From three years of age, most children understand what acceptable behaviour is and what isn't. They test out different behaviours and learn about their consequences. You can help your child by setting boundaries and being clear about the behaviour you want to see.1

Setting rules and applying consequences 2, 3

Rules are set for children so they can learn to live cooperatively with others in society, to distinguish right from wrong and to protect them from harm. Children raised without reasonable limits will have difficulty adjusting socially.

Ways to use rules and limits to promote effective discipline-

  • Reinforce appropriate behaviour by praising them.
  • Avoid nagging and threats. It may encourage undesired behaviour.
  • Apply the rules consistently.
  • Ignore unimportant and irrelevant behaviour, e.g., swinging legs while sitting.
  • Set reasonable and consistent limits. Consequences should be realistic. Set limits—but set them with empathy.
  • Prioritize rules. Give top priority to safety, then to correcting behaviour that harms people and property and then to behaviour such as whining, temper tantrums, and interrupting in elderly discussions. Concentrate on two or three rules at first.
  • Know and accept age-appropriate behaviour. Accidentally spilling a glass of water is normal behaviour for a toddler. Whereas a child is refusing to hold your hand while crossing the road after repeated warnings are being willfully defiant.

Tips for applying consequences 2

  • Consequences should be applied as soon as possible without time delays.
  • Do not enter into arguments with the child during the correction process.
  • Consequences should be brief and not more than five minutes.
  • Parents should talk without shouting at the child. Verbal abuse or humiliating the child is equivalent to or worse than physical punishment.
  • Follow consequences with love and trust and ensure that the child knows the correction is directed against the behaviour and not the person.
  • Model forgiveness and avoid bringing up past mistakes.

Remember that connection and compassion are the secrets that help children want to follow your lead.


  1. Emma Little, developmental and educational psychologist.  Raising Children Network (Australia).
  2. Effective discipline for children. Canadian Paediatric Society, Paediatr Child Health. 2004;9(1):37–50. doi:10.1093/pch/9.1.37
  3. Laura Markham. How To Change Your Child's Behavior—Without Punishment.