How to Discipline a Child: 5 Discipline Options

how to discipline a child

Wouldn’t it be great if effective child discipline was one size fits all? Unfortunately, it’s not. Each child is unique, and the type of discipline that she best responds to will likely be too.

1. Time-out

This is a popular discipline technique for younger children who simply need to calm down and have a moment to think about the rule that’s been broken and how breaking that rule did not achieve the result he was after.

  • Works best for: A child whose temper or emotions are out of control and who needs to be calmed before any type of constructive conversation can take place.
  • Tips for success: Make the length of the time-out reasonable for your child’s age. A 2-year-old won’t even remember in 10 minutes what she was doing that resulted in the time-out, so keep it short and get back to talking about the rules and the consequences using this Think About It printable. Many experts recommend one minute in time-out for every year of the child’s age (3-year-old: 3-minute time-out).

2. Withholding Privileges

If your child lives to play video games, then losing that privilege for a week for failing to turn in homework can be an effective way to get his attention. The same principle can apply to cell phone use, TV time, participation in extra-curricular activities, etc.

  • Works best for: The child who values a specific privilege highly and whose respect for parental expectations can be addressed by leveraging that activity.
  • Tips for success: Set the stage for this scenario by making it known ahead of time that the privilege in question is just that—a privilege, not a right—and that respect and obedience will be required to keep it.

3. Spanking

We know parents have strong feelings both for and against this type of discipline; but, for some children, it is effective when nothing else is. The key to successful spanking is knowing how and when to apply it.

  • Works best for: Younger children who seem totally content to be in time-out for the rest of their lives or who fail to respond to other types of correction most of the time. Used most often with a defiant child for lying or for doing something dangerous.
  • Tips for success: Never spank your child when you’re angry or upset. Wait until you’ve calmed down so that when you spank, you are acting rather than reacting. Explain to your child that this will be the consequence of certain behaviors, and remind her of the reason for the discipline before you administer the spanking. Spank your child only on the behind, and let this only be one of the methods of correction in your bag—not the sum total of your discipline strategy. If you need discipline options, try these 21 Creative Consequences.

4. Social Restriction

This involves taking away your child’s social outlets and chances for interaction with friends.

  • Works best for: The social butterfly (often tween or teen girls) who values time with friends and communicating non-stop as much as oxygen.
  • Tips for success: Like all types of discipline, lay out this consequence as a possibility before rules are broken. Give the social isolation specific parameters and a finite length of time which is reasonable. For example, it may mean no phoning or texting of friends for a period of time, or no friends over to hang out, or both. Be specific and stick to the plan, no matter how hard it is or how much she pouts. When the social privileges are returned, your child will likely work harder to keep them. As always, if you use this option, focus on behavior modification through love.

5. Extra chores

Some children will do anything to reduce the amount of manual labor in their lives, including obeying their parents. If this is your child, a few extra jobs around the house might be a good reminder when they get off track.

  • Works best for: The child who really doesn’t like chores and doesn’t value any particular privilege enough to miss it.
  • Tips for success: This can be a very effective tool for correcting the child who shirks his normal household responsibilities. The idea is, “When you fail to do your fair share, it causes other members of the family to have to work harder…” Make sure the chores are age and skill level appropriate and remember why it is that in discipline, firmness doesn’t require harshness.

What are your best child discipline tips?

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  • Diane

    I can’t believe spanking is on this list! I am so disappointed in what used to be one of my favorite parenting sites. A parent bullying their child is never the answer.

    • momof2

      Diane – The first sentence in that paragraph says it isn’t for everyone, but is effective for some kids when nothing else is. I had such a child. When he was little, and would be cranky and disobedient and neither scolding or time out worked, a mild swat on the behind seemed to set him free. He literally had a look on his face that said “Thanks, I needed that,” and he would be just fine after that. Spanking doesn’t have to mean bullied.

    • nicole

      I spank my children when they need it it’s not bullying. . I was spanked and I turned out just fine and don’t look at my parents as a bully …

    • Ally

      I agree with Diane, who wrote this list?

  • momof3

    Oh please. I was spanked as child and never thought my parents were bully’s. And the advice on when to spank was great. Telling a child not to touch the hot stove doesn’t always drive home the message with a no or hot. Sometimes a spank on the hand is what it takes to make the point stick.

    • spensierato

      my wife spanked our child, I did not after I asked her to consider: the same hands that confront our girl it also gives pain is that good? she stopped & found other ways to handle discipline

  • Nina White

    Spanking is not bullying if its done properly. Its only one of the suggestions on here. Some children need that form of discipline.

    • Ally

      You look the type of person who would say that.
      Don’t hit your kids.

      • zeke199

        That’s a really petty comment. Are you trying to make a valid point or be a troll here?

        If you’re trying to convince people to not spank, and allege it’s tantamount to bullying, then don’t be a bully yourself with snarky comments.

        Keep this board informative & respectful, or don’t come here at all!

      • Joey Joe Joe Jr Shabadu

        wow, what a c*nt you are, ally.

      • Your comment has been deleted because it violates our comment policy –

  • dr jim sellner PhD., dipC

    Could you do a piece of YELLING at your children. Thanks

  • spensierato

    I have one Princess 13 now, her Job in the family is to do well at school mostly the rest is mom and dad. we have develop a self administering consequences list She chooses her own punishment but we need to agree. Her self respect is one thing that I continually refer to Every action has a consequence in your life that is what I tell her !

  • Ann-Morgan

    To the folks at iMom–strong article, fair, unbiased, and an excellent handling of a controversial subject in a sensitive manner. Unfortunately, I feel like a couple people have ruined the conversation for everyone. I think Zeke handled Ally’s offensive and cruel comments tactfully, but I think a personal attack on another person based on simply disagreeing with their personal opinion is unacceptable. Bullying is ugly at any age. I would like to respectfully ask iMom to remove the comments (if not all comments, at least the ones that crossed the line) and block comments for this post. It appears to be too controversial of a topic for people to discuss in a rational, mature, and respectful manner.

  • Amber

    I agree with all but spanking. I don’t believe it should be the parents choice to spank or not to spank. Spanking has been linked to mental illness and aggression. It makes the child feel small and it is abuse. Yes, it works to correct a behavior temporarily but only because the parent has instilled fear in the child.

    • Crystal little

      If u do it constantly over every thing they do wrong no matter how big or small it is in my opinion abusive but if used appropriately it is also a reality check just giving them a little boost back on the right path in my opinion losing your temper and angrily muttering and shooting put downs like why wud u do that your so stuipid retard that is more damaging and haunting then a smack on the butt that is really only wounding to their ego but works as a last resort just to get them back in line bullies are bullies but kids are the worst when it comes to bullying and parents should in no way let theiyre children bully them so if a smack on the ass helps the cause in an appropriate format then thank god theres something that does lol words are harder to ignore and is used alot more than anyone cares to admit and thats the real bullying tactics used that will inevitably no matter how insignificant you may think whatever was said is if not confronted or brought up and not resolved that child will hear that every time they go to do anything even similar to what was the cause and even if u only told him he was an idiot once he hears it in his head and it replays unoticed by anyone not even him in conscious mind but it replays like a recording until its confronted and resolved completely and is reassured the painful comment was not factual words are used to bully very effectively more so than a spankin simple as that

  • Roxy

    My grandparents had 12 children. Four of those children were spanked as children. My uncle died of cancer after a lifelong military career starting with the Vietnam draft. Those other three are now retiring (Author, Military, Entrepreneur). The other nine responded well to other forms of discipline. I am the fourth daughter of the entrepreneur. My eldest sister earned her doctorates. The next is an accomplished artist. The one above me is almost done with a masters in psychology. I’m two years into my bachelors degree. We all have been spanked at least once. For me, it was four times, all before I was nine years old. Last night, after having a 45-minute calm and rational discussion with my nine year old niece about lying and stealing from both her mother and me this weekend and bragging about it on her friend’s snapchat, she was spanked on her bottom, seven swats, one for each deception. She was told at the beginning of the conversation that her behavior warranted spanking. She will do seven chores for seven days without allowance being able to be earned. When she can earn allowance again, she will pay back what she stole with interest before she is permitted to keep any money for herself. She will only have the same friend be able to visit at our home and under our supervision for seven months. This is the second and final time we will breach this topic. The first occasion, she was grounded without allowance for two weeks.

    I honestly believe that spanking, when used sparingly and without malice, can help a strong-willed child understand the severity of her transgressions and the severity of the consequences BEFORE she makes a choice with lifelong repercussions that her loving family cannot shield her from reaping.

    My niece’s mother, the psychology grad student, agrees and because of my measured and calm personality, she trusts me to discipline her daughter accordingly.

    My experiences are anecdotal and although you may not agree, spanking as discipline has served some of the children in my family well for generations.

  • Crystal little

    Give me a break spanking is sometimes the absolute last resort however it is a lifeline not a bullying technique duh we are the ones that get bullied on a constant basis until we are forced to by the people we brought into this world who look at us with those adorably evil smirking eyes while doing that same thing we just asked them not to do for the 6th millionth time not to do knowing theyre being disrespectful and pushing you over the edge and there is really nothing you can do to get her to care as shes already supposed to be on time out and has worked all the way passed taking away every toy she has making her sit in the hallway so theres no distractions writing lines to keep her occupied another disciplinary action that didnt faze her and with every following action she makes is setting the relization that a reality check is desperately and drastically needed. Although these times are few and far between these situations do exist and this method however hard and painful for a parent to do it has to be done but keeping in mind all children are different some people are blessed with children that are not as stubourn and rebelious towards authoritative figures as others and no maybe they are lucky enough not to have have to go that route and therefore have no reason to be against it but for the ones like me its the only last possible solition and wen backed into a corner feeling helpless without any sign of regaining controll and all else fails even with those adorable heart melting eyes looking up at me i will calmly and clear mindedly do what has shown throughout time to be a verry effective problem solving disciplanary punishment that reminds the little devil who is the parent and who is the child and it works everytime and has throughout the generations infact children are now so much more disobedient and rebelios and worst of all idisrespectful than ever before and the more leanient we are forced to become the worse it will get and soon as the bible depicts and i can actually see in the not to far future the adults will be at the mercy of the people that we brought into the world so unselfishly excited even only to end up with 3 girls that wen your back is turned do whatever they want not caeing about reprocussions until theyve been caught and the reprecussions are being set into play and theyre forward thinking is oh well i got caught this time next time ill hide it better or lie better learn not not to do it again but learn hiw not get caught next time and that punishments dont last forever and its hillarious to watch mom have a nervous breakdown at the hands of whome we work our asses off to feed and cloth and spoil and give generously to just so we can see their adorable little faces lightup with this tiny showing of desperately needed appreciation towards us sometimes i feel like i give give give and thats all i am here to be their slave and theyd rather endure the “severe punishments than just say ok mommy and make me feel that small sense that i am in controll they just want to see how lomg ut will take them to put in me in the looney bin and thats the only time they ever work together for anything without it being a compatition towards one another. But awe its good to see them working together as a team lmao the kids are bullies and we adults should be granted parents aid workers we can call when theyre bullying us and they can come and threaten them to take us away omg then who would be their maid maybe that should be on the list of punishments lol