgment into practice.
Praise and approval should be used liberally, although not excessively, to encourage good behaviour and growth into a more mature human being. The use of appropriate motivators should be encouraged; for example, buy a keen reader his or her favourite book.
Acceptable means of discipline include withdrawal or delay of privileges, consequences and time-out.
Example: The child destroys toys. Instead of replacing these toys, let the child learn the logical consequences. Destroying toys will result in no toys to play with.
Adolescents (13 years to 18 years)
Conflicts frequently ensue because the adolescent adheres increasingly to the peer group, challenges family values and rules, and distances himself from the parents.
Parents can meet these challenges by remaining available, setting rules in a noncritical way, not belittling the adolescent, and avoiding lectures or predicting catastrophes. Contracting with the adolescent is also a useful tool. Disciplinary spanking of adolescents is most inappropriate.
Despite their challenging attitudes and professions of independence, many adolescents do want parental guidance and approval. Parents should ensure that the basic rules are followed and that logical consequences are set and kept in a nonconfrontational way.
Example: The adolescent defiantly takes the car and has an accident. The logical consequence would be that there is no car to drive and that the teenager has to help pay for the repairs. This teaches accountability.
Early toddlers (one year to two years)
At the early toddler stage, it is normal and necessary for toddlers to experiment with control of the physical world and with the capacity to exercise their own will versus that of others.
Consequently, parental tolerance is recommended.
Disciplinary interventions are necessary to ensure the toddler’s safety, limit aggression, and prevent destructive behaviour. Removing the child or the object with a firm “No,” or another very brief verbal explanation (“No –hot”), and redirecting the child to an alternative activity usually works.
The parent should remain with the child at such times to supervise and ensure that the behaviour does not recur, and also to assure the child that the parent is not withdrawing love.
Early toddlers are very susceptible to fears of abandonment and should not be kept in time-out away from the parent. However, occasionally, a parent may become so frustrated with the child that he or she needs a period of separation from the child.
Early toddlers are not verbal enough to understand or mature enough to respond to verbal prohibitions. Therefore, verbal directions and explanations are unreliable forms of discipline for early toddlers.
Example: The toddler wants to play with a breakable glass object on a hard kitchen floor. Remove the child and the object and redirect the toddler’s attention to a more appropriate activity such as playing with a ball in another room. The parent should remain with the child.
Preschoolers and kindergarten-age children (three years to five years)
At three years to five years of age, most children are able to accept reality and limitations, act in ways to obtain others’ approval, and be self-reliant for their immediate needs.
However, they have not internalized many rules, they are gullible, and their judgment is not always sound.
They require good behavioural models after which to pattern their own behaviour. The consistency should apply not only in the rules and actions of the primary caregiver, but in other adults who care for the child.
Reliance on verbal rules increases, but still the child requires supervision to carry through directions and for safety.
Time-out can be used if the child loses control. Redirection or small consequences related to and immediately following the misbehaviour are other alternatives. Approval and praise are the most powerful motivators for good behaviour. Lectures do not work well and some consider them to be counterproductive.
Example: The preschooler draws on the wall with crayons. Use time-out to allow him to think about the misbehaviour. Consider using also logical consequences, eg, take the crayons away and let the child clean up the mess to teach accountability.
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