How to Discipline Your Child Based on their Age & Development

How to Discipline Your Child Based on their Developmental Age

How you discipline is based on what your child is capable of or not capable of, and should change as your child grows and changes. Many parents choose to discipline their children in a certain way, without realizing it doesn’t make sense for the age of the child. Additionally many do not evolve their choice of discipline as their child grows.

I would like to emphasize that corporal punishment is never a good idea at any age. It’s very hard for a child to handle this type of disruption. Think about someone putting their hands on you. It would completely throw you off, and you’re an adult. Now, imagine a child going through that. Furthermore, schools and society do not tolerate someone putting their hands on another person, especially in moments of anger. It will be harder to teach your children to keep their hands to themselves if you as the parent cannot. Simply put, this is not effective, and there are other ways to discipline.

Before Middle School

This section applies to school-aged children under 10.

In general, it’s best to utilize concrete things with children who are in this pre-reasoning stage because they are not mentally and emotionally able to reason through problems yet.

Parents tend to believe that asking questions and trying to work through problems at this stage is best; however, developmentally, this does not make sense for children in this age group.

Instead, try taking things (toys, devices, etc.) and privileges away. This allows them to learn that there are consequences to their actions. Additionally, timeouts can be effective with this age group.

How to Discipline Your Child Based on their Developmental Age

Whether you choose consequences or timeouts, it is important to be consistent and follow through with your punishment. Consistent consequences help children organize their thoughts before their reasoning fully develops. It’s also important to keep in mind that, if consequences are too long or harsh, they will not be effective. Rather, it will be overwhelming for the child and lead to anxiety and/or nervousness.

It is also important not to make unrealistic threats of discipline. If your child slams their door and you yell, “Slam that door one more time and you’ll never watch TV again!” and you don’t follow through on that threat, it could weaken future discipline.

Another example is one I think we have all heard at some point in our lives, “If you don’t stop fighting right now, I’m going to turn this car around!” If you make this threat, follow through. The credibility you will receive as a parent when it comes to discipline is more important than a lost outing.

I would like to stress the importance of explaining the reasoning behind your discipline. In the example above about turning the car around, you can explain your reasoning by saying, “I can’t concentrate on driving when you act this way, and it’s not fun to be with you when you are fighting. If you don’t stop, I’m going to end this trip and head back home.”

If you make a mistake and threaten without explaining the reasoning right away, that’s fine, but go back later and fill in the reasoning. By doing this, you will help your children learn empathy by explaining how their actions are making you feel. This will then help them learn to take care of themselves, which is a stance you want them to adopt as they grow up. You want them to make changes to protect themselves instead of the impossible act of trying to change someone else.

Finally, at this age, It’s important to have a good sense of time during discipline. Once the time for discipline has passed, it’s important to move on and not carry it into the next day. You want your children to remain optimistic so that they can recover from today’s mistakes and have the ability to try again tomorrow.

Middle School and Up

As a child gets into middle school, they start developing the ability to reason. You’ll want to take advantage of this and help their reasoning develop. In this developmental stage, taking things away doesn’t make sense. No one is going to take things away from them as punishment when they’re an adult. Therefore, this type of discipline does not work for middle school and up.

During this stage, natural consequences and age appropriate boundaries are the best discipline options.

What do I mean by natural consequences? I’ll give you an example. Let’s say it’s 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and you’re just getting home from your son’s Little League game. When you ask if he did his homework, he tells you that he ‘forgot.’ Now, there are two options, you can make him stay up late and finish his homework, or you can send them to bed, and they can learn the consequence of not completing an assignment.

I know it’s not easy to see your child fail, and we often want to rescue them in situations like the one above, but in the long run, we are doing our children a favor when we let them fail. They will learn the consequence of not turning in an assignment (a bad grade) and will work to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, therefore learning from their mistake.

I also mentioned setting age appropriate boundaries, which applies more to high school-aged children. Discipline during this timeframe is just as important as it was when they were toddlers. It’s important to set clear expectations with your teens when it comes to things like homework, curfews, visits from friends, and dating. Believe it or not, teens want and need you to set boundaries, even as you give them more freedom.

Here’s an example of setting boundaries with your teen and what would happen if they don’t stay within them. Your teen is out with their friends and has missed curfew by more than an hour. They didn’t call, they didn’t text, and you are worried sick at home. When they finally arrive home, the natural reaction is to take away their car privileges for a set amount of time. However, you are missing out on a wonderful learning opportunity if you choose this course of action.

You want to think about this in terms of the consequences that they will receive as they get older. In their adult life, if they promise to be somewhere at a certain time and do not deliver, will someone take away their car? No. Rather, trust is broken, and you want to relay this to your child, but not as a lecture which they will tune out.

Ask what they were thinking, what happened, why they were late, and what they think it’s doing to you and their relationship with you. By helping them to understand the way that their dismissal of your boundaries is damaging your relationship, it will help them gain empathy. If they do not see this, then explain how worried and angry you were.

Once this is established, you can then ask how they want to repair the broken trust. You may be surprised by the answer you receive. Again, if they cannot provide one, you can come up with something like “I’ll have to have you come in an hour earlier the next two times in order to rebuild the trust between us.”

How to Discipline Your Child Based on their Developmental Age

Finally, when it comes to teens, it’s important to start giving them control over different aspects of their lives. Not only will this limit the amount of power struggles that will occur in the house, it will help your teen respect the decisions that you do make in their lives. These decisions can be as simple as the way they style their hair and the clothes they wear, or as advanced as an occasional extended curfew for your older teens.

An example of giving your teen control includes allowing them to make their own choices when resolving conflicts in their lives. For example, if your child tells you another child has been mean to him/her, use this time as a family talking time to ask questions to help him figure out the options. Such as, what are your options, or how are you going to handle that? This is a great conversation starter for kids.

It’s okay to step in and encourage something different if your child is choosing something dangerous or illegal. Such as, if your child wants to punch the other kid, encourage a different route and explain why so that your child can use this as a learning opportunity. For example, since punching is not allowed at school or anywhere else, can you think of another option that will not get you into trouble?

If your child says “I don’t know,” offer up three choices they can handle, and talk about each choice with your child. By doing this, it’ll show them the choices adults have to make every day. By practicing this with your child, you are bringing them into your thought processes and showing them how to implement these critical thinking skills on their own.

{Related Post: 9 Pro Tips for Parenting Teens}

Options you can suggest:

  • Go talk to your teacher
  • Go talk to the student
  • I can go with you to talk to the teacher

If your child considers their options and still does not know how to proceed, make the decision for them. They may not be at the development level to make this choice on their own. By making this decision and going with your child, you can show them how to handle this type of situation. Do this until they can start deciding for themselves.

Once your child can make the decision on their own, let them follow through with their plan.

Reminder: The goal of parenting is not to have a perfect child or an always happy child. This is not what makes a good parent.

Saving your child from any form of pain is not the goal. Some parents somehow think this is going to make them a hero in their child’s eyes, and therefore the kid is going to be in love with them more. That’s not how it works.

Pain is a great motivating factor. Pain motivates them to make a change. If they’re comfortable, why change? You want them to sit in their discomfort long enough to come up with a solution. Then, you want them to try out the different solutions. Oftentimes, they will come up with a solution that is not a good idea. Let them try it out! You want to avoid telling them not to do it and let them make the bad decision, so they can see what happens.

No involvement, no commitment. If they’re not involved in finding ways to soothe their pain, they won’t stick with it and learn from it. Rather, they will only half-heartedly try your solution, if they try at all.
Your job is to get involved less and less as they get older. You should become more of a safety net for illegal or dangerous ideas.

Consistency Is Key

No matter your child’s age, consistency is key when it comes to discipline. If you as the parent do not stick to the rules that you have put in place, having a child that follows those rules is highly unlikely.

Will you be perfect at disciplining your child every time? Absolutely not, and it’s important to remember that does not make you a bad parent. Will your child be perfect and learn from their mistakes every time you discipline them? Absolutely not, and that doesn’t mean they are a bad kid, nor is it a reflection on you as a parent.

Wondering what parenting styles are best for your child? Check out our article, What is The Most Helpful Parenting Style?

If you would like more guidance on discipline, or parenting in general, we can help you develop a personalized plan just for you and your child.
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