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Five Child Discipline Methods for Preschoolers

How to shape your little one’s behavior for positive results.

When your little one acts up, how do you respond? While you want to have consistency in your child discipline methods, there are a host of different ways you can let your preschooler know you aren’t happy with the way he is behaving. Depending on the infraction, where you are, and how many times it has happened before, you may want to choose a method different than one you usually utilize. The key is, once you have decided to discipline your little one, make sure you stick with it — no changing your mind or relenting.

 Child discipline is definitely something you learn as you go along. Once you have tried a few of these methods, and see what works best with your child’s personality, you may find one that you prefer over the others. That’s great, but keep in mind that the process needs to be flexible and that sometimes what works in one situation may not work in another.

When it comes to child discipline, the ultimate goal is to change your child’s behavior for the better and hopefully eliminate problem behaviors that continue to crop up.

  1. Redirection: Redirection is pretty much what it sounds like: removing or distracting your child from a situation by pointing them in the direction of something else. While this may seem counterintuitive to disciplining a child, almost like letting them get away with something, it actually works very well, especially in situations where what the child is doing is inappropriate for where she is. For example, if she throws a ball inside the house. Certainly, you can tell your child “no,” but that’s really only half the battle. By saying, “Throwing your ball in the house could cause something to break or hurt someone. Let’s head outside and throw the ball there.” you are teaching your child the difference between when something is right and when something is wrong. Note that redirection is different than using a “time-out” which is detailed below.
  1. Take a time-out: Time-outs are probably one of the most popular forms of child discipline, as well as one of the most effective — if done correctly. If your child is misbehaving and you simply put him into a corner for a spell, that time-out will not work well because he doesn’t know why he is being punished. The key to a time-out that works is making sure your little one understands why he is being made to take a time-out, that the time-out is administered as soon as the naughty behavior occurs, that it is held in a quiet spot, and it ends when you say it does. It’s a good idea before your child leaves the time-out to have him tell you why he had to take a time-out and to apologize to whomever it is he wronged.
  2. Letting your child face the consequences: You told your little one not to leave his treasured stuffed bear out because the new puppy was going to steal and chew it. But sure enough, five minutes after your little one left the room, where is the bear? Right where he left it. While you don’t want your child’s toy to be ruined by your dog, this is a great opportunity to teach an important lesson. Place the bear where your child can’t see it. When your child returns to the room, ask where the bear is. Let your child have an opportunity to feel the consequences of his action, including feeling sad. After an appropriate amount of time (depending on the situation), return the bear to your child and remind him of what you had originally asked him.
  3. Ignore it: This is another technique that may seem like as a parent, you aren’t doing much to discipline your child, but it is actually quite effective. It requires a lot of patience on your part however, and making sure that whatever it is your little one is doing will not harm herself or anyone else. This technique usually works best when siblings or friends are arguing over something of little consequence. If they come to you and ask for help, explain that you aren’t getting involved in something they should be able to work out for themselves. Be close by however, in case the situation escalates and you need to step in.
  4. Using “If/Then”: If your child continues to pull her brother’s hair, then she will have to go sit in her room for a while. If your preschooler keeps taking all the books off the bookshelf and throwing them on the floor, then he will not be permitted to read them for the rest of the day. If/Then works because it tells your child exactly what it is about his behavior that you don’t like and what will happen if he continues it. Just make sure you follow through with the “then,” being sure not to make it something that will never happen — “I’m going to throw out all of your toys!”

When it comes to discipling your child, it’s important to be consistent, make sure the punishment fits the crime, and to follow through on the punishment, whatever it is.

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