What Role Does Discipline Play in a Child Care Setting?

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    The Latin origin of the word discipline is 'to teach'. Therefore, disciplining your child means teaching them responsible behaviour and self-control. With appropriate and consistent discipline, your child will learn about consequences and taking responsibility for their actions. The ultimate aim is to encourage the child to learn to manage both their feelings and behaviour. This is called self-monitoring.

    At its best, discipline rewards the child for appropriate behaviour and discourages inappropriate behaviour, using fair and positive means. However, some parents think that discipline means physical punishment, such as hitting and smacking, or verbal abuse, such as yelling or threatening the child. This is not discipline.

    Goals of Effective Discipline

    Discipline is the structure that helps the child fit into the real world happily and effectively. It is the foundation for the development of the child's self-discipline. Effective and positive discipline is about teaching and guiding children, not just forcing them to obey. As with all other interventions pointing out unacceptable behaviour, the child should always know that the parent loves and supports them. Trust between parent and child should be maintained and constantly built upon.

    Parenting is raising children and providing them with the necessary material and emotional care to further their physical, emotional, cognitive and social development.

    Disciplining children is one of the most important yet difficult parenting responsibilities, and there are no shortcuts. The physician must stress that teaching about limits and acceptable behaviour takes time and a lot of energy. Unfortunately, the hurried pace of today's society can be an obstacle to effective discipline.

    Effective discipline aims to foster acceptable and appropriate behaviour in the child and to raise emotionally mature adults. A disciplined person can postpone pleasure, is considerate of the needs of others, is assertive without being aggressive or hostile, and can tolerate discomfort when necessary.

    The foundation of effective discipline is respect. The child should be able to respect the parent's authority and also the rights of others. Inconsistency in applying discipline will not help a child respect their parents. Harsh discipline such as humiliation (verbal abuse, shouting, name-calling) will also make it hard for the child to respect and trust the parent.

    Thus, effective discipline means discipline applied with mutual respect in a firm, fair, reasonable and consistent way. The goal is to protect the child from danger, help the child learn self-discipline, and develop a healthy conscience and an internal sense of responsibility and control. It should also instil values.

    One of the major obstacles to achieving these goals is inconsistency, confusing any child, regardless of developmental age. It can be particularly hard for parents to be consistent role models. Telling children to "Do as I say, but not as I do" does not achieve effective discipline. In addition, parental disagreements about child-rearing techniques and cultural differences between parents often result in inconsistent disciplining methods. The physician needs to be mindful of these challenges and suggest steps parents can take to resolve these differences.

    In teaching effective discipline, physicians do not impose their agendas on the families they counsel. Instead, a balanced, objective view should be used to provide resources, and the goal should be to remain objective. This means using principles supported by academic, peer-reviewed literature. This is particularly important when dealing with controversial issues such as disciplinary spanking.

    Discipline at different ages

    How you use discipline will change depending on what's happening for your child at different stages of development.


    Babies do things to test their developing skills. They also enjoy making things happen. For example, your baby probably likes getting a reaction when he pulls your hair.

    But babies don't understand the consequences. They also don't know the difference between right and wrong.

    This means that negative consequences, or punishment, don't work for babies.

    Instead, babies need warm, loving care, so they feel secure. So when your baby pulls your hair, you might say 'no' and show him how to touch your hair gently. You'll probably need to do this over and over again because your baby might not remember from one time to the next.


    Toddlers often struggle with big feelings like frustration and anger. Their social and emotional skills are only just starting to develop, and they might be testing out their growing independence.

    You can help your child behave well by tuning in to his feelings, changing the environment, distracting him and planning for challenging situations.


    From the age of three years, most preschoolers start to understand acceptable behaviour and what isn't. They'll test out different behaviours, and they might behave in certain ways more than once as they learn about consequences. You can help your preschooler by setting boundaries and being clear about the behaviour you want to see.

    School-age children

    School-age children might know how to behave in different places – for example, school, home or the library. But they still need you to remind them of the limits and reward them for good behaviour.

    The consequences of physical punishment

    Children learn by example. Several studies show that the most influential role models in a child's life are their parents. Therefore, parents must act as a model for their children's behaviour.

    Using physical punishment or inflicting pain on a child to stop them from misbehaving teaches them that it is OK to solve problems with violence. Children learn how this is done from watching their parents use physical violence against them.

    Other problems caused by physical punishment:

    • Damage to the very special parent-child relationship.
    • Harm to the child's dignity, self-respect, self-esteem and sense of a positive identity.
    • The possibility of physical and psychological injury.
    • Lost opportunity to use the child's misbehaviour to teach them responsibility and self-control.
    • The destruction of the child's sense of fairness and justice.
    • Long-term effects – the child may become withdrawn, fearful or use bullying behaviour.
    • The child may try to avoid physical punishment by telling lies.

    Reasons for misbehaviour


    Children misbehave for many reasons:

    • They are too young to know that their actions are unacceptable.
    • They are frustrated, angry or upset and have no other reasonable way to express their feelings.
    • They are stressed by major changes such as a family breakup, a new sibling or starting school.
    • They are not getting your attention when they do behave appropriately.
    • They feel you have been unfair and want to punish you.
    • They need a greater degree of independence and feel constricted.

    Your child's ability to understand

    Disciplining a child means teaching your child what is acceptable behaviour. A child's intellectual ability develops over time. It is important to match the discipline of your child with your child's capacity to understand. A very young child, such as a baby, has no comprehension of right and wrong.

    Children under three do not misbehave – they have needs that they want to meet, such as hunger and thirst. They cannot yet respond to consequences by changing

    behaviour and must be told the same message repeatedly, for example, 'put your hat on in the sun. When they continue to go out in the sun without their hats, they are not disobedient – they cannot remember.

    Try to explain things to your child in a way that matches their development level, and also remember to lower yourself to their physical level. Children act out their feelings through their behaviour, so it is important to understand the emotions behind the behaviour. If you know the reasons for your child's misbehaviour or feelings, you can help solve the underlying problems.

    Discipline Techniques

    Every child is different. What works for one child may not work for the other, and there is no "right way" that works for every situation. It is by trial and error that discipline until you figure out what works for you and your child. It is also important to remember to be consistent. Don't give up the technique you are using after a couple of days. You need to try it for a few weeks before you begin to see if the method you are using works.

    Below is a list of various discipline methods. Choose one that best fits the situation of your child's misbehaviour and use it accordingly:

    The verbal and non-verbal expression of disapproval

    It is important when using this method to combine it with positive instructions on appropriate behaviour. For example, "stop running inside the house, you need to walk inside the house so you don't break anything and you don't hurt yourself". The focus must be on your child's misbehaviour which should be pointed out as undesirable. For example, you should not begin shouting angrily at your child because they did something wrong.

    Learning by experience

    Some types of behaviour are most effectively resolved when your child learns by example rather than by the negative consequences of their actions. For example, verbally telling your child not to do a particular thing may not be effective enough, and your child will ignore you and continue repeating their action. 

    However, it is likely to be resolved when your child experiences the negative consequence of their action. For example, when you go shopping with your child, you tell your child to hold your hand. But instead, your child runs up and down the aisles, driving you crazy. Now, once your child begins running around crazy, you can hide yourself from your child's view, and when your child cannot find you, they will become very anxious and begin to get upset. 

    When you appear out from "hiding" and explain to your child why they should hold your hand, your child will not hesitate and begin holding your hand during shopping outings. This is because your child has learnt that if they do not hold your hand, they may get lost and not find you. Remember that if you are doing this technique, please make sure you supervise your child at all times and that they are also kept safe and out of danger.

    Delaying privileges

    This is another effective method you can use with your child. You can delay things that your child likes until the other tasks are completed. For example, your child may enjoy playing with Lego. You (the parent) can lay down the pre-condition saying that you will allow them to play with the Lego once they have picked up their toys off the floor in the bedroom. Similarly, if your child begins throwing toys around the room, you (the parent) should remove the toys. If your child spills water all over the table, they (the child) should clean it up etc.

    Time out

    When using this technique, it is very important to be consistent for it to succeed. If your child is consistently misbehaving (after receiving a warning), then you should firmly lead your child to a "time out spot", and they should remain there (only for a couple of minutes). At the beginning stages of implementing this technique, it is fairly normal for your child to create a scene once put in "timeout". But you need to be patient and consistent. Once your child knows that when they do something undesirable, they have to go to "time out", and more often than not, your child will stop their misbehaviour after the first warning. 

    When the "time out" period is over, you should welcome your child back into the social setting without mentioning or discussing the misbehaviour. However, it is important to help your child learn the correct behaviour and complement their positive behaviour. When using this technique, you (the parent) need to stay calm and avoid lecturing and negotiating with your child. The "timeout spot" should also be isolated and not frightening for your child.

    Giving Choices


    It's vital not to give your child too many choices. For example, if you ask your child whether they would like something to eat, whether to get dressed, what clothes they would like to wear etc., you are more than likely asking for trouble because an instinct of your child is to say "no". Then you will be spending your time arguing, trying to persuade your child and in the end making your child do what was necessary in the first place anyhow. 

    So it is best not to offer your child a choice in the first place, in the form of a question. Rather limit your child's options between two. For example, "would you like to go to the park now or in the afternoon after your nap?", "would you like to wear your red hat or the blue one". Remember that when you offer your child a choice between two, make sure that you can fulfil their request, rather than hoping they choose the "right" answer.

    You should remember that when disciplining your child, you can be firm as well as friendly. If you are firm when the situation arises and set consistent limits, your child will understand it. Your child will begin to learn the differences between desirable and undesirable behaviour. If you enforce strict discipline, there will be too many limits placed on your child. It's important not to constantly criticize your child, give too many warnings or repeatedly say "no". 

    For example, "don't touch that", "don't play with that", etc. However, it is not necessary to constantly say "no" to every little thing. This will make your child feel like whatever they do is wrong, in some way, and begin to affect your child's self-confidence. Rather it's important to reinforce and acknowledge your child's positive behaviour rather than the negative behaviour.

    Knowing what to expect from a child

    At times, adult expectations may be beyond children's abilities. Therefore, discipline and guidance strategies should take into account a child's unique needs and developmental level.

    Birth to about age 2

    Children need support, contact and loving interactions. If the caregiver is absent, the child may fear that they will not return. At this stage, children build attachments with caregivers. They learn to trust that adults will be there for them when they need them. During these years, children learn through their senses and physical activities.

    Age 2 to about 6

    Children learn the language, some reading and many social skills. They also begin to struggle for more independence from caregivers. If such efforts are understood and encouraged, children start to take more initiative. Children learn by exploring, pounding, touching, mixing, moving and throwing objects, and asking many questions during these years.

    Age 6 to about 12

    Children begin to act with increasing self-control. During these years, they begin to lay the groundwork for becoming productive members of society. They process information and can make complex decisions. They can follow the rules and accept responsibility. They also develop a self-image based on their experiences and feedback they receive from significant adults. If this feedback is positive, children grow to become confident and successful teens. If it is frequently negative, children can grow to feel inadequate and inferior.

    Guiding children's behaviour is one of the biggest challenges many child care providers face. Choosing and using the most appropriate guidance and discipline practices focus on ways to encourage and strengthen positive behaviour, prevent misbehaviour, and manage misbehaviour when it occurs.

    These include:
    • Show and tell. Teach children right from wrong with calm words and actions. ...
    • Set limits. Have clear and consistent rules your children can follow. ...
    • Give consequences. ...
    • Hear them out. ...
    • Give them your attention. ...
    • Catch them being good. ...
    • Know when not to respond. ...
    • Be prepared for trouble.
    Proper discipline leads to self-motivation, self-control, and emotional stability over the long haul. It doesn't usually feel great to discipline your kid. There is often anger, sadness, tension, stress, and sometimes even tears. But proper discipline is one of the most important components of your child's development.

    Positive guidance and discipline are crucial for children because they promote self-control, teach responsibility and help them make thoughtful choices. The more effective adult caregivers are at encouraging appropriate child behavior, the less time and effort they will spend correcting misbehavior.

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