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Recipe for a Well-Behaved Child: Start Young, Stand Firm, Seek Opportunities to Praise

Posted May 7, 2000

— For the most part, children are happy and fun-loving. But for those other times, some sort of discipline is necessary. In order to have a well-behaved child, experts say it is best to start young.

The parents of 2 1/2-year-old Ethan use the common approach of time-out.

"He'll understand. He'll come out and say he's sorry. He realizes what he did wrong," says father Craig Black.

Time-out is most effective for kids ages two through six. Here are some tips to make it work for you:

  • Do not send kids to their rooms. That is where they are comfortable and have all their toys. Instead, chose a corner in the dining room.
  • The rule of thumb is to put a child in time-out for a minute per year they have been alive. So, a three-year-old stays in time-out for three minutes and a four-year-old for four minutes.

    "Usually kids learn pretty quickly that they don't like to be in time-out," says Dr. Mark Scalco, a psychologist. "As long as they're not getting anything fun out of it, then it's a pretty effective punishment."

    Time-out can help:

  • Protect children from danger
  • Establish social skills and consequences
  • Teach rules and values

    Parents learn what works and what does not by trial and error.

    Eric Moore, a father of three, says for him, "Yelling doesn't work. I understand that. Firmness does."

    The problem is, what works at age 10 will not necessarily work at 14.

    "One day I realized I was talking to a young adult rather than a small child, and I had to change my conversation style," says John Crawford, a father of two.

    Instead of time-out for teenagers, mother Antoinette Sampson says, "If they do bad things, take TV and telephone away from them."

    Teenagers really crave independence, so instead of telling them what not to do, try telling them what they can do and why. "Please pick up your clothes so I can vacuum" will work better than "Don't throw your clothes on the floor!"

    Do not just punish children, remember to praise behavior you like. If the only way to get attention is to act up, the child will keep acting badly.

    "Even though that is negative attention, it's still attention, and they actually learn to start doing the bad things in order to get that kind of attention," Scalco says.

    So shift the focus to their good behavior. But when they do act badly, be ready.

  • Deliver a consequence quickly.
  • Make the consequence reasonable and logical.For example, if a child ignores your rules about riding a bike, take the bike away for a day.Above all else, keep the lines of communication open.

    Experts say consistency is key, and part of that consistency is presenting a united front. Make sure you keep parental disagreements private.

    If you begin to feel yourself losing control, take a time-out yourself. What did you think about this story?Send us feedback.

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