Disciplining your Kids: an Age by Age Approach

Disciplining your child can seem overwhelming. That’s because as soon as you feel like you’ve mastered the secrets of discipline at this stage in your child’s life, he or she has moved into the next one, where none of your techniques work.

To make discipline seem less mysterious and a more manageable process, plan to discipline your children in an age by age approach.

An age by age approach to discipline is easier to wrap your head around, and you can focus on using specific strategies while preparing for the next stage. 

The 1-4-year-old

Children in this age group have one goal: exploration. Everything in the world is new to them, and with so much to learn, very young children have a lot to explore. In these early years, prevention strategies will occupy most of your time. That’s because your little one doesn’t yet understand cause and effect. An electrical outlet has a hole, and curious fingers like to explore holes.

The best discipline strategy at this age is a firm “no.” Then immediately offer a diversion.

The 5-8-year-old

Positive praise and reassurance work well for this age group. These kids like reinforcement, and incentives like stickers go a long way. You can begin to use reason with your child, showing how cause and effect work. You can also use role-playing strategies and discussion when talking about appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.

If there are negative behaviors, now is the time to work toward their reduction.

The 9-12-year-old

By the time your child reaches this age, he or she is ready to handle natural consequences of their behavior.

They forgot to put their homework in their backpack as everyone rushed out the door this morning? Rather than rush the completed assignment to school, allow your child the natural consequence of getting a zero or having to turn in late work.

The 13-18-year-old

Discipline at this age is about solving problems, and getting your child involved in coming up with solutions is the key to success. You’ll begin to think of yourself as the mediator at this age, because you will need to develop the rules or guidelines for ethical behavior together, and there will be give and take from both sides.

As your child reaches adulthood, you’ll see him or her taking on more responsibility for their actions.

Creating a loving environment of trust will help to buoy you through each of the stages of disciplining your child and raising him or her to be a responsible adult.



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