SYF: Many Parents Doubt Their Discipline Tactics

(Graphic provided byt he Penn State Cooperative Extension)

If you wonder whether your child will ever follow the rules, you’re not alone. In fact a study shows that nearly a third of parents don’t think their discipline approach works with their kids. Parents at 64 doctors’ office in the United States and Canada were surveyed before their 2 to 11-year-olds’ regular checkup. The parents (almost all of them mothers) reported how often they used these common disciplinary techniques in the past month:

  • 45 percent used time-outs
  • 41 percent removed privileges
  • 27 percent sent kids to their bedrooms
  • 13 percent yelled
  • 9 percent spanked

About the effectiveness of these actions:

  • 21 percent of parents said it “always” works
  • 45 percent of parents said it “often” works
  • 31 percent of parents said it “never” or “sometimes” works

In particular, parents who yell at their kids saw themselves as ineffective, according to the study, which was conducted by Pediatric Research in Office Settings (PROS), a practice-based research arm of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Many parents (38%) also said they use the same discipline tactics their own parents had used with them; regardless of whether they believe the tactic is effective. It seems – old habits die hard.

What does this mean for you? Every child is unique and what works with one child may not work for another. Here are some basic rules about discipline:

1. Be consistent. Make good on your promises. Kids need to believe that you really mean what you say. Be careful not to make unrealistic threats in anger (“Push your sister again and I’ll take away all of your toys.”) No child really believes this will happen. Failing to follow through could weaken your discipline efforts.

2. Explain to your child what you expect before doling out punishment. Decide together with your child what the rules are and make sure she understands the consequence of not following the rules.

3. Tell kids what the right thing to do is, not the wrong thing. Instead of “Don’t jump on the couch,” try “Please sit on the furniture and put your feet on the floor.”

4. Allow children to experience natural consequences. This means that when your child spills her milk on purpose, she won’t have her cup refilled. Or when they refuse to do homework, they’ll have to accept a poor grade.

5. Skip spanking. Spanking teaches children that it’s OK to hit when they’re angry, can physically harm kids, makes children fearful of their parents, teaches kids to avoid getting caught rather than changing their behavior, and may inadvertently “reward” kids who seek attention by acting out.

6. Try time-outs. Choose a spot with no distractions (a kitchen chair, bottom stair, etc.) Kids should spend one minute in time-out for every year of age. This is three minutes for a 3-year old.

7. Reward good behavior. Discipline is also about recognizing good behaviors, not just punishing bad ones. Rather than a generic “good job,” offer specific praise (“I’m proud of you for sharing your toys at the playground.”) Kids of all ages usually crave and respond to their parents’ positive, loving reinforcement.

 Additional information is available from Andrea Bressler at; or; and your local office of Penn State Cooperative Extension.  In Clearfield, the office is located in the Multi-Service Center, or by calling 765-7878.  In Brookville, the office is located at 180 Main Street, or by calling 849-7361.  And in Ridgway, the office is located in the Courthouse, or by calling 776-5331.  Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.


Andrea Bressler, Penn State Cooperative Extension

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