Teaching Good Behavior: Tips on How to Discipline

With increased mobility and rudimentary verbal skills, this can be an especially trying time for parents. New parents often look back to their own childhood and either emulate or negatively react to the way their parents raised them. This brochure describes the basics of a behavioral approach to parenting.

  • Children seek parental attention. The most effective way to teach a child is to provide positive reinforcement for desired behaviors. Limit setting evolves from simple distraction (appropriate for infants) to the recitation of a simple rule ("No hitting.") to the use of a brief time-out.
  • Time-outs work best when children have learned they get positive attention for wanted behaviors. Think of a time-out as " time-out from positive reinforcement."
Young children will do anything to get attention. For that reason, praising wanted behaviors (either verbally or with hugs) teaches children that they can get attention for acting that way. This is not spoiling, but teaching. If children only get attention when they do things you don't like, they are more likely to continue with that behavior.

While American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy discourages use of corporal punishment, it still may be difficult to address this issue directly. Most parents use corporal punishment only when other methods of discipline have failed. By advocating for effective alternatives to corporal punishment, the clinician may be able to dramatically reduce its use. If parents inquire, let them know that the research suggests that children who experience corporal punishment learn to evade punishment by becoming more wary of their parents and are more likely to use or experience violence themselves in later life.

How to Use This Tool

  • Most parents are quite concerned about toddler behavior and are eager to discuss this with clinicians. Usually, one or more gentle inquiries is all it takes to start the conversation.
    • "She really pays attention when we are talking. Does she understand when you speak to her and does she listen to what you ask her to do yet?" "Your child is growing and developing well. Has he started having tantrums yet? How do you handle them?"
    • "What new things is your child doing since the last visit? What does she do that you'd like to change?"
  • Use the brochure by endorsing its core message: "This is the age when parents begin to really think about how to teach their children to behave well. This handout describes a simple approach to toddler behavior. Have a look, and we can talk about it at the next visit."
Helpful Hints

  • Clinicians should be aware that the brochure provides broadly useful information that cannot address all children or all families.
  • Be on the lookout for children with difficult temperaments, or families who are socially isolated or are experiencing any sort of family discord. Normal toddler behavior may be especially difficult for these families and they may need more support. Many communities offer parenting classes, consultations, or parent-to-parent programs.

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