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Why are Discipline and Consequences Important?

Child Discipline

Children need to understand limits and develop self-control. From time to time, your child is going to do things you don’t like. They’ll do things that are dangerous. They’ll do things you don’t want him to do again. They’ll also do a lot of things you like. The consequence or what happens right after your child’s behaviors makes the behavior more or less likely to happen again. Consequences can be both positive and negative.

Positive and Negative Consequences

Positive consequences show your child she has done something you like. Your child is more likely to repeat the behavior when you use positive consequences. Positive consequences include things like rewards, praise, and attention. Use positive consequences as much as possible for behaviors you would like your child to do again. 

Negative consequences let your child know you do not like what she has done. Your child is less likely to repeat the behavior when you use negative consequences. Negative consequences are also called discipline. Negative consequences include things like ignoring, distraction, loss of a privilege, and time-out. Use negative consequences for behaviors you would like your child to stop. It’s a good idea to start with ignoring and distraction, especially for young children. Other consequences may be needed if ignoring and distraction don’t work or are not possible. Natural consequences, delay or removal of privileges, and time-out can be used to stop misbehavior. More information about these consequences is provided below.


How to Use Discipline and Consequences? 

Why are Rewards Important?

Rewards are important for many reasons. First, rewards can be used to increase self-esteem. Toddlers and preschoolers hear the words “no,” “don’t,” “stop,” and “quit” many times during the day. This is normal and one of the ways they learn right from wrong. But when children hear these things over and over, their self-esteem can begin to suffer. They may begin to believe they cannot do anything correctly. Rewards can be used to increase self-esteem. When a child earns a reward, he knows he has done something good and something you like.

Rewards can also help improve your relationship with your child. When you give a reward to your child, you and your child are both happy. You are happy because your child has done something you like. Your child is also happy because she is getting something she likes.

Types of Rewards

There are several types of rewards. Most people think of toys, candy, or other things that cost money as rewards. These are called material rewards. Another type of reward is a social reward. Social rewards are cheap or free and can be even more powerful than material rewards. They also can be given more often and immediately after behaviors you like. Affection, praise, or attention from you are examples of social rewards.

Examples of Social Rewards

1. Affection – Rewarding your child with your affection lets her know you approve of what she did. This includes hugs, kisses, a high five, a smile, a pat on the back, or an arm around the shoulder.

2. Praise – Praise happens when parents say things like “Great job,” “Way to go,” or “Good boy/girl.” These words show approval, but they do not tell children exactly what behavior you liked. Specific (or labeled) praise tells a child exactly what behavior you liked. Examples of labeled praise are:

            “Great job playing quietly while I was on the telephone!”

            “You were a great helper when you put all your toys in the closet today!”

            “Thank you for using your inside voice.”

3. Attention and Activities – Extra time with you or a special activity can be a powerful reward for young              children. Some examples include playing a favorite game, reading a story, going to the park, and helping      with dinner. Other activities such as going to the movies, the zoo, or skating can also be used, but these        activities may not always be available or affordable.


Children sometimes throw tantrums, whine, and interrupt just to get your attention. When you take away your attention from your child and these misbehavior's, the behaviors often stop. When ignoring, do not make eye contact with your child or talk to him. Ignore anything your child does to get your attention. 


When you distract your child, you get him to focus on something else. By doing this, he stops the misbehavior. You can use distraction anywhere. You just have to be prepared. Crayons and paper, toys, and small games are things you can keep with you to distract your child. You can also make up games. For example, if your child is whining in the grocery store, you could play the “show me” game. Ask your child to name or point to everything on the aisle that is the color blue or in the shape of a square.

Natural consequences

Natural consequences are things that happen because of what we do or how we act. If you tell your child to play carefully with a toy but she continues to bang it, the toy may break. In this case, your child has experienced the natural consequence of playing roughly with the toy. Although it is good for your child to learn from his mistakes, natural consequences should never put the child at risk. Do not allow your child to do anything that could hurt him or others, such as playing with matches or running into the street. 

Delay of a privilege and logical (or common sense) consequences

Delaying a privilege means that your child has to wait to get something she really wants. You might tell your child, "After you pick up your toys, you can go out and play". Or, "When you take three more bites of your dinner, you can have dessert." Removal of privileges means taking away the items or activities your child enjoys most. For young children, removing privileges is often called logical (or common sense) consequences. The consequences are logically related to the misbehavior. You might take away toys or crayons that are not handled carefully. You might turn off the TV if your children are arguing about the channel. If your child spills something on purpose, a logical consequence is having your child clean-up the mess.


Time-out removes the child from where he is misbehaving. Time-out puts the child in a place that is free of anything or anyone that might provide attention. If your child hits his brother, you can give him time-out. Time-outs, when used the right way, really work at reducing a child’s misbehavior's.


How to Use Time-Out

Tips on Discipline and Negative Consequences

The negative consequences used to decrease misbehavior should relate to the misbehavior and the seriousness of the misbehavior when possible. If your child is not playing nicely at the park, you can simply take her home. In this case, the negative consequence of going home fits the misbehavior at the park. Negative consequences should never deprive the child of basic essentials, such as food, a bath, or school.

After any consequence your child does not like, go back to being positive with your child. Remember that consequences should be directed at the behavior and not at the person. Avoid saying things like, “You never do anything right.” These comments can be damaging to your child’s self-esteem and to the parent-child relationship. It was the behavior that was the problem, not the child.

Developed by: The CDC are partners that support children & family wellness. Their researchers, scientists, doctors, nurses, economists, communicators, educators, technologists, epidemiologists and many other professionals all contribute their expertise to improving public health and is a major component of the Department of Health and Human Services and is recognized as the nation’s premiere health promotion, prevention, and preparedness agency.

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