Rules for parents when it comes to discipline

The five discipline rules that parents must follow if they want to ensure their children's good behaviour.

If your child misbehaves and you give them a warning, ensure you follow through. Getty Images
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High parenting ideals often come crashing down around your ears when your much-longed-for-children don't behave in much-longed-for-ways. They refuse to do what you say, whine like they invented the term and declare dinner to be "disgusting" (yes, that happened to me last week).

In the face of such unreasonable behaviour, it can be hard to keep your cool. Indeed, it's at times like these that discipline ideals tend to go out the window (along with that dinner). You bribe, lie or shout to get your way. And while these tactics might work in the short term, you'll pay for them later.

"Over time, your child is learning you do not mean what you say, you're more talk than action, and it's OK to use your power over others," warns Carmen Benton, a parenting educator at LifeWorks Counselling and Development ( "If you want your child to grow into a responsible, self-disciplined, confident adult, you shouldn't use short-term strategies."

Here are the top five discipline don'ts, and how to avoid them.

1. Use bribes

Who hasn't said something like, "If you put these plates in the dishwasher then you can have some dessert?"

The impact: Your child is learning that they should only bother doing something if there's a reward involved.

Instead: State clearly, respectfully and firmly what you would like your child to do and then give him a chance to do it. "If they do not choose to do what has been asked of them, calmly and respectfully help them to do it," suggests Benton. "Next time, try involving them in the process by asking questions rather than just issuing demands."

Examples of such questions include: "What do you think we should we do after we've eaten dinner?" and "How do you think you can help?"

2. Tell a white lie

As the ice-cream van goes jingling past, your child asks if he can have a cone. You say the van only plays music when it has run out of ice-cream.

The impact: Eventually, your child will find out that the lovely tinkling sound means the very opposite. This will make it hard for him to believe you in the future and make him more likely to question your authority.

Instead: Explain your reasons. Tell him that he's already had a treat and if he wants to grow up big and strong he needs to fill up on healthy food.

"Long-term parenting strategies are about using challenging moments to teach our children how to make good choices," says Benton.

By explaining a little about nutrition, you can help him be informed to make the right decisions in the future.

3. Shout

Despite the constant bickering, you manage to hold your cool, but when you reach your limit, even the cat cowers under the table.

The impact: You'll raise a shouter. "Children learn best from what they see and they model their behaviour on that of their parents," explains Amy Bailey, a clinical psychologist at kidsFIRST Medical Centre, Dubai (

Instead: Timeouts aren't just for children, they're great for adults, too. Give yourself permission to walk away, take a deep breath and count to 10. After that, you will be much more effective at disciplining your child.

4. Back down

Your toddler goes on and on and on and on. In the end, you agree to turn the television back on and let him watch one more programme.

The impact: By backing down, you've taught your child that whining works.

"It is important to be consistent in your agreed rules with a child," says Bailey. "If you have already said 'no' but your child repeatedly goes on until you give in, you are setting the stage for this pattern of behaviour to continue in the future." Next time, your child will push even harder because he expects you to give in.

Instead: Imagine the whining carrying on for even longer next time. And becoming more frequent. That should help you stay strong!

"Be firm but fair," says Bailey. "Stick to your rules. It might be hard to remain firm in that instant but ultimately you are setting up positive behaviour for the future and putting an end to negative patterns of interaction."

5. Issue empty warnings

Your child snatches a toy and you tell him he'll have to sit with you if he does it again, but the next time it happens you turn a blind eye.

The impact: Without following through on your warning, your child will believe there's nothing wrong with taking toys and will continue to behave in this way. "It is the consequences of behaviour that either increases or reduces the chance of that behaviour occurring again in the future," explains Bailey. "Therefore, if your child engages in a negative behaviour and there is no consequence for it, they are likely to repeat the behaviour."

Instead: Make sure there is an immediate consequence after a warning, such as a timeout. If your child continues misbehaving, leave. The next time, a gentle reminder should do the trick: "Remember how we had to leave when you snatched the toys? I hope we don't have to go home early again today."