Safe Discipline


People often confuse ‘discipline’ with ‘physical punishment’, but they are really quite different. Discipline is about teaching. It is not necessary to physically punish children in order to teach them what they need to know. Unfortunately, many adults don’t always know what to do and tend to treat children the way they were treated.

Punishment and discipline can take many different forms. The government has laws that are made to protect the safety of children, even if the parent does not mean to hurt the child. Any spanking that leaves a mark or involves hitting a child with an object (cane, hanger, shoe, belt, etc.) will be considered child abuse. Discipline that causes excessive pain to a child may be child abuse even if you do not physically hit the child.

The purpose of discipline is to guide children to choose what is right through teaching and learning rather than forcing. The goal is to have your child behave because they want to, not because they are afraid of you. For most parents, the question is how to best achieve this.

Discipline is about teaching your child what to do and setting clear limits about what not to do that your child can understand.

There are two main reasons why your child is misbehaving:

    1. because the child hasn’t yet learned what is expected
    2. because it is the way the child is expressing his feelings

It is important to respond to children when they misbehave, and when they behave well. Methods of discipline need to fit with your child’s age, abilities and needs. This may mean that you will use different ways for each child within your family and will need to change them as your child grows older.

Discipline requires careful thought and methods. Some of these methods are

    1. PLANNING – Often you can prevent a discipline problem from happening by planning ahead. This means taking your needs and your child’s needs into account and plan ways of avoiding disruptive behavior.
    4. MAKING THE RULES – Children can be, and are more likely to accept, family rules and consequences if they are involved in making them.
      • Only have a few rules because too many rules can become confusing
      • Make sure the rules are clear
      • Make sure that the rules are understood. Your child may have a completely different understanding than you of the same word.
      • Know what your child is able to do, too hard of a task may lead to failure and disappointment on your part.
      • Don’t give mixed messages. They way you look may give a different message than what you say. Laughing at mischievous behavior while saying “No” may leave them wondering if you approve or not.
      • Be prepared to back up what you say with action. If you do not follow through what you said would happen if he misbehaved, your child is more likely to disobey again.
    5. GIVING CONSEQUENCES – learning about consequences (what happens when we do something) is an important part of discipline and will help teach your child responsibility. When you set rules everyone needs to be clear about consequences.
      • Consequences should be short and should happen as soon as possible after the misbehavior, or they will lose their meaning.
      • They can be natural – such as when your child leaves the toys in a mess then they will not be able to find what they want.
      • They can be given by you – if something is broken due to neglect, the child may have to help you repair it.
      • Consequences should be linked to the original problem when possible. If a child makes a mess, they should clean it up. This means the child is learning how people can make up for their mistakes.
      • Consequences should always be SAFE – hitting is not a safe consequence.
    6. TIME OUT- “time out’ means standing apart from what has been happening in order to think about it. This can be in the same room or a separate place and can be for you or the child. “Time out’ can be used to give children time to think about their behavior, what they have done wrong and how they can change. Stay near your child if they are experiencing strong feelings.                           There are times, especially when children are very young, that stressed parents are unable to cope with children’s behavior without getting very angry and losing control. At times of great stress a brief separation may be the best thing to do for your child’s sake, but make sure to leave them in a safe situation.
    7. TIME IN – this means to remove your child from a situation that they cannot manage, to spend time with an adult. Keep the child with you while you help settle them, hold them, until they are calm again. This is teaching time. It says that you will not let your child do any harm to themselves and that you will not let her feelings drive you away or overwhelm you. By being with your child through a difficult time, you are teaching how to manage feelings and difficult situations.     Children need parents to explain to them about adult behaviors and feelings, why you react as you do. They understand much more about themselves but are still trying to sort out the good bits from the bad bits.

Discipline for children ages 5-12

  • Always remember to teach what you want your children to do and to give choices.
  • Talk with your child about a wide range of topics. Listen to their views and be willing to discuss differences of opinion rather than forcing ideas on them.
  • Children at this age can understand and accept consequences. If your child shares in making some of the rules and the consequences for when they are broken, they will begin learning what self-discipline is about.
  • If a rule is broken, the consequences should follow.
  • Give privileges for good behavior – children love being given a bonus.
  • Teach your child how to work out problems. This is a useful skill at this age and an important step towards learning self discipline.



  • Hit your child out of anger – if you feel you are getting close to this, ensure he is in a safe place and walk away.
  • Expect your child to behave better than you do.  If you don’t want him to hit, don’t hit. If you don’t want them to lose their temper, don’t lose yours.
  • Make empty and frightening threats – of physical harm or abandonment.
  • Never humiliate your child or deliberately damage their self-esteem.



  • Children need discipline.
  • Discipline is about teaching and learning. View your child’s behavior as a mistake in judgment. It will be easier to think of ways to teach them more acceptable behaviors.
  • Discipline works best if you have a good relationship with your child. Be honest and trustworthy and exhibit predictable and mature behavior.
  • Plan to prevent problems when you can.  Provide order and consistency. Whenever possible have regular times for meals, studying and bedtime.
  • Discipline includes rules and consequences.
  • You can discipline without using physical punishment. Adopt a NO HITTING policy in your family. No one has the right to hit anyone else in the household… that includes hitting children for misbehavior.
  • Think about what you expect from your child – is it reasonable?
  • Children need to hear more good things about themselves than bad things. Offer praise for good behavior – this will increase that behavior.