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Guidelines on Effective Discipline


Robert Sege, MD, PhDCorporal punishment – or the use of spanking as a disciplinary tool –increases aggression in young children in the long run, and is ineffective in teaching a child responsibility and self-control. In fact, new evidence suggests that it may cause harm to the child by affecting normal brain development. Other methods that teach children right from wrong are safer and more effective.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement, published online Monday November 5, 2018, also addresses the harm associated with verbal punishment, such as shaming or humiliation. The AAP supports educating parents on more effective discipline strategies that teach appropriate behavior and protect the child and others from harm.

“The good news is, fewer parents support the use of spanking than they did in the past,” said Robert D. Sege, MD, PhD, and a past member of AAP Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, an author of the policy statement. “Yet corporal punishment remains legal in many states, despite evidence that it harms kids - not only physically and mentally, but in how they perform at school and how they interact with other children.”


Corporal punishment and harsh verbal abuse may cause a child to be fearful in the short term but does not improve behavior over the long term and may cause more aggressive behaviors, according to the AAP. In one study, young children who were spanked more than twice a month at age 3 were more aggressive at age 5. Those same children at age 9 still exhibited negative behaviors and lower receptive vocabulary scores, according to the research.

Research has shown that striking a child, yelling at or shaming them can elevate stress hormones and lead to changes in the brain’s architecture. Harsh verbal abuse is also linked to mental health problems in preteens and adolescents.

Experts hope to help families devise more effective disciplinary plans that help them to maintain a calm and controlled demeanor.

“It’s best to begin with the premise of rewarding positive behavior,” said Benjamin S. Siegel, MD, FAAP, co-author of the policy statement. “Parents can set up rules and expectations in advance. The key is to be consistent in following through with them.”

AAP recommends that pediatricians use their influence in office visits to help parents with age-appropriate strategies for handling their child’s discipline. They also may refer families to community resources for more intensive or targeted help.

The policy statement provides educational resources where physicians and parents can learn healthy forms of discipline, such as limit setting, redirecting and setting expectations. These include the Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers from the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children and Connected Kids: Safe Strong, Secure websites. Check out this list of tips here.

Tips on Positive Reinforcement and Effective Discipline

From the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control

A recent policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stresses that spanking and verbal abuse is not a way to provide effective discipline and in fact, could be harmful long-term. The policy states that positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors works best. That includes modeling behaviors you would like to see in your children and paying attention to good behaviors and praising them.

You can decrease bad behaviors by ignoring them (as long as the child is not doing something dangerous). However, this only works if you give your child attention for their good behaviors.

If bad behavior happens:

For children ages 2 to 5 -


  • Sometimes children misbehave because they are bored or don’t know any better. Find something else for your child to do. Bring out a game or toy or turn on some music and dance.
  • Be prepared—anticipate and plan for situations and your children’s behavior by talking about upcoming activities and how you want them to behave. Set future expectations.


  • Warn your child first. “If you don’t stop, you’ll have a time-out.”
  • Name the behavior “No hitting.”
  • Have your child go to a quiet place, like a corner of a room, not the bedroom or a play room.
  • Start the timer – 1 minute for each year of age.
  • If your child leaves the time out area, have the child go back.
  • Restart the timer. Explain the need to “stay put” until it’s over.

Withholding Privileges: This is when you tell your child that if she does not cooperate, she will have to give something up she likes. The following are a few things to keep in mind when you use this technique:

  • Never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal.
  • Choose something that your child values that is related to the misbehavior.
  • For children younger than 6 or 7 years, withholding privileges works best if done right away. For example, if your child misbehaves in the morning, do not tell her she can't watch TV that evening. There is too much time in between, and she probably will not connect the behavior with the consequence.
  • Be sure you can follow through on your promise.

Keep Your Temper in Check: Always watch your own behavior around your child. One of the best ways to teach him or her appropriate behavior is to control your own temper. Here are some suggestions for when you are on the verge of losing control:

  • Make sure your child is in a safe place, such as a playpen or bedroom and take a timeout yourself
  • Have a cup of tea or coffee
  • Call a friend or spouse
  • Meditate or listen to music

When you return to your child, hug each other and start fresh.