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Early Childhood Discipline Strategies

  • Discipline needs to be Age Appropriate. Constantly keep in mind the ages of the children with whom you are working and adjust your expectations accordingly. (For example, a 3 year old cannot sit still and listen for longer than 10 minutes.) Or at clean-up time consider breaking up a large job into a small, more manageable job. “Let’s put the dinosaurs into the basket.”

  • Discipline needs to be Flexible, But Consistent. Another words, good discipline is neither permissive nor strict. It is moderate in terms of allowing children to have some control or say in some areas. If a child has no control, he rebels; if he has total control, he feels lost and unsure of himself. For instance give children a choice between two things to eat, two outfits to wear, two or three different art materials. (I.e. Special circumstances at home may include family problems or a death in the family, overly tired child, etc. This does merit rules to be re-adjusted to fit the circumstances.) Try not to confuse the child by changing rules often.

  • Effective Discipline needs to Be Positive. Saying no all the time soon minimizes the value of the word no and also minimizes the child’s self-esteem. Practice saying the things the child should do vs. shouldn’t do. For example, “Now you get to listen and it’s my turn to talk. Rather than, “No talking.” or “Please use your walking feet.” “Throwing the blocks hurts our toys,” “Please help take care of our toys.” Concentrate as much as possible on positive behavior. Try and “catch the child doing something right” and to praise that child.

  • Peer Resolution. We strongly believe in encouraging children to use their own words and their own problem solving skills to alleviate a difficult situation. If you have observed at the preschool you would often hear the teachers say, “use your words.” Many times children just need a forum to express their feelings and when given the opportunity, will often feel better when simply having spoken. (Example: A child beginning to cry or scream if someone has taken a toy. Encourage them to use their words to tell the other child how they feel.) When children think through a situation themselves and voice their own opinions, they have a sense of ownership and responsibility. Along with that, the children are gaining independence from an adult directing a situation. When the child makes his/her own choices and sees the consequences, he/she gains intrinsic knowledge. Another words, the child has learned from experience what works and what doesn’t.

  • Choose Your Battles. You’ve all heard this one and it’s true. Find in yourself the issues you regard as most important and be consistent and as firm as can be on these. We feel that safety issues are most important, so our issues are hitting, hurting in any way, running or using equipment in the classroom that may hurt the child, others or the equipment it. These are important:

    1. The children’s safety.
    2. Respecting others.
    3. Respecting property and materials.

    Try to let go of the nit-picky items, like a cleaning up perfectly, forgetting to put on shoes, not hanging up coat every time, pouring sand on the floor, etc.

  • Discipline is not Always Easy or Comfortable. You will not be liked sometimes when you prohibit some behavior. That’s OK! It probably will not last. Your job is not to always be a friend, but to help guide and teach that child to learn how to eventually help and control him or herself. Stay firm and calm when you discipline. Make your voice sound firm and in control. Make eye contact and be consistent by following through with your words. You will need to gain respect to make disciplining effective, so don’t be afraid to be firm. Through discipline you are showing the child you care for them and not only will they respect you, but they will care about you, too, and want to behave well for someone who cares for them.

  • Finally, Discipline is Not Punishment. It is a way to guide and educate children to respect themselves and others. We cannot humiliate a child or embarrass them, but teach him or her to learn what is acceptable and what is not.