Helping a child to behave in an acceptable manner is a necessary part of
raising the child well. Discipline varies at different ages. There is no one
right way to raise children, but child and adolescent psychiatrists offer the
following general guidelines: Children generally want to please their
parents. Wise parents can in their disciplining activities use children's
desire to please.

When parents show joy and approval for behavior that please them, this
reinforces good behavior in the child. When parents show disapproval of
dangerous or unpleasant behaviors at the early stages, they are more likely
to be successful when the child is older. The way the parent corrects a child
or adolescent for misbehavior should make sense to the youngster, and not be
too strict that the child or adolescent cannot later feel the parent's love
and good intentions.

Children and adolescents can and do anger parents, and parents need good
self-control when they are angry. Although a loud "no" may get the attention
of a toddler heading for a street full of traffic, it does not quiet a crying
baby. For older children, there should be clear expectations, agreed upon by
both parents and clearly told to the child or adolescent. In our mixed
society, where cultures and parenting styles are varied, different families
expect different behaviors from their children.

One child may be allowed to come home at any time, while another child may
have a strict curfew. When parents and children disagree about rules, an
honest exchange of ideas may help them learn from each other. However,
parents must be responsible for setting the family's rules and values.
Keeping unwanted behavior from happening in the first place is easier than
stopping it later.

It is better to put breakable or treasured objects out of the reach of
toddlers than to punish them for breaking them. Parents should encourage
curiosity but should direct it into activities like playing with puzzles,
learning to use paints or reading a book. Changing a child's unwanted
behaviors can help the child have the self-control needed to become
responsible and considerate of others. Self-control does not happen
automatically or suddenly. Infants and toddlers need parental guidance and
support to begin the process of learning self-control. Self-control usually
begins to show by age six. With parents guiding the process, self-control
increases throughout the school years. 

Teenage experimentation and rebellion may occur, but most youngsters pass
through this period and become responsible adults--especially if they had
good early training. Families pass methods of discipline and what is
expected of children from generation to generation. When discipline attempts
are not successful, it is often helpful for someone outside the family to
make useful suggestions on raising a child. Professionals trained in child
growth and behavior can give information on the way children think and
develop. They can also suggest different approaches to changing unwanted
behavior. The patience of parents, and help from caring professionals, when
necessary, will help smooth the way for children to learn and enjoy what
society expects of them and what they can expect from themselves.


Facts for families: the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry