Discipline your child the right way

Discipline your child the right way

The Constitutional Court recently ruled that corporal punishment is illegal in South African homes. This ruling could see parents have criminal records for abuse, or the children removed from the family home if the court found them guilty. Spanking, shouting, shaming, time out and withholding privileges are common ways in which most parents discipline their children. But, are these methods healthy and effective? Fundiswa Nkwanyana finds out.

Teaching discipline is frustrating, and correcting a child angrily will have a long-term negative impact on them. So, learning the right way to correct bad behaviour is imperative. According to psychologist Tracy Smith, discipline is not just about punishments but it’s imparting skills and knowledge that will prevent behavioural problems in the future. She adds that children raised with clear limits and guidance are likely to be adults with self-control and those who are not are likely to be selfish and unable to self-regulate.

SEE ALSO: 3 ways to discipline your child without spanking them


“As a form of discipline, my father used to hit me, and my mother called me horrible names. I started doing the same, and became physically and verbally abusive towards my ex-wife which led to my arrest,“ says Philani Ngcobo, a convicted prisoner. He is serving a two-year sentence at the Qalakabusha Prison in KwaZulu-Natal for domestically abusing his ex-wife. Many parents think smacking and scolding works because children become controlled immediately. “When a child is smacked and scolded, they learn to express themselves in this unhealthy manner and have difficulty expressing themselves in a firm and fair way,” says Zama Ntuli, a child psychologist.  She adds that children learn behaviours by observing and imitating their parents. So, the responsibility is on the parents to set the right example. Other problematic ways of discipline include punishments such as humiliation, making threats, ignoring and isolating your child. All of these don’t make the child understand why their behaviour is wrong, but only instil fear. “You need to discipline your child in a loving, positive and logical way so that they learn to be responsible for their actions,” says Zama.


Even the best parents struggle with discipline because it’s difficult. “As a child psychologist with over 10 years’ experience, I sometimes find myself scolding my kids because I’m human and my emotions get the better of me,“ confesses Zama. Correcting your child’s behaviour involves trial and error. Tracy advises parents to forgive themselves and learn from their mistakes. Having a close and loving relationship with your child will make teaching and guiding them much easier. “You need to model good behaviour, have clear and consistent rules and calmly and firmly explain consequences. You also have to listen and understand their point of view and praise good behaviour.“ All of this is easier said than done, so you also need to figure out when and how to respond because they sometimes need to learn from their mistakes on their own. “For instance, if your child keeps breaking their toys, instead of shouting, let them play with broken toys so that they can learn not to break them again,“ says Zama. Also, plan and come up with a discipline strategy that is in line with you and your child’s personality.


You need to match your discipline strategy with your child’s age. Using one approach throughout the different development stages will not work.

Ages 1 – 5

  • Your child is starting to distinguish between right and wrong, and they will push boundaries to see how you will react. Praise and reward good behaviour to discourage bad behaviour.
  • Disobediences and tantrums are common at this stage as its part of their growth. In order to prevent them, you should anticipate and plan for them. For example, put away things that your child is likely to want to play with to prevent them from crying for them.
  • Listen to your child’s concerns, and show empathy before reprimanding them because they need to know that you understand how they feel. Speak in a simple language, and be calm and assertive. And, keep your phrases short and repetitive.
  • At this age, your child does not fully understand most rules, so you will have to be consistent. Both parents must apply the same rules and discipline way.

 SEE ALSO: What to do when your child is a bully

Ages 6 – 12

  • Have a close relationship and talk to them about rules and misconduct. Be open to discussing new rules and be lenient and understanding.
  • They are likely to talk back when getting reprimanded. Remain calm and don’t yell or embarrass them in front of others. You need to discipline them in private and respectable manner.
  • At this age, they are trying to understand their emotions. Allow them to express themselves. Before reprimanding or punishing them, explain and demonstrate how to better deal with their emotions.
  • Teach consequences, and if your child does something wrong, let them deal with the repercussions as soon it happens. This way, they will remember why they got into trouble in the first place.

Ages 13 – 19

  • At this point, your child is likely to push the boundaries as they become independent. Have a close and open relationship with your teenager, and make sure that they understand your rules and consequences of bad behaviour.
  • They will break the rules, and you must not take it personally and get into an argument. Focus on correcting their behaviour by remaining calm and taking time out to regroup before addressing them. You also need to be open to discussing changing the rules and being a bit more lenient.
  • Reprimand without calling them names such as lazy, selfish and rude. Instead, use positive words to encourage good behaviour while reprimanding them.
  • Take away privileges or items they value, but don’t completely cut them off or isolate them. You can take away their electronics, limit time spent with friends or decrease their pocket money.
  • Teach problem solving skills and discuss how they should better deal with their problems in the future. Listen to them and suggest alternatives, so that they don’t get into trouble again.

SEE ALSO: Spanking your kids is against the law


Sometimes children break the rules to get your attention. So, understand their emotional state before acting. “You don’t always have to discipline them; sometimes a hug or a heart-to-heart can solve the problem,” says Zama. Lastly, pick your battles because not everything is worth your time and energy. “Avoid petty arguments and power struggles, and rather focus on disciplining them on important matters. This will help to create a peaceful family environment,” concludes Tracy.