How To Discipline A Child Effectively

By Marie Miguel

Updated February 04, 2020

Reviewer Heather Cashell


One of the biggest debates in raising a child is how to discipline them. You ask any parent, and you'll get a different response. Everyone swears that their method of discipline, or the one their parents did to them, is the correct way, and any other way is why the children of today are wrong. Emotions fly high, and debates can be heated, and yet few people bring in any evidence.

If you're raising a child, and it's about that time when they need to start learning right from wrong, you may wonder how to discipline them in a manner that's fair, but gets the point across.


Everyone has to listen to the rules. Sometimes, rules can be broken or bent, but everyone still has to obey most of them. Whether it's the rules of law, the rules of the workplace, or just the unwritten rules of society, a well-disciplined person knows how to follow the rules and learn from their mistakes. Teaching people at a young age right from wrong and how to follow the rules will turn kids into productive members of society, or at least that's what we want to believe. A child's discipline may depend on what type of parent they have.

Types Of Parenting

There are three main types of parents, and this can determine their discipline style. These include:

  • Permissive parenting is a type of parenting style characterized by low demands with high responsiveness. Permissive parents tend to be very loving, yet provide few guidelines and rules. These parents do not expect mature behavior from their children and often seem more like a friend than a parental figure.
  • Authoritarian parenting is a parenting style characterized by high demands and low responsiveness. Parents with an authoritarian style have very high expectations of their children, yet provide very little in the way of feedback and nurturance. Mistakes tend to be punished harshly.
  • There are many things in life where balance is key. Authoritative is a balanced form of parenting. There are rules and expectations, but there is affection as well. An authoritative parent isn't going to let their teenager stay out all night without knowing where they are, but they will give them some independence and choices of their own. An authoritative parent knows that some rules are meant to be questioned, and they will work with the child to help them be on their best behavior.


Punishment or negative reinforcement

Many rules would never be followed if there weren't any consequences for breaking them. We want to do good at a job, so we don't lose money. We don't speed because we don't want a ticket. Heck, many of us are close to punching people we don't like, but the fear of jail makes us not want to do that. A good punishment will prevent those from breaking the rules, and teach those who do break them that there are consequences for their actions.

Positive Reinforcement

Many of us always notice the negative, but never the positive. If you're ignoring your child's good behavior but always noticing the bad, you may not be disciplining your child properly. Children crave attention, and those who are ignored for doing something good may turn to something bad to be noticed. Reward their good behavior with a treat, praise, or pointing out how much progress they have made.


Being grounded means taking away privileges from your child if they break the rules. These privileges tend to be something they enjoy, and if it's taken away, their boredom is an effective punishment. For example, if your child is playing too many video games and not studying enough, taking away their gaming privileges if they fail a test can be an effective punishment.

Natural Consequences

Sometimes, the punishment is not natural. If your child is running without watching where they are going, and then trips over something, that is a natural punishment. Your child has learned naturally that there are consequences for their actions. Make sure you remind them.

The Great Spanking Debate

Spanking, or any other form of corporal punishment, is a hot debate topic. Some people swear by it and claim that it made them into an obedient person and that children just aren't getting enough. Others say that a bit of corporal punishment is okay, such as a swat on the butt, but extreme measures are abusive. However, the science on corporal punishment is that it can lead to some consequences. The child may grow up to be more aggressive, have anger issues, and believe that violence is okay.

Those who claim they have had positive experiences may be in denial or are an exception. It is highly recommended you try other forms of punishment instead. It doesn't matter if you were spanked as a kid and you turned out fine.

A Good Discipline Plan

A good rule plan is one that is consistent and predictable. You don't make exceptions if the rules are broken. You have punishments that fit the misbehavior. But it's also fair. This means that you explain why these misbehaviors are bad. Your punishments aren't overly harsh. You reward good behavior as well. As the child grows, the discipline plan grows with it.

It will evolve based on their ages. As babies, they don't know right from wrong, so if you're punishing your baby because they pulled your hair, then you're doing it wrong. When your child is a toddler, they may have a better grasp from right from wrong, but they may still not know it well. When they reach the age when they're in school, they start to know better, and you can build an effective discipline plan. When they reach the teen years, you will need to figure out how to establish rules that teach them how to be safe while also letting them be a teenager to some degree.


Finding the perfect plan may be difficult. Every child responds differently. Not to mention that there are some children with disorders that make it harder for them to understand right from wrong.

A good plan will also involve listening to the child. Just because you're the parent, it doesn't mean that your child can't question or talk about certain rules. Negotiation is a great tactic for your child to develop, and you should encourage your child to discuss certain rules.

When Emotions Overwhelm You

Perhaps the most difficult part of discipline is when your emotions take control. Your child does something that makes you angry, and you are tempted to go off on them. Maybe they did something worth getting angry about, like breaking an expensive object of yours. Perhaps their misbehavior wasn't too severe, but you are having a bad day, and that's the tipping point.

Do not. Yelling at your child can increase aggression, and it's a sign that you've lost control over your child. Take a break. Take a few deep breaths, take some time for your anger to stop bubbling, and come back to the situation with a cooler head and a fairer punishment.

In Summary

How do you discipline a child effectively? By being consistent. Have consistent rules that have consistent punishments, but they can evolve as the child grows older. Balance and fairness are another way of effective discipline. Being overbearing can lead to negative consequences down the road, and so can let your child get away with everything.


Many parents have difficulty achieving that balance. If your parents raised you in a way that's problematic, it might be hard to raise your child in a better way. No matter how hard you try, sometimes it is difficult to separate yourself from what you've been taught. In situations such as that, you should

Seek Help!

Many parents have a hard time figuring out what the best plan of discipline is. These guides are meant to be general and don't take into account various factors that can affect how your child learns consequences. And sometimes, there may be some flaws in your plan of discipline that you may not notice.

Don't be afraid to seek professional advice if you feel like your child isn't being disciplined properly. It takes a village to raise a child, and sometimes, parents need help as well. Many parents think they are infallible because they are parents, but in the end, they're human like anyone else, and are prone to making mistakes and make judgments clouded by too much emotion. A family counselor can help you figure out a better way to discipline your child, and help you to understand your child better.

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