For Parents & Caregivers

The Difference Between Discipline and Punishment:

At times, people confuse the difference between punishing a child and disciplining a child.


Punishment means

  • Teaching that physical force is the way to solve problems.
  • Hurting a child, often because of the adult’s frustration and anger.
  • The adult will continually have to control the child’s behaviour.
  • The adult is powerful and rules over the child who must always obey.
  • Breaking down the relationship between children and caregivers making the child feel badly.

Why Children Misbehave

There are many reasons children don’t behave the way adults want them to behave. Understanding what’s causing the problem, when and how often it seems to happen can help you decide what to do.


Some things to think about as you try to understand why you feel your child is misbehaving:

  • the child may feel tired, hungry, sick, in pain, frustrated, upset, or bored
  • the child has needs that should be taken care of
  • the child may want attention
  • the child is trying to be in control
  • am I expecting too much from my child?
  • have I told the child clearly what I want them to do?
  • the child may not understand my rules
  • the child may be feeling unfairly treated or may feel a situation is unfair
  • the behaviour may be part of the child’s temperament
  • misbehaving may be a sign of poor self-esteem

Guiding Kids’ Behaviour

When disciplining a child, it’s important to match the discipline to the age and abilities of the child, as well as what the child has done.


Try to:

  • Set reasonable and clear rules and limits: make sure the child understands what’s expected and what will happen if s/he does not listen. Choose a few important rules – too many rules are difficult for the child to remember. Children can help decide rules and consequences.
  • Review rules before s/he begins an activity, and if a problem begins to happen.
  • Recognize a problem when it’s starting: fix the problem before it gets worse. Offer choices to the child.
  • Redirect: encourage the child to do something else.
  • Ignore: don’t pay attention to behaviours that are bothersome, but not dangerous.
  • Use humour – change uncooperative behaviour by making the child laugh and having fun doing what is asked.
  • Focus the child’s attention on something else.
  • Talk out feelings – help the child say what s/he is feeling and accept his/her feelings
  • Problem-solve – suggest ways in which the child can handle the situation the next time. Older children can be encouraged to think of positive alternatives.
  • Compromise – listen to the child’s point of view and try to come up with a solution that feels OK for both of you.
  • Model – when you are with others behave the way you would like the child to behave.
  • Allow time to cool off: help the child to calm down, remove the child from others if necessary.
  • Notice positive behaviour and praise the child for showing the desired behaviour and for trying.
  • Be aware it takes time for a child to learn appropriate behaviours. Stay calm and don’t overreact. You may have to calm yourself down if you are getting too angry and/or can’t control yourself.