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5 Effective Types of Child Discipline Every Parent Must Know

by Vannessa Rhoades 17 May 2023
5 Effective Types of Child Discipline Every Parent Must Know

New books and websites are constantly popping up to introduce and explore various discipline techniques for children. However, most “new” parenting strategies are basically variations of five fundamental types of child discipline. While experts aren’t always in alignment about which technique is best, most agree that a “kind, but firm” method that utilizes consequences and well-defined boundaries is the most effective way to manage kids’ behavior and keep them from harm.

Figuring out how to discipline your child is an individual choice. Your disposition, your child’s personality and stage of development, and your family values and ideologies will all come into play. There’s no one choice that works perfectly for every single child or every single family in all situations. Many families adopt a mixed approach to discipline and use a variety of techniques. Let’s examine five common types of discipline for a child and how to utilize them.

1. Boundary-Based Discipline

Boundary-based discipline concentrates on setting a guideline for behavior, even when there’s no official household rule. Children are offered options and given straightforward consequences for not complying. This may be in the form of either a logical consequence (one that the parent puts in place) or a natural consequence (things that happen automatically as a result of a child’s action or inaction without any purposeful behavior on the adult’s part).

  • Example: A 5-year-old refuses to practice piano. A caregiver using boundary-based discipline strategies might establish a boundary and communicate a logical consequence by stating, “You can’t play video games until you’ve spent at least 15 minutes practicing piano.”

2. Behavior Modification

Behavior modification concentrates on using both favorable and unfavorable consequences. Positive behavior is supported with rewards or praise. Undesirable behavior is prevented by using negative consequences or ignoring the behavior. 

  • Example: A 5-year-old refuses to practice piano. A parent trying a behavior modification strategy might point out any previously agreed-upon rewards for their behavior: “Remember, after you’re finished with practice, you get to play video games for half an hour.” The child receives their reward if they decide to obey. If they fuss and complain, the parent would ignore it.

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3. Positive Discipline

Positive discipline focuses heavily on offering children recognition and motivation for things done right.  Rather than forcing compliance and issuing punishment for misbehavior, caregivers concentrate on teaching and guiding children. They help children learn to solve problems on their own and tend to utilize a more collaborative approach to address issues. 

  • Example: A 5-year-old refuses to practice piano. A parent who favors positive discipline strategies might sit down with their child and have a conversation along the lines of, “Your piano teacher says you need to practice at least 15 minutes each day, and you don’t want to do it. What can we do so that you’ll be able to show your teacher that you’re practicing as regularly as you need to?”

4. Gentle Discipline

The goal of gentle discipline is to keep issues from happening in the first place. Distraction and redirection are used as tactics to guide children away from misbehavior instead of telling them “no.” While gentle discipline utilizes consequences, those consequences don’t attempt to shame the child. Rather, a parent may distract their child with a little humor. With gentle discipline, parents concentrate on controlling their own feelings while handling their child’s behavior.

  • Example: A 5-year-old refuses to practice piano. A parent practicing gentle discipline may react with a little dry humor by suggesting, “Okay, would you prefer to clean your room during piano practice time instead?” After the initial disagreement has smoothed over a bit, the caregiver might offer to help the child break down their practice piece into smaller, more manageable parts.

5. Emotion Coaching

Emotion coaching is a more complex strategy that teaches kids how to handle emotions in a healthy way. Parents look for teachable moments to help children identify what emotion they’re experiencing, then talk about those feelings. They also help kids learn coping strategies to deal with uncomfortable emotions and provide positive reinforcement for good behavior. 

  • Example: A 5-year-old refuses to practice piano. A caregiver may use emotion coaching to help their child name their feelings: “I know you feel frustrated that you can’t play video games because you need to practice piano. Sometimes practicing something can feel a bit boring when it’s not your favorite song or when you’d rather be playing a game. Let’s draw a picture of how you’re feeling.” When the feelings are managed, the piano practice is more likely to be completed.

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The Takeaway

Of course, these brief examples don’t tell the whole story behind different types of discipline techniques. It’s not as though boundary-based discipline doesn’t include preventive strategies. It does. Practicing gentle discipline also includes utilizing consequences. In truth, all of these styles overlap a bit. The distinctions are more a matter of what they emphasize. The good news, though, is that you don’t have to stick with just one style of discipline. You can integrate particular aspects of a variety of discipline styles. It’s okay to choose the things that work and leave the rest.

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