5 Guidelines for Disciplining Young Children

I would love to only focus on the positives.

And as a therapist, I coach a lot of parents on how to take the positive perspective on their child. Your kid called their teacher a b****? Well at least we know she can express herself! Your four year old had a melt down at the store and then told you it was because they were sad? Good for them on recognizing that emotion!

Positive praise is so crucial for increasing compliance in your children. You want to be able to take that outside perspective. But to increase rule following behaviors in young children, it is important to find effective consequences along with positive rewards.   

Is there a most effective tool?

I find the most effective tool in disciplining your toddler or young child really depends on your child. Everyone's an individual. And as the parent, it's up to you to figure out what makes an impact in changing your child's future behaviors. Some kids respond to short, supervised time outs and others are more motivated by losing toy time. 


  1. Generally, it is important to be sure the consequence or reward closely follows the negative or positive behavior.
  2. Try to stay away from "you had a bad day." Instead, break each day into chunks and really evaluate each behavior on its own merit, pointing out that this specific consequence is occurring for this specific behavior.
  3. Keep in mind that consequences should match your child's developmental age. So, resist your impulse to take a toy away for a whole week. Instead, losing a toy for an hour or twos will feel just as impactful to your young child. Or, sitting in timeout for 5 minutes is much more effective than an hour in their room, alone. 
  4. Make sure to keep your cool. If your child can get a rise out of you, it can actually reinforce their negative behaviors. 
  5. If your child apologizes for their behavior, immediately praise them for making a better choice (while still following up on the consequence, of course. Consistency is key!)

Having trouble with changing your young child's behavior? Kelsey specializes in anxiety and anger management strategies for children as young as four. You can reach out to her via email to talk strategies. Her practice, Compassionate Counseling St. Louis, serves parents and kids in Clayton, Webster Groves, Town and Country, Brentwood, Kirkwood, Creve Couer, and surrounding areas.