Quick Tips

Six Keys to Using Discipline and Consequences

  1. Use social rewards (like hugs and kisses) more than material rewards (like toys or candy). Social rewards can be given often and are more powerful! Click here to learn more using rewards.
  2. Sticker charts or similar reward programs can help change your child’s behavior. Click here to create your own reward chart.
  3. Ignoring misbehavior means taking away your attention. It helps stop misbehaviors like tantrums, whining, and interrupting. Click here to learn more about ignoring.
  4. Want to reduce misbehavior? Try these five steps.
  5. Toddlers and preschoolers have short attention spans. Give consequences right after a misbehavior so they can remember what they did that you do not like.
  6. Use consequences that match your child’s age and stage of development. Click here to learn more.

Discipline and Consequences

Consequences occur immediately after a behavior.

  • Positive consequences include things like rewards. They let your child know he has done something you like. See the Using Rewards section below for more tips on rewards.
  • Negative consequences, also called discipline, include things like ignoring and time-out. They are used to stop misbehaviors and keep them from happening again.

Types of Negative Consequences/Discipline:

  • Natural consequences are the consequences that occur because of what we do.
    Example: Your child keeps banging her toy against the table, even after you’ve told her to stop.   Her toy breaks.
  • Common sense consequences are also called logical consequences. They are directly related to and logically follow the misbehavior.
    Example: Your child keeps throwing his toy. You take the toy away.
  • Ignoring occurs when parents take away their attention and make no physical, verbal, or eye contact with the child. See the Using Ignoring section below for more tips on ignoring.
    • Example: Your child asks you for something at the store, and you say “no.” Your child continues to whine and ask for the item while you’re in line. You ignore your child’s whining and don’t give any attention. You also don’t give in and buy your child what he wants.
  • Distraction occurs when you get your child to focus on something else. By doing this, he stops the misbehavior.
    • Crayons and paper, toys, and small games are things you can keep with you to distract your child.
  • Delay or loss of a privilege means that your child has to wait to get something he wants.
    • Example: You might tell your child, “After you make your bed, you can go outside and play.”
  • Timeout moves your child to a place free of anything or anyone that might provide attention. Click here for more information about time-out and how to do a time-out.

Steps for Using Consequences

  1. Identify the misbehavior.
  2. Give a warning.
  3. Give a consequence.
  4. Tell them why.
  5. Go back to positive communication.

Click here for more information about the Steps for Using Consequences.

Discipline and Negative Consequences Tips

  • Negative consequences should relate to the misbehavior and the seriousness of the misbehavior.
  • Consequences should not be excessive. Young children have short attention spans so taking away toys or activities for shorter periods of time is more effective.
  • Negative consequences should never deprive the child of basic essentials, such as food, a bath, or school.
  • After any consequence your child does not like, go back to being positive with your child.
  • Consequences should be directed at the behavior and not at the person. Avoid saying things like, “You never do anything right.” These comments can be damaging to your child’s self-esteem and to the parent-child relationship.

Using Rewards

Rewards are a type of positive consequence. Behaviors are more likely to happen again when followed by a positive consequence like a reward. Rewards are important for many reasons:

  • Rewards can encourage your child’s good behaviors
  • Rewards can help increase self-esteem
  • Rewards can improve your relationship with your child

Types of Rewards:

  • Social Rewards
    • Affection – hugs, kisses, smile, high-five
    • Praise – tell your child what you liked; “You were a great helper during clean-up today!”
    • Attention and Activities
  • Material Rewards
    • Toys, candy, or other material things your child likes or really enjoys.
    • Material rewards should be used in combination with social rewards.

Steps for Developing and Using a Reward System:

  1. Identify and clearly define the behavior or what it is you want your child to do.
  2. Decide on the reward your child will receive.
  3. Create a chart and place it somewhere your child can see it.
  4. Explain the reward system to your child.
  5. Use the reward system.
  6. Slowly change the selected behavior or phase out the reward system.

If the reward system isn’t working, try the following:

  • Make sure your expectations are realistic
  • Make sure the behavior is clear to your child
  • Make sure the reward is something your child is interested in earning

Click here for more information about the Steps for Using a Rewards System. 

Rewards Tips

  • Using social and material rewards together may increase how quickly your child’s behavior changes. You can decrease the use of rewards after your child is doing what you want regularly and consistently.
  • When using material rewards, the rewards mustbe items your child likes or really enjoys. When children are younger, a sticker and parental attention are usually all that is required to encourage good behaviors. This changes as children get older and other rewards become more important.
  • Praise and attention should always be used with material rewards. Praise and attention play an important role in making the parent-child relationship positive.
  • Come up with a variety of rewards to use with each of your children. Remember that all children are different and like different things. What may be rewarding for one child may not be for another. Children will also get bored easily. If they receive the same rewards each time, that reward will be less powerful over time.
  • Reward systems do not work immediately to change a child’s behavior. It takes time for them to work.

Using Ignoring

Ignoring is the opposite of paying attention. When you ignore your child, you do not neglect him or stand by while he misbehaves. Instead, you take all your attention away from your child and his behavior. Ignoring helps stop behaviors that your child is using to get your attention.

Steps for Using Ignoring:

  1. Choose a specific behavior you want to ignore.
  2. When your child does the selected behavior, take away all of your attention.
  3. Wait for the misbehavior to stop and quickly return your attention to your child.

Ignoring Tips

  • Ignoring works well when used with positive attention for behaviors you’d like to see more often.
  • While ignoring:
    • Don’t touch or hold your child
    • Don’t talk to your child
    • Don’t look at your child
    • Don’t give in
  • Be prepared for the behavior to get worse when you first start ignoring it.
  • Be consistent and predictable with your ignoring.
  • All caregivers need to respond to misbehavior the same way.
  • Dangerous and destructive behaviors should not be ignored. These misbehaviors should be stopped immediately.

Click here for more information about Using Ignoring.

Page last reviewed: November 5, 2019