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Effective Forms of Discipline: Truths & Consequences

This article defines the different forms of discipline to curb undesired behaviors in children and specifies which should be applied when, how to apply and what age is appropriate for each.

















In the article “Discipline is a Positive Thing” from this blog, the definition of discipline was given as follows:
“denying yourself a momentary want in order to accomplish a bigger goal.”

You may have heard that the English language has many flaws. Too many of our words have several different meanings. One of these flaws is with this word.  Discipline is not only used to describe the means by which we accomplish goals, but is also used to describe punishments for bad behavior. 

First things first:

The three most important things your child must know for real success in parenting:
               1. They must know you love them.
               2. They must know you know what is best for them.
               3. They must know you will do whatever is necessary to see that the best for them is done.

I would like to suggest that we think of discipline right now in the context of the phrase “active guidance”.  We are actively changing the environment around our children both spiritually and physically to guide and motivate them to behave in ways that will bring them the most success in their lives.

Mature parenting is essential in understanding how to use the tools of discipline with our children.  Being a mature parent means that you are always aware that your present actions and words will have an effect on your children in the distant future… and acting on that knowledge in a responsible way. 

Having a mature parental mindset is a basic essential when using the tools of discipline.  It helps you as a parent put aside your emotions and focus on the effect and outcome rather than the momentary feelings when applying necessary punishments.
Here is a list the different forms of “active guidance”.

Verbal Reprimand
I wanted to work from the least intrusive and aggressive form of active guidance to the most. We can always hope our words of reprimand will work first.  It is the easiest and least intrusive form and if it proves fruitful, can be a great tool!

A lot of times, it is not the form of discipline that we choose, but the personality and uniqueness of the child that determines which form of discipline is necessary.  Thinking about the categories of compliant or strong-willed, a child’s response to any form of guidance may hinge on this trait.

A compliant child will often be effected greatly by a verbal reprimand.  One of their primary goals in life is to please you.  If they know that you are displeased, they will quickly work to remedy the situation by apologizing and complying. 

A strong-willed child, on the other hand, may look at you with confusion at the very thought that this “inaction” would in any way sway their behavior. 

As a parent, you likely know which kind of child you have at this point.  But, I still suggest that you try verbal reprimand before moving on to other forms of discipline.  I don’t mean every time.  I mean to establish your child’s reaction to your words of warning and instruction.

            A verbal reprimand is appropriate when a child is contemplating or beginning a form of disobedience, as a first step in guiding them to comply, and when the consequences for non-compliance have not been otherwise specifically established.

When giving a verbal reprimand, keep these things in mind: 
Do not ever put a child down personally or refer to them as being a failure. This is a huge mistake.  Remember to focus your words on their actions and the specifics of their disobedience at that particular moment.  Do not apply it to them as a person.  

Ask questions.  Ask what they are doing to cause your verbal reprimand and give them the opportunity to repeat to you the instructions you had given them. Have them explain what they need to do to comply.   

Let them know you are disappointed but believe they will do better the next time.  Show them you have confidence in their good character generally and are looking forward to seeing their improvement.  

Let them know more specific consequences that will come if this verbal reprimand does not work to curb their behavior. 

A child sometimes needs to move away from the source of their temptation in order to gather their will to do the right thing.  Time-out is a good way to help them learn that if they choose not to behave themselves in the presence of others, they will have to be removed until they do.


            Time out should be applied when a child uses violence to accomplish dominance over others, shows disrespect for other children, or is out of control with any other form of aggressiveness. It should also be used to allow them to choose a happy spirit over a bad attitude. This method can be used when a child is old enough to stand up in the crib until they are about age 5.  

Remove the child from all activities.  A chair, corner or room away from others will work depending on the circumstances of age and need for supervision.  

Make sure that there are no distractions that will cause the child to enjoy their time away from the other activities.  (No toys, books, electronics, food, etc.)  The point is for them to have time to think about their behavior and decide to change it.  

Do not coddle them during their time out.  It is supposed to be unpleasant.  Be short, straightforward and resolved that they need to think about their behavior.  

Set a time that is reasonable for their age and maturity level.  A young child can sit for one minute per year of age.  (2 minutes for a 2 year old, 3 minutes for a 3 year old, etc.)  A child who is sent to their room to change their mood to a happy spirit will decide how long by their own choices.  When they have a happy spirit, they can choose to come out of their room and resume activity with others.  

Make sure that if they are removed for a bad attitude, they are truly choosing a happy spirit.  They can prove this by smiling, saying something nice to you and/or apologizing for their choice to behave badly. 

Loss of Privileges
Especially with older children, this tool is helpful in avoiding the need for more aggressive forms of discipline.  It also gives a child the understanding of what privileges are and makes it easier for them to recognize that the luxuries they enjoy are given and taken away at your discretion.  It gives them a greater respect for your authority when applied appropriately.

Loss of privileges should be applied when a child takes advantage, misappropriates, or doesn’t take responsibility for stewardship over their time or belongings. This would include not doing their chores. 

Be sure that the child is well aware of the actions they did to reap the consequences of loss of privilege and that they knew your expectations beforehand.  

Whenever possible, make the privilege apply directly to the object of disobedience.  For example, if they didn’t do their chores and were playing on the computer, the loss of computer time for that day and possibly the next would be appropriate.  

Set a reasonable period of time for the privilege to be taken away and a specific rule of compliance that needs to be completed for it to be returned.  

Increase the loss if the “crime” is repeated until it is painful enough for a change in behavior to take place. 

Cover the Mouth – An alternative to spanking
This is the method I have developed that works well when dealing with children who have lost control.  When applied properly, a child will regulate themselves quickly without verbal reprimand, time out, spanking or any other form of active guidance.  A simple hand up from a parent will cause a child to quickly think about their behavior and decide to bring it under control. 

Cover the mouth of the child when they are out of control crying or fussing for the sake of manipulating or because of lack of emotional control and in excess of the circumstances.  They can also be taught to apply it to themselves when they are being contentious with a sibling or with you.
If you do not understand the more specific reasons for this method, read the article “BE THE MOM: How to Take Charge.”

NEVER cover the nose and mouth, of course.  There should be no hindrance whatsoever to breathing.  

Hold your hand over their mouth and quietly say, “When you are finished crying, I will let go.”  Be patient, calm and kind.  Do not get angry in any way.  

Do not allow any noise to come out of their mouth unhindered.  

If they struggle, hold them tightly to make sure they cannot move away.  Repeat the same phrase about every minute or so until they are finished.  

Remember you must win.  Do not give up and do not let go until they have complied.  

Do not have any other conversation with them during this session.  The only words you say are as described above.  

Do not comfort them in their disobedience.  Do not rub their back, cuddle with them or otherwise show affection.  This is not the time for them to feel acceptance but a time for them to learn to behave.  

Do not allow them to kick or resist.  If they do, get them in a position where this is not possible and wait.  Be patient, kind, calm and not in any way angry.  

If they need to breathe through their mouth, lift your hand slightly each time they need to take in a breath just enough for them to take it. Put it back immediately. Repeat as necessary.  Do not hinder breathing in any way.  

As soon as they are quiet, even for a couple of seconds, gently remove your hand. Immediately replace it if they wail again.  

When they are quiet, and have stopped crying in response to your statement, remove your hand and calmly ask them if they are finished.  

When they indicate they are, calmly tell them crying and fussing is inappropriate and you are glad they have decided they are finished.  Let them know you love them and hope they decide not to repeat this behavior again.  

 Go back to whatever you were doing before as if all is well. 

A note about this method:

This is the most effective method I have ever tried with children who are crying and fussing either because of lack of emotional control or manipulation.  The first time this is tried, it may take a very long time.  Even up to 45 minutes or an hour if you have a very strong will child who has been allowed to manipulate you and get his way.  But remember it is a training session.  It is establishing that you are in charge and they are not allowed to behave this way.  Don’t give up.

Once you win this first session, all you will need to do is be consistent.  Each and every time they start to fuss for the reasons stated here, apply the hand.  Keep it there until they are finished.  The time for this to work will be greatly reduced quickly if you are consistent, and soon you will only put your hand up or mention that you will cover their mouth if they cannot control themselves, and they will comply.  They will learn self-control.

Also, you may find that they will cover their own mouth when they know they are starting to lose control and will begin to learn how to regulate their own emotions to an appropriate level.  It is a wonderful and rewarding sight to see!

This method is not to be applied for appropriate crying.  If a child is truly hurt or is sad at the loss of a pet or friend, or some other real and legitimate reason to be upset, it is ok to allow them to express their sorrow.  But loud, manipulative, dramatically excessive or angry crying and fussing such is often heard in public by children who are not trained is not appropriate and should be stopped immediately. 


I decided it was best save this one for last for two reasons.  First, because I think if it is used, it should be the last resort as an answer to a willfully disobedient child. Second, because it is the most aggressive form of discipline.

It is currently also the most controversial form of discipline and has been for decades Believe it or not, spanking was at one time not controversial at all.  Most everyone believed it was necessary to raise up respectful and happy children.

The debate started in the late 1960s when there was an attempt to ban it by those who were questioning just about everything that had been previously held as a social norm. In fact, in 1977, corporal punishment was ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court – although this did little to calm the controversy.  By 2016, 31 of 50 states had banned it in schools.

Some parents cringe at the thought of spanking their children.  My thought is, when necessary, spanking can be an effective form of active guidance if it is applied properly and without anger.  If it is applied inappropriately and/or with anger, it can become abuse… which is one of the basic reasons people oppose it.

If spanking is a tool that you decide to use with your children, and you are being an effective parent, it will be seldom used and rarely needed. But, can certainly be the quickest and most convenient way to get the attention of an unruly child who is being willfully disobedient.

Establishing reasons to spank is definitely important before this form of guidance is applied.  The only reason spanking should ever be used in my view is for willful disobedience.  A child should never be punished for mistakes or accidents unless those accidents are a result of disobedience.  Then, it is the disobedience that is being addressed… not the accident.

For instance, if a child spills milk because of under developed hand coordination, it is wrong for a parent to apply punishment.  If, on the other hand, they spill milk after you have told them not to play with the glass at the edge of the table… and they do it anyway, then the milk spills, that is different.

I would NOT apply spanking in that instance though because another form of guidance would be more effective. Making them clean up the mess is more appropriate.   Also, not allowing them to have the milk until the end of the meal, or making them ask each time they want to have a drink of milk is an additional option.

Knowing when it would be appropriate to apply spanking is necessary for it to be productive.  Again, spanking should only apply when a child is willfully disobedient and when it is the best way to help the child focus on the importance of listening to your commands. 

If you are at home, and your child is not listening to your instructions to clean up their room, it is an appropriate way to get them to understand your words have meaning and to disregard or ignore your instruction results in unpleasant and swift consequences. 

A spanking should be short and have a measure of pain to effect change in their behavior.  A swat on a two year old’s bottom that is padded by a diaper can actually be effective if they have a generally compliant spirit.  A compliant child will feel the pain of emotion in a spanking enough to change their behavior.  They feel upset at having displeased you to the point of a spanking and that alone can be the catalyst that works.

But, a spanking in the same circumstances for a strong-willed child will result in a chuckle under their breath or a display of anger and frustration and a determination to defy you.  This is not going to cause a change in their behavior but it will start a battle of the wills. 

Any battle of the wills must ALWAYS and without question end in a victory for the parent.  (The victory means that you win the battle in order for them to win in life.) So, unless you want to get into a battle of the wills with a strong-willed child, you must make sure a spanking is short and painful.  It must give them the little shock they need to know you mean business and they had best comply. 

If you decide to spank your child, make sure you are NOT angry when you do it.  Anger can cause you to apply this punishment inappropriately and can lead to abuse rather than discipline.  Your mindset must be that you are in the process of working on your child’s behavior and are using this tool to stem their disobedience.  Not to enact revenge for their non-compliance.  Your goal is to help your child learn to obey for their own good, the good of the family and others, and their life purposes….and nothing more.

This is another reason that being consistent is important.  When you are consistent, your child understands you mean what you say and knows the consequences will come if they do not obey.  This makes a child much more willing to honor your instructions generally and helps you, as a parent, keep from getting angry.

Let’s be clear.  A spanking is only applied on the behind or upper thigh for the purpose of guiding a willfully disobedient child.  You should NEVER under any circumstances smack your child in the face, push them into a wall, or do anything that is disrespectful, degrading or cruel.   This is abuse and should never be put under the same category as a well purposed and appropriate spanking.
Many people have asked if it is ok to use your hand to swat the bottom of an unruly child.  Most “experts” say no.  I say it is fine when it comes to toddlers.  The reason I say this when talking about toddlers is because it is the swiftest way to get their attention and be consistent.  Again, an effective parent should not have to do it often anyway and I know the busy life of a mom.  It is not practical to believe you that can be consistent and swift if you have to go searching for a tool when the moment comes a toddler needs a quick swat.  For you to be consistent, using the tool God gave you is fine in my view.
If appropriate forms of discipline are used throughout the life of a child, by the time they are 3-4 years old, spankings should be very rarely needed.  And, it is certainly fine if you want to use a tool to apply a spanking if that makes you more comfortable.  But I want you to know, you are not a bad mom if you have to use your hand. 

For older children, in the rare case of a spanking being necessary, I found that a smooth flexible windshield wiper was the most effective tool.  Believe me, one swat with it on the back of a thigh or buttock will whip a child into shape quick.  It would not be appropriate to spank over and over again.  A swat or two is all it will take if you use a windshield wiper. (If you accidentally strike yourself with this tool, believe me… you will know what I mean.  It hurts, it doesn’t leave any kind of damage, but stings like the dickens!)

This little physical shock will let a child know you mean business, will be remembered in their mind for future reference, and will cause a change in behavior when applied appropriately.

When a child is old enough to stand up in a crib, they are old enough for a swat on the diapered bottom with your hand for willful disobedience. By age 4, a child should be well versed in obedience and able to understand clearly that your instructions are important and should be quick to listen and comply.  By that age, a small tool such as a wooden spoon would be appropriate if a spanking is needed. 

By age 7 the rubber flexible windshield wiper is appropriate, but remember only one or two swats are sufficient. (NOT the steel part of the windshield wiper!!! ONLY the rubber part that is wiggly and flexible.)

When they are 11 years old, spanking should not be necessary at all and should not be applied anymore in my opinion.  Other forms of guidance should be used at that point.

What To Do in Public – and what not to do!
Some of you are no doubt thinking, “What about if I am in public and my child misbehaves?”
I strongly suggest you do these training sessions with Cover the Mouth or spanking at home and have these methods well established before you try to apply them in public.  In fact, if they are appropriately and consistently applied at home, it is likely a simple lift of your hand to show the mouth will be covered will do the trick anywhere you go. 

You may have to establish that your methods apply anywhere at some point.  When a child recognizes that Mommy doesn’t always follow through in front of other people, especially a strong-willed child, they will often test you.  Do not disappoint. 

The first thing to do is to make sure you have a good routine and schedule set about for their proper rest and nutrition.  It is not an excuse for bad behavior when a child is tired, but it can be a reason.  Avoid a fussy, tired or hungry child by making sure you go in public when they are well-rested and fed. 

Next, if there is a situation where inappropriate behavior begins and needs to be addressed, immediately take care of it.  If you have applied Cover the Mouth at home, you can just cover it for a moment right there and likely they will comply quickly.  If they do not, move the child to a spot of privacy if necessary.  A family bathroom or a mother’s bathroom is a good place.  If you have to go to the car, do so, but look for an alternative first. 

Look them in the eye and speak clearly and with determination but not anger.  Tell them if they will not behave, you will cover their mouth.  Then follow through.  Wait until they are done.  After the session is over, walk them right back to the place you started and continue as if nothing has happened.  Again, do not act angry but be determined and matter-of-fact.  You can let them know that any reward for good behavior will be taken away if you have to apply any discipline while in public.

Do not have a long session of discipline with them in public.  This is not a good idea.  When I say “in public” I mean in clear view of others in the middle of their activity (such as in church, in an aisle at the store, at the park on the playground, etc.).  It is ok if you have to go to the car and you are in the parking lot and give them a little swat. Or if you are at the park and you swat them on the bottom if they do not come when you tell them it’s time to go.  A momentary shock to get their attention is fine if they are purposefully ignoring your commands.  

 Do not have a long-drawn out Cover the Mouth session in public.  It is ok to cover their mouth for a moment or two, but if you can see it will be an extended ordeal, do not do it in public.  Go to a private place to continue. 

Inappropriate Parental Behaviors for Purposes of Discipline
Here’s a list: 
Screaming at the top of your lungs  

Sarcastically putting them down  

Embarrassing them for revenge  

Using violence to make them comply  

Holding up shining examples suggesting they don’t measure up  

Using any forms of discipline in anger or for revenge  

Making them doubt your love to manipulate their behavior  

Setting extreme consequences for minor infractions 

Remember when using methods of discipline, the goal is for them to learn to behave and to become successful.  It is not for you --- although it certainly makes your life easier when they behave!  But this is a side benefit to the main reason for your actions.  Keep your mind and eye on the goal.  This will help you as you use these methods in guiding your children into adulthood.
Moms, I believe most of the raising of our children to be successful and happy adults is about teaching and training.  Their choices make up the rest.  Your diligence in using the tools of discipline to actively guide them into adulthood is well worth the effort. 


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