How to Discipline Children without being Harsh

No parent wants to be the bad guy, always saying no and laying down rule after rule, but there have to be limits; that’s where discipline comes in. There is no need to be harsh when discipling a child, and physical discipline is not the way forward – according to recent research, the range of damage such discipline can cause in a child’s development is terrible to contemplate – which means looking for firm but fair alternatives.

Time-out is a very useful and successful way to bring discipline to a child without seeming unduly harsh – although all children will argue “It’s not fair” at some point. With all discipline, make sure the length of time-out is appropriate to the child. Well-known ‘Super Nanny’, Jo Frost, (Whose site includes an excellent advice forum) uses the idea of one minute per year; thus a child of three would have a time-out period of three minutes.

This works well, but it must be stuck to. There’s no use telling a child they will do three minutes time-out and then giving in when they get up and run off after one or two. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Remember to ask for an apology and then a hug when all is done.

Another, similar strategy is to use the naughty step or chair. Again, stick to what is laid out as the period of staying in place. No child will learn discipline, right and wrong and to do as they are asked if the adult cannot stick to their word. Again, use the age/minutes theory and finish with sorry and hugs.

For both of these, don’t let crying, screaming and constant breaking of the rules become an issue. Calmly put the child back in place, preferably without responding to their verbal tricks, and keep at it until the time is served. No, it’s not going to seem fair to the child, but they will come to understand in time, and will grow up better adjusted for having had rules and boundaries.

A third option is to use denial of privileges. Take away favoured toys, internet time, console games or playtime with friends. The difference between harsh and fair is easily seen in this case. Many a parent, at the end of their rope, when the lounge is strewn with toys of every description, has threatened a child with the black bag; “I am going to take all your toys and throw them away if you can’t keep them tidy!”

That’s harsh, and also untrue, (few parents would actually go through with this threat, if for no other reason than toys cost a fortune) so the adult is showing the child that lying and unfairness is the way to solve a problem. The fair way is to say “Please tidy up your toys in the next five minutes. If you don’t, I am going to take them away until tomorrow/for the next hour”; compromise and fairness, giving the child a chance and the right examples of problem solving behaviour.

All of these strategies help parents deal with discipline fairly, but there are other important factors at play on the side of the adult. Keeping angry responses reined in is vital; anger leads to poor judgement and harsh behaviour toward the child. If anger cannot be held back, walk away and calm down before attempting to deal with a problem.

Be on their level. Talking at a child from way up above them is intimidating, making a child defensive and scared. Come down to their level, by crouching or kneeling, and talk straight to them, never at them. Keep the vocal tone even and calm. As soon as an adult starts to let anger show in their voice or face the chance for calm discipline is greatly reduced.

When disciplining a child, try to think like one. What they have done, what seems so naughty and outright stupid or dangerous to a parent, is not usually the way a child sees it. Painting the wall is helping Mom make the house nice, strewing Lego across the floor was a maze for the cat, not a nuisance. Step back, take a deep breath or two and consider if the problem is really so bad, and then decide if discipline is needed, following the strategies given here,