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Adolescence is a time of many changes. These changes impinge upon the adolescent’s physical, psychological and social developments. It can be a difficult time for both the adolescent and the parents. Effective communication between the adolescent and the parents is vital at this developmental stage of the adolescent’s life.

The objectives of discipline:

What are your objectives when you discipline your child? Is it to correct bad behaviours, to cultivate good behaviour or to punish your child? No matter what your objectives are, they can briefly be summarized into one simple statement:

The objective of discipline is to encourage and promote changes.

The ways to promote changes:

There are three ways to encourage and promote changes. They are:

  1. Verbal admonition or prohibition
  2. Reward
  3. Punishment

Every parent has to confront the issue of discipline at some stage in the parenting process. During this time, parents may feel unsure of ourselves. Some may turn to other family members, our own parents and friends for help and advice whilst others may refer to professional guidance. Indeed, child discipline can be a very daunting task.

Verbal admonition or prohibition

This is the most common discipline that most parents use. It is easy, immediate and does not require any planning. It is simply a verbal response that the parent makes in reaction to a child’s behaviour, either to encourage the child to behave in a certain way or to stop the child from behaving in the same way that is unacceptable and undesirable. It can be very effective when used appropriately.

Most children are conditioned from young to receive this type of discipline and can be as early as infancy. The most common form of verbal discipline is the simple command that the parent issues to a toddler such as “No!”, “Don’t do that”, “Naughty!”

As the child grows up, these simple commands or prohibitions are usually ineffective because the child wants the parents to support their discipline by some type of reasoning. This is especially true when the child becomes an adolescent. Statements from the parents such as “Because I am your parent!” and “I tell you so!” are no longer acceptable. The adolescent is more likely to accept what the parents say if the parents can support the verbal admonition and prohibition by some logical and reasonable explanations.

Verbal discipline is more likely to be successful when the following conditions are present:

  1. The child respects the parent as a figure of authority.
  2. The child can understand that the parent has genuine concern for him/her.
  3. The parent is consistent in his/her expectation of the child’s behaviour.
  4. The parent is a good role model.
  5. The parent can show good reason to support his/her point of view.

Try not to threaten your child often because this usually evokes a rebellious response from your child sooner or later.

Try not to repeat the same point too often because your child will not listen after a while. If you have to tackle the same issue, you are more likely to gain your child’s attention and encourage change if you can give your child new insight by looking at the issue from different perspectives.


Reward increases the likelihood of a recurring behaviour. In other word, the child’s behaviour is reinforced. Reward works by one or two ways:

  1. It gives the recipient a good or pleasurable experience.
  2. It removes an unpleasant experience from the recipient.

Let’s consider the following examples which illustrate the two ways respectively:

  1. Johnny did well in his examination. His parents bought him a new toy.
  2. Robert hates homework and frequently does not complete his assignments. In addressing Robert’s problem, his parents sit with him and do part of the work with him every day.

In both cases, the children are rewarded. Johnny had a pleasant experience of receiving a new toy and is likely to study hard again. Robert’s parents reduce his unpleasant experience of homework by doing the work for him which makes him more likely to persist in his dislike for homework.

The example of Robert illustrates the point that parents have to be careful in not rewarding undesirable behaviour.

Here are some useful guidelines for using reward:

  1. Reward should follow the behaviour as soon as possible so as to increase the strength of the reinforcement.
  2. Reward should match the significance of the behaviour. Avoid giving a big reward for a “small” behaviour otherwise your child will expect more and more from you.
  3. identify and know the target behaviour you want your child to end up, and build in serial rewards for your child as he/she achieves progressive milestones along the way.
  4. Do not confine your rewards to tangible and material things alone. Use other nonmaterial rewards such as spending quality time with your child, praising and paying compliment to your child.
  5. Reward your child in such a way that it builds up your child’s self-esteem.
  6. Do not use food as a reward.


Punishment is a means to deter your child from behaving in ways that you don’t approve. Punishment works by the following ways:

  1. It inflicts physical pain on an individual. For example, a child receives a beating for his/her bad behaviour.
  2. It inflicts psychological or emotional pain on an individual. For example, a parent humiliates a child verbally in front of his/her peers for misbehaving.
  3. It deprives an individual from a pleasurable experience. For example, a child is banned from watching TV for one week for misbehaving.

Punishment is a common form of parental discipline. Unfortunately, some parents also become abusive when they punish their children. It is easy to cross the boundary and this can be very detrimental to your child.

Here are some do’s and don’ts of using punishment:

  1. Avoid inflicting physical or psychological pain on your child. Nobody likes pain. Your child will become angry and resentful towards you if you inflict pain on him/her. The painful punishment is detrimental to your child’s self-esteem. The usual statement of “It hurts me more than it hurts you!” when a parent is about to beat a child is plainly untrue. Painful punishment, both physical, psychological, teaches the child that violence and aggression is an acceptable form of behaviour.
  2. When you deprive your child of some pleasurable experience such as grounding your child from a social activity, make sure that the punishment fits the crime. Punishment that is out of proportion to the bad behaviour usually provokes rebelliousness and resistance from the child who may escalate the bad behaviour. The parents are forced to either increase the severity of the punishment or to abandon the punishment altogether. In both instances, power struggle between the parents and the child ensues and the original purpose of helping the child to change his/her bad behaviour is not achieved.
  3. Make sure that the punishment follows the bad behaviour as soon as possible because your child is more likely to learn from his/her experience.
  4. Tailor the punishment to the bad behaviour as mush as possible. For example, if your child transgresses by watching TV when he/she is supposed to do homework, it is better to ban your child from watching TV for a designated period of time than to reduce his/her pocket money.
  5. Always explain to your child the reason for the use of a particular punishment.
  6. Do not withhold food as a form of punishment.
  7. Do not keep a record of your child’s wrong doings and hand out a cumulative punishment. It is ineffective and unfair.
  8. Always ensure that your child has a clear understanding of your expectation of his/her behaviour and the consequences of transgression.
  9. Do not spring punishment on your child without prior warning.
  10. Do not hand out punishment to your child when you are very angry. The likely outcome is that you will do something which you will regret later on.
  11. Always check your motivation. You must always have the well being of your child in mind and not to hurt him/her.


One way your child can learn about good and acceptable behaviour is through observation and imitation of those with whom your child interacts. Since your child spends a great deal of time with you, the parent, your influence on him/her is profound. Your child essentially models upon your behaviour, whether it is good or bad.

Whilst modeling is not part of discipline, its importance cannot be overstated. Unless you are providing a good role model to your child for the behaviour that you want your child to cultivate, your verbal instruction, reward and punishment will have a limited success. Consequently, your child is more likely to behave in a way that is contrary to your discipline.

In conclusion, child discipline is about helping our children to cultivate good behaviour. It is not about inflicting pain on our children. Regardless of the method we choose to use to discipline your child, good modeling from ourselves as parents helps to increases the chance of success.

You may want to look up Positive Child Management in our Management Toolkits Section to sharpen your child management skills.

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