Saying no doesn't hurt. Having no clear boundaries does.

Misbehaving kids

All emotions are acceptable. All action's aren't.

Unless the expected/acceptable behaviour is crystal clear, a consequence alone for misbehaviour is not enough. We must show/tell kids the right way to do it next time otherwise they will be back in a time out again and again, unable to change the pattern. If someone says something that's incorrect or hurtful it's not enough to just say "don't do that" - we also need to add "...and here are three options to say it better next time". Giving a variety of options is important as there is often more than one solution to a problem so by providing multiple examples we're teaching them to "keep searching for alternatives". When somebody knows that there are two correct answers it's easy to see that may even be there, or four, or...? The ability to come up with multiple answers and to explore alternatives is a tremendously useful skill that prevent us from black-and-white thinking. Long story short: misbehaviour is an opportunity to teach/learn about alternatives and understand that more often that not there are multiple truths.


Expect misbehaviour and trouble, therefore, when it happens it doesn't catch us off guard and we already have a plan to deal with it. It's much like fire protection - every building is built in such way that it's expected that there will be a fire one day, therefore the buildings are fitted with fire extinguishers, there are regular fire drills and signs posted everywhere to tell everyone what to do when there is a fire. There may never be a fire but if there is, the building and its residents are well equipped to deal with it effectively.

Misbehaviour is testing limits. How far can I go without getting into trouble?

If there are no limits or the limits are fuzzy, testing (misbehaving) will never end because the child needs to pin down where his/her parents are and where he/she is and should be. A good way to stop curb misbehavioiur is to set and enforce clear limits that don't change often or don't change at all.

Dealing with it

Find the right words - don't repeat the wrong ones louder.

Misbehaviour must always bear a consequence relative in severity to the mischief itself. But we have to be very careful, especially when dealing with young children. Punishment comes so easily and few people learn about or know how to discipline well. People think it's easy but often it is not. To discipline others we first need to discipline ourselves. If we are not in full control of ourselves we aren't qualified to control others. It's very important to only ever punish for something if the correct action is understood without a shadow of a doubt. If the child is not taught and doesn't fully understand that walking on the carpet with muddy shoes is not right then he/she mustn't be punished for walking on the carpet with muddy shoes. (I heard a similar example from our dog trainer: don't punish for digging in the back yard if it's not crystal clear that digging is an unacceptable behaviour.) Kids need be told about certain rules many times before they understand fully what you mean. Very young kids don't understand complex reasoning or we cannot be sure if they do. It's better to wait until we know for sure that something is understood and only then inflict punishment. I use the word punishment, which is a strong word - but you'll see as you read on that punishment doesn't - and shouldn't - have to be harsh at all.

Do not skip disciplining because it's not convenient to do so. If the correct way to deal with a screaming toddler in a mall is to go home then go home. Shopping may not be done but we cannot sent the message that "it's OK to misbehave in the grocery store and you'll get away with it".

Punishment should happen immediately with as little delay as possible. With older kids the delay can be longer. With adults the delay can be months, even years. If we put a criminal in prison two years after they killed someone they will know reason for their punishment. If we give a one year old a time out 20 minutes after their mischief they won't have any idea why they're being punished.

The punishment should be undesirable to the child. We can't punish a child by taking him for a walk when he is screaming for a toy. Walks are cool. They won't be perceived as punishment. Or worse yet, if they will be perceived as punishment then walks will be associated with negative emotions later. (dog training example again: we can't punish a dog that's chewing on the couch by giving him a tennis ball to chew on, the dog will think "Oh, they brought me a toy as a reward for chewing on the couch! How cool is that!)

It is very helpful to explain every time why we give a time out to eliminate any confusion and create misunderstanding. "I'm now putting you in a timeout because..."

By the way, disciplining - just as feedback - aren't, shouldn't and musn't always be negative. Disciplining is not a negative action in itself. Here is a definition of disciplining from an online source: "Disciplining is training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character - it is a system of rules governing conduct and activities." It doesn't say anywhere that it's a negative action.

Time outs: a gentle but effective way to control children

Time outs revoke freedom. And limiting freedom is what we want to do when kids misbehave. "You are not free to do X". It's like jail for adults except much shorter. Time restraints teach the child that she is not free to do whatever she wants - there are restrictions and limitations. It's easy to understand and doesn't hurt. The key is to use a very short period of time at first and gradually increase it as time goes on.

For example: "Stay in this corner facing the wall until I say you can come back and play" (5 seconds later) "OK, you can come back now and play"

This method teaches a lesson, teaches patience while maintaining parental authority at all times. The child will do exactly as told during the entire duration (few seconds) of the timeout. The child doesn't even have a chance to talk back. It's quick and keeps control in adult hands.

Since time is relative (each of us percive the passing of time differently) you may want to use an unbiased, external measuring device, a.k.a. a stopwatch or an egg timer or your phone. That way both you and your child can rely on the timer and this will eliminate the chance for argument as in "that wasn't 30 seconds!" or "it's been 2 minutes already!". The egg timer doesn't pick sides, which is a great selling feature manufacturers fail to mention at the back of the packaging:)


This is for older kids, definitely not something I would expect from my toddler. Older kids understand apology better. Apology is a way to admitting responsibility for our actions when our actions end up hurting someone. A meaningful apology teaches a great lesson and will be remembered for a long time. Always apologize to the person whom you offended and always in front of the same people that were present when you committed the "crime." If you talk back to mommy in front of daddy, apologize to mom when dad is there. If you disobey dad when no one else is around apologize to dad when no one else is around. The same is true in adult - life: The quickest and surest way to get someone to dislike you is to humiliate them in public and apologizing in private.

It's critical that parents also apologize to kids. No parent is perfect and we must admit to kids when we were wrong or did something wrong. Our apologizes must be as meaningful and sincere as we expect our kids to apologize to us or to each other. Any decent apology should include acknoledging an error and a promise to try to avoid it in the future. An apology should never include an excuse or shift blame, never use the word "but.


Offer alernatives: What can you/we do next time to avoid issues?

Going outside: Children need to move and have tons of energy. Indoors - no matter how big your house is - is confined and there are things that can break or get dirty, etc. On a soccer field nothing can break and kids can run around all they want. Often when things start to get out of hand in the living room we go out and while the child is not calmer outdoors they have the means to burn off their energies.

Childproofing the house: If fragile stuff is below the 4' mark it will break. If outlets aren't covered you'll be paranoid about accidents. If knives are in the bottom drawer you'll also be paranoid about accidents. Set up your house in a way that no matter what you kid does he cannot hurt himself, other people or damage the house. You'll never ever say "don't open that", "don't touch that" or "stay away from there".

Routines: If bedtime is at 8pm every single day, if we always eat breakfast before going to daycare, if dirty clothes always go in the hamper, etc. then these routine activities will become so embedded in everyday life they won't be challanged.

Have a dirty corner in the house: where you can carve pumpkins, paint, cook, play with water, etc. No matter what you do kids will get dirty and get their surroundings dirty but they don't care where they make a mess. You want to play with food dye and bubbles? Sure, go over there to the dirty corner and knock yourself out. Much like childproofing the house this simple environment control is very effective in reducing trouble.

Manage expectations: Announce upfront in very granular chunks what you'll do in the next 2 minutes, 30 minues, hour or day. It's amazing how effective these announcements are! "We will now eat breakfast then you wipe the peanut butter off your hands, then go upstairs, take off your PJs then I put on new clothes on you then we rake the leaves". Kids will have a clear picture of what's about to happen and from breakfast time to raking leaves they'll never once ask to play with a puzzle - which you'll have to decline because you want to rake leaves but nobody knows of your secret plan.

Switching channels: Switch to another(different type of) activity if one activity becomes trouble. For example if things are getting out of hand when you're playing with the train set and you're starting to get desparate, put the train set away and start dancing.

Set the right example: The "do as I say not as I do" model doesn't work.