My wife and I are two working parents so most of the discipline happens on week nights or weekends. When our boy or girl was acting out the consequences were usually one of these:

  1. Take away something (no sweet, no ball )
  2. Take away an activity (no tv, no game time)
  3. Alone time in room, time out
  4. Add time frame to anything (no tv for week)

However as the boy gets old these actions (or the threat of these actions) don't seem to have much effect. The 4yr sister sees this and follows suit in continuing bad behavior regardless of discipline. This as unfortunate side effects for discipline:

  1. We yell to get point across (the more you yell the less effective it is)
  2. We harshen discipline, which makes them moody all weekend etc.
  3. We try one-on-one, heart-to-heart conversations which are good but don't produce any lasting result

I don't want to become a dad that has to scare is kids by yelling in order for them to stop hitting each other or making a mess while eating. I don't want to be a discipline dictator but I also don't want them to be uncontrollable. They are good kids now and mostly listen if yell but I feel them slipping and i'm running out of ammo. The 8yr old boy is easily emotional but a good communicator... er negotiator. and the 4yr old girl is a spitfire and tends to yell/scream/hit as protest.

Any long-lasting discipline suggestions appreciated.

  • This no drama discipline book looks interesting as well. This cartoon (no video games for a week) is basically me: amazon.com/No-Drama-Discipline-Whole-Brain-Nurture-Developing/… Oct 27, 2014 at 23:47
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    Interesting quote from No-Drama-Discipline book - "...every child, like every parenting situation, is different. But on constant that's true in virtually every encounter is that the first step in effective discipline is to connect with our children emotionally. Our relationshilp with our kids should be central to everything we do." Oct 27, 2014 at 23:52
  • Our family has found The Good Behaviour Book: How to Have a Better-Behaved Child from Birth to Age Ten very useful for these kinds of issues. I think the fact that you're thinking hard about these issues and reaching out for advice, and that you don't want to be a yelling-parent, shows what a good parent you must be.
    – A E
    Oct 28, 2014 at 13:54
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    Thanks @AE :?) it's also because the wife is traveling so I have been playing single dad for the last week (bushes off shoulder). I think I'm doing okay but have noticed some behavoir more acutely. That also looks like a good book. Maybe its time I look into this Community Wiki thing and create an ongoing list of good parenting books. Oct 28, 2014 at 16:51

5 Answers 5


I would suggest that you focus on separating why the child is misbehaving:

  1. Wanting to do something contraindicated
  2. Directly challenging authority/boundaries
  3. Wildness/out of control behavior

The three kinds of misbehavior are very different in why the child is doing the action(s), and that drives how you discipline them. It sounds like your older child may be moving more towards 2, which is common as they get older (teenage years is all about this).

Your younger daughter may still be well into 3, and you should definitely pay attention to this. If she's just wild, you have to get her out of her wildness before any discipline could potentially work. Walking away, taking a toy away briefly (just picking it up, not banishing it), whatever jolts her out of the wildness - or just waiting a little while. Wildness isn't really misbehavior, in the classic sense: it's lacking the emotional control to behave. My three year old is all about wildness - he's probably the best behaved boy on the planet of his age other than his wildness, but he has a lot of that. You need to teach her how to gain self control - a 'calm' mantra, for example, or walking away to a quiet place (bathroom is a great example of this).

The bigger issue, it sounds like, is the pushing boundaries and challenging authority. This is what we have the hardest time with. You have to make sure consequences are clear and consistent, of course, but also relevant and timely. I'm sure Dan B. will chime in with a better explanation of this, but in the short, a week long banishment is nearly entirely ineffective. 15 minutes is sufficient for almost any situation, even in the teenage years - but it has to be something directly relevant.

Keep these consistent, and don't escalate. Don't yell. Don't get mad. They're trying to find out exactly what it takes to get you mad, and what power they have over you - after all, kids don't have a lot of power, but one of the powers they do have is making you emotionally respond to them (in all sorts of ways). Not to say this is malicious, it's just part of childhood - figuring out how you can exert influence over others. Keeping calm and not taking their actions personally is very important.

You can also set them up for success. What kinds of things are they pushing you on? If it's things like misbehaving at the store, stop taking them to the store. If that's not feasible, figure out what you can do to limit the opportunities for acting out. Put the four year old in the cart. Set up small positive rewards for good behavior - "If we don't have any problems at the store, we'll get you a fizzy water." In general do what you can to reduce the opportunities for misbehavior and increase positive reinforcements.

If they're acting out at home, take them out more. You say that they're hitting each other; some of that you may just need to tolerate. My parents generally did, and it worked out okay for us; my younger brother learned to defend himself, and I learned not to take things too far. They'll have to work out their own physical and emotional relationship, and while you should guide that, you can't control it completely.

Ultimately, you can't completely control them, and you have to be okay with that: get them to where they can be successful, and have the tools with which to do that, and the rest will work itself out over time. Keeping your calm, and figuring out why they're doing what they're doing, are two major keys to helping your children learn self control and more consistently good behavior.

  • Thanks for the detailed thought out answer and bevy of advice therein. I am usually pretty calm and it takes a lot to make me yell at them (i.e. once a week). But it used to be once a month so it's getting worse. The frustration from me is that they used to listen and now (even the 4yr old) doesn't. This morning I had to ask her 4 times to get her hair brush. She finally did but often there are small things like that that i usually ignore and pick my battles for larger things. I fear this is showing them they don't have to listen, feeding the cycle. Oct 27, 2014 at 22:54

I saw the word "discipline" used in the context of children and I really thought I should refer you to two authors.

First, please see Alice Miller. Her website is www.alice-miller.com. If it's down, you can access it using the WayBackMachine at www.archive.org. Please do read her books and/or her articles. Many of us treat children in very damaging ways, causing them psychological harm when they become adults.

Second, please take a look at Alfie Kohn (www.alfiekohn.org). His latest book, "The Myth of the Spoiled Child," should be of interest.

I really appreciate your effort to be a better parent than your own parents. I would give you detailed comments but I think Alice Miller's and Alfie Kohn's material are best approached on a first-hand basis.

P.S.: I wanted to leave this as a comment but I do not have enough reputation to do that. I dislike this system of needing reputation to do something as basic as commenting on someone's post.


After reading the comments to my answer, I thought I'll add more details. Some disclaimers: First, I am not a parent. But I was a child once, and I know many who were children once, and I draw my knowledge based on my own experience, and on the experience of countless others. Second, I do not mean anyone any disrespect; I understand parenting must be tough, and to do it right when a lot of us (usually) have had crappy parents, that must be really difficult. Maybe I'll know that feeling someday myself.

I agree with A.S. Neill (author of Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing and Freedom, Not License!) when he says that children have natural phases and that we have to let them live out their natural phases instead of trying to control them, and instead of trying to suppress their vitality.

You say that they make a mess while eating. Why not let them make a mess? They do not have the same notion of "neatness" as us, so it is clear that they will make a mess. Why do you think them making a mess is a bad idea? Is it because you have to clean them up and you really do not want to because your wife and yourself had work all day? Or is it because you think they might not know how to have proper eating manners when they grow up?

I quote from A.S. Neill's Summerhill here:

The common assumption that good habits that have not been forced into us during early childhood can never develop in us later on in life is an assumption we have been brought up on and which we unquestioningly accept merely because the idea has never been challenged. I deny this premise.

A. S. Neill talks a lot about giving chilren love and freedom, and not to be manipulative of them. He says that if we let children live out their natural phases, they will get to a point where they understand, through their own opinion, about why being neat matters, for example. Do read the two books I cited, Summerhill and Freedom, Not License! to see Neill's decades of experience running the Summerhill school (http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/).

I think that in many cases, we adults suppress the vitality and the reactive feelings of children, who in many cases, are unable to express their true emotion and resort to tendencies such as spitting and screaming and hitting each other. I think that our tendency to resort to "discipline," is misguided, because not only are we being extremely manipulative to our children, and not only are we suppressing their vitality and their natural needs, we are also failing to recognize their true needs. We are also failing to give them unconditional love, and they desperately need our love! Many times, we impose this discipline for our own selfish needs (maybe because we need the peace and quiet, or maybe we do not want to clean up their mess).

I asked you to read Alfie Kohn, and Alice Miller, (and now A. S. Neill) because in their writing, they make us question the underlying assumptions and norms in society, and they make us reflect a lot on our own childhood (Alice Miller does this very well).

In addition to Kohn's book The Myth of the Spoiled Child, I would also recommend looking at Unconditional Parenting (http://www.alfiekohn.org/up/). I have not read either of them yet (they are on my to-read list) but I recommend them on the basis of being familiar with Kohn's other work, and of being familiar with Kohn's general line of thought. Here's a quote from the Unconditional Parenting book website (bold emphasis mine).

One basic need all children have, Kohn argues, is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short. Yet conventional approaches to parenting such as punishments (including "time-outs"), rewards (including positive reinforcement), and other forms of control teach children that they are loved only when they please us or impress us. Kohn cites a body of powerful, and largely unknown, research detailing the damage caused by leading children to believe they must earn our approval. That's precisely the message children derive from common discipline techniques, even though it's not the message most parents intend to send.

More than just another book about discipline, though, Unconditional Parenting addresses the ways parents think about, feel about, and act with their children. It invites them to question their most basic assumptions about raising kids while offering a wealth of practical strategies for shifting from "doing to" to "working with" parenting - including how to replace praise with the unconditional support that children need to grow into healthy, caring, responsible people. This is an eye-opening, paradigm-shattering book that will reconnect readers to their own best instincts and inspire them to become better parents.

I have read much of Miller's work. I started out by reading The Truth Will Set You Free (http://www.alice-miller.com/books_en.php?page=10) and The Body Never Lies (http://www.alice-miller.com/books_en.php?page=11). You might like those two. Many others start Miller by reading her first work The Drama of the Gifted Child.

I hope this helps. I am aware that my response appears to be of the type "read these books and you'll be fine." But my intention really is to point you in the direction where we question the accepted norms of child-rearing, such as "discipline," so that we may collectively give our kids a far far better childhood, a childhood that all children deserve, a childhood that many of us were denied.

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    Please stick around; if this is a comment to you, I think you'll earn enough rep in answers to comment in no time. ') Oct 28, 2014 at 3:07
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    It would be better if you could at least summarize the books / sites you refer to a little. You don't have to provide an objective or an exhaustive summary, but certainly you must have some reasons why you consider those resources worth recommending. It would be extremely useful if you could briefly describe why that is, and what you expect (in general terms) the OP to get out of them. Oct 28, 2014 at 5:28
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    I hope that was enough reasoning as to why I recommend Miller and Kohn, without actually giving a detailed review. Oct 28, 2014 at 13:45
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    Ali - the fact that you took time to quote books and question methods of parenting is admirable. Of course it's hard to give detailed advice of situations when I left out details (i.e. they were throwing food, which to me is not cool unless you are 1yr old). But definitely think I will create a wiki here that just lists good books/links for parents that know they can improve as a parent. I think children, for better or worse, inherently want to be mimic and get praise from their parents. I hope that if i give my kids the right dose of approval, they won't go looking for it in the wrong places. Oct 28, 2014 at 17:06

You have an 8 yr. old and a 4 yr. old. In children these ages (esp. the younger child), removing tv for week is an ineffective way to discipline, because the discipline is not tied immediately to the action that provoked it. Response to an unacceptable behavior is most effective when it's immediate and consistent. Also, your discipline seems to have consequences not directly related to their behavior: it consists mainly of taking things away, instead of teaching them better behavior patterns. This method is usually called punishment. The goal of punishment is to inhibit unacceptable behavior. The goal of discipline is to help a child change impulsive, random behavior into controlled, purposeful behavior.[1] Although this is extremely common (especially when tired or stressed), equating discipline only with punishment diminishes both the parent and the child: the parent feels lack of control and confidence, and the opportunity for the child to learn good choices and the self-esteem that comes with them is lacking.

1-2-3-Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas W Phelan PhD is a great resource for effective discipline without anger. In my opinion, it's the best method out there. My children's pediatrician gave it to me, and I used it with my headstrong children. My father was a tyrant (honestly) and I was never taught effective parenting skills. I had nothing to fall back on (I didn't want to be like my father). This book was a lifesaver for me.

For any method of discipline to be effective, you (both) have to be very consistent. The point of discipline isn't to make your kids angry or resentful; it's to teach them that actions have consequences, and to make wise decisions. Also, teaching kids self-control so that they see the benefit of refraining from bad behavior is an incredibly important lesson. If kids learn to control their impulses, all kinds of wonderful things (like delaying gratification - a key to doing well in school) can happen.

This method, which relies on time-outs, may seem too childish to work for your children (as you've indicated, it doesn't seem to work anymore), but it's not. You can discipline your kids without losing your temper, or allowing arguments over your discipline, while giving your children an opportunity to correct themselves before the time out, learning self control and managing frustration without loss of self esteem.

Please read some reviews of it here, here and here. These are independent sites, and, no, I have no financial interest in this method.

Hopefully other parents will give you other ideas as well.

[1] Center for Early Education and Development: What’s the Difference Between Discipline and Punishment?

  • The book reference is much appreciated, I will certainly give it a try. My gut reaction to timeouts is they are like alone time in room and eventually they both just play in the room and forget they are being punished. Sure we could say sit on this chair in the corner for 30min anybody would hate that. I am looking for something that encourages them make good decisions by themselves eventually. Oct 27, 2014 at 22:46
  • @AnthonyPhelps - I understand completely! Please see my edit. Oct 27, 2014 at 22:54
  • Ah yes, thanks for the heads up. I definitely want to to focus more on effecting behavior with discipline (pays dividends) rather than just wielding punishment (no fun). Oct 27, 2014 at 22:57

If your preschooler or middle childhood kid(s) are not listening to you and you are looking for tips that doesn't include yelling louder here is are some resources:


  1. Try really thinking about why the child is misbehaving
  2. Discipline in context so it's easier for kids to remember and associate
  3. Time outs or alone time help sometimes

Parental Wisdom

  • Take a breath, and be aware of your own state, stress level and mood (hangry?) before you discipline
  • Discipline is most effective if it happens right away in contest
  • The threat of longer punishment doesn't make it more effective
  • Yelling more only makes them numb to it and nobody should get used to being yelled at
  • Be consistent with your discipline, this doesn't mean always yelling ;?)
  • Careful not to get kids in the habit of constantly looking for your approval
  • Try to connect emotionally with your child before
  • Ultimately, you can't completely control them, and you have to be okay with that: get them to where they can be successful, and have the tools with which to do that, and the rest will work itself out over time.
  • Consider that some rebellion, crazy behavior or acting out is perfectly normal in childhood and you don't have to auto-correct it. Nobody is perfect and everybody is different.



You probably don't want to hear this, but it sounds like your expectations are too high - i.e. you probably have too many rules, so the kids can't stick to all of them, so they will fail and you have to correct them, and so they become a more and more resilient to your corrections. Give them an opportunity to succeed.

Never give a child a rule that is too difficult to abide by, or too many rules. Yes, kids are naughty, and need to be guided back on track now and again, but....

If you find you continuously need to 'discipline' (I personally hate that word - parents should not discipline kids, parents must discipline themselves), then the problem may be that you are trying to hold them to too many rules at once.

Build from the ground up. Most important things first, e.g. not biting your sister is more important than not throwing water on the floor. So, have your "no eating your sister's finger rule", but don't have a "no water in the house rule", until the more important rule is successfully embedded an accepted by the child.

You can only mould them so many times in a certain time span before they get frustrated, so make it easy for them.

Don't think rule, rather think good things I want to teach my kids. Never try to teach them more than a certain amount of things at once. Limit yourself to 3 or 4 rules. Discipline yourself by not adding another thing to teach my kid, without removing a thing from the list.

That way you, your wife and the kids will be able to achieve small victories, and every-time you achieve one, you can move on.

Take it easy on yourself and take it easy on your kids. Start by throwing away your rule-book. Good relationships with your children and between siblings are more important than getting everything right. Once relationships are damaged, everything else will start falling apart. If you have rock solid relationships, love, trust and fun, then start moulding them - slowly, one step at a time. Don't make a rule unless it's absolutely necessary, and even so, keep that list short.

In one word - relax :-)

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