What the science says to disciplining children

Parenting preschoolers can be both a joy and a challenge. During these formative years, children test boundaries and assert their independence, which requires effective discipline strategies from parents. While discipline may be interpreted as punishment, it is more about teaching children right from wrong and helping them become responsible adults.

One proven discipline method is Positive Discipline, which emphasizes mutual respect and encourages good behavior. According to a study published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, this approach promotes problem-solving skills, encourages positive behavior, and reduces misbehavior. The key to Positive Discipline is catching children doing something good and praising them for it. It focuses on rewarding positive behavior rather than punishing negative behavior.

Another strategy is setting clear and consistent limits or rules. This provides structure, helps children understand what is expected of them, and creates a predictable environment. A study in the Journal of Family Psychology showed that children with consistent rules exhibit fewer behavioral problems.

When rules are broken, it is recommended to use Time-outs as a discipline method. This involves separating children from an environment where unacceptable behavior occurred, giving them time to calm down and reflect. Research in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review indicates that Time-outs, when used appropriately, are effective and do not harm the child emotionally or damage the parent-child relationship.

Consequences are also a vital tool for teaching preschoolers about actions and responsibility. Natural consequences allow children to learn from the natural order of the world, while logical consequences are those decided by parents that logically follow the child's behavior. A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology showed that using consequences significantly reduces children's problem behavior over time.

Lastly, modeling appropriate behavior is a powerful discipline tool. Children learn by observing adults. Displaying behaviors such as patience, respect, and problem-solving in everyday situations can effectively teach these values to children. A study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology confirmed that preschoolers are likely to replicate adult behaviors, especially those of their parents.

However, while these discipline methods are effective, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to avoid corporal punishment. Not only is it less effective in the long run, but it also poses harmful effects on children's mental health and development, fostering aggression and antisocial behavior.

In conclusion, disciplining preschoolers involves strategies that teach, guide, and help children understand the implications of their behavior. Effective discipline methods include Positive Discipline, setting limits, Time-outs, consequences, and modeling behavior. These methods encourage children to develop self-discipline, empathy, and problem-solving skills, which are important for their future growth and development.


1. Clunies‐Ross, P., Little, E., & Kienhuis, M. (2008). Self‐reported and actual use of proactive and reactive classroom management strategies and their relationship with teacher stress and student behaviour. Educational Psychology, 28(6), 693-710.
2. Else-Quest, N. M., Hyde, J. S., & Goldsmith, H. H. (2004). Gender differences in temperament: A meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 130(1), 64.
3. Sege, R. D., Siegel, B. S., & Council on Child Abuse and Neglect and Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2018). Effective discipline to raise healthy children. Pediatrics, 142(6).
4. Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Rodriguez, M. L. (1989). Delay of gratification in children. Science, 244(4907), 933-938.
5. Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1977). Social learning theory (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-hall.
6. Taylor, C. A., Lee, S. J., Guterman, N. B., & Rice, J. C. (2010). Use of spanking for 3-year-old children and associated intimate partner aggression or violence. Pediatrics, 126(3), 415-424.


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