More on Discipline - Part 3: Discipline

How much do children understand?

You would be surprised how much you child understands even from a very early age of nine months. Your child knows when you are displeased by your tone of voice and facial expressions. They know how to get your attention and how to use it to their own advantage as seen in teaching a child to sleep. As their intellectual ability develops, children need to be taught what acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour is. A baby as young as three months learns that it is no longer acceptable to wake for a night feed when he/she should be sleeping from 10 pm to 6 am and will learn to self settle when taught. Therefore as a baby intellectual ability develops and he/she begins to comprehend what is right and wrong, becoming more aware of your displeasure of things, you can begin to attempt disciplining in other areas.

Children under three months are not naughty or misbehave on purpose – they are just trying to communicate their needs such as discomfort or hunger. Babies learn from repetitive activities, so be consistent and persistent with the message you are trying to teach them. With an older child, repeat your request over and over again. Many a time it is not that they are being defiant but just plainly forgetful.

How do you discipline?

When you notice a child is about to misbehave or has begun to misbehave, come down to their level, look them in the eye and with a quiet, firm voice explain what action you would like them to have and what the consequences will be if they continue to misbehave. A child will act out their feeling so it is important to try to understand what is behind their behaviour. Help them to understand their feelings and why they are reacting to a situation and make suggestions that may help them through this problem. If they are at the point of no return and are not willing to listen, then remove them from the situation and give them some time out. Once they have calmed down, give them some time to get over it and later in the day have another friendly discussion about the situation and if possible help them to see a solution.

Helping a child understand their feeling and talking about things will assist them with language and help them to express themselves as they get older.

On occasions when your child’s naughty behaviour may amuse you, try not to show it on your face as they may misunderstand and think you approve of it or seeing the smile as a positive reward and may continue to misbehave to get further attention.

Fairness and Consistency

As in my previous articles, I stress the importance of routines. Having a daily pattern of events helps a child feel safe. They can predict what comes next as they already know the order of events. This can also be related to knowing what is expected of them and knowing how their parents will act in certain situations. Our reactions need to be seen as consistent and fair.

Before disciplining a child we need them to know what is right or wrong and what the consequences are for not doing what is expected of them. As previously mentioned, children learn from copying their parents and others around them. As we act so will our children.

Set a good example and talk to your children when you make a mistake. Admit your mistakes and ask your child to forgive you when necessary. For example when you loose your cool and raise your voice. ‘Sorry mummy shouldn’t have shouted at you. Could you please…?’ Children are very understanding and flexible. You will also be teaching them how and when to apologise.


Children need to know what your reaction to their behaviour will be and that it will be fair and consistent.

Make sure you’re not expecting too much from a child. Take into consideration the child’s age appropriate behaviour. For example, young children cannot be expected to sit still for long periods of time. Although children thrive on routines, they can also handle the occasional change. They understand that one parent does thing differently to the other and that things are done differently at kindy, at grandma’s and at home.

Before disciplining, make sure your child understands what you expect of them by telling or showing them what you want rather than punishing them for behaviour you don’t want. Never make a threat that you can’t carry through with. Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. Remember children will mimic your actions, so it is better to encourage positive behaviour in our children. Threats generally display our frustration and lack of control over a situation. Where appropriate and if your child is old enough, allow them to be involved in some of the decision making, giving them choices instead of requests. Remember the easiest way to encourage good behaviour is to praise it openly and frequently. Children love to please and thrive on praise. So recognise and encourage the positives and ignore as much as possible the attention seeking bad behaviour.


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