Age-Appropriate Discipline Techniques

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The disciplining techniques parents use should be based on age-appropriate expectations. For example, explaining to a 13-month-old why she is being punished for hitting her sibling isn’t going to get you very far if she can’t yet understand reasoning. Using guidelines outlined by the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Phil suggests the following discipline techniques and when they are effective to use.

Positive Reinforcement
Focusing on good behavior instead of bad behavior. Parental attention is one of the most powerful forms of positive reinforcement.

Redirecting
This technique literally involves the simple act of redirecting your child to appropriate behavior.

Verbal Instruction/Explanation
Going over what you want your child to do and why can help him/her develop good judgment.

Time-outs
Time-outs involve physically removing your child from a problem situation. Sending your child to a neutral and “boring” area, such as the corner of a room with no toys or television, and ignoring him/her until he/she is calm and quiet. Time-outs should not last longer than five minutes. One minute of time-out per year of life is a good rule of thumb.

Establishing Rules
Explain your rules and be prepared to repeat them until your child learns to follow them on his/her own.

Grounding
A technique effective with school-age children and teenagers, it involves restricting your child to a certain place, usually home or his/her room, as punishment. For example, “grounding” your child on a Saturday night as punishment for breaking curfew on Friday night.

Withholding Privileges
Children should learn that privileges come with responsibility and they need to be earned. In order to be effective, this technique should be used infrequently. A privilege that is valued by the child, such as watching television or playing with friends, should be removed.

Birth to 18 Months

Effective:
Positive Reinforcement
Redirecting

Ineffective:
Verbal Instruction/Explanation
Time-outs
Establishing Rules
Grounding
Withholding Privileges

18 Months to 3 Years

Effective:
Positive Reinforcement
Redirecting
Verbal Instruction/Explanation
Time-outs

Ineffective:
Establishment of Rules
Grounding
Withholding Privileges

4 to 12 Years

Effective:
Positive Reinforcement
Redirecting
Verbal Instruction/Explanation
Time-outs
Establishment of Rules
Grounding
Withholding Privileges

13 to 16 Years

Effective:
Positive Reinforcement
Verbal Instruction/Explanation
Establishment of Rules
Grounding
Withholding Privileges

Ineffective:
Redirecting
Time-outs

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