Disciplining Difficult Children

Lessons for Difficult Teenagers


According to parenting experts at KidsHealth, creating reasonable goals is a valuable way to help your child achieve success. Instead of teaching your adolescent that whatever she says goes, give her a lesson in striving to reach achievements. Think about what is reasonable to expect in various areas of your child's life, including getting a certain GPA at school, doing chores or even working at a part-time job. Have a discussion with your teen clearly explaining your expectations for her actions and behaviors, ensuring that you add in a lesson on the consequences for her not meeting her responsibilities. Ask for her ideas about her goals and what she realistically thinks about your expectations.

Safety Lessons

Teaching teens safety is a key issue when it comes to raising your adolescent, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics on its Healthy Children website. Although your teen might consider herself an adult, acting in an all too grown-up way can quickly turn your child from conscientious to difficult. Teach your teen lessons on safety that include information on Internet predators, fighting, substance abuse and dating violence.

Natural Consequences

Your teen's growing sense of autonomy means that on occasion your child won't obey you at all. A difficult teen who demonstrates enough obstinateness to regularly resist your rules might need to learn the lesson that only natural consequences can teach. According to the child development experts at Kids Health, natural consequences provide a means to teach kids a lesson by allowing them to experience the results of their misbehaviors or ill-chosen actions. For example, if your teen refuses to study for her biology test because she thinks that going out with friends is more fun, letting her suffer the consequence of a poor grade is a lesson that she can teach herself.


While your teen needs discipline, some forms of punishment are too harsh. Spanking, hitting and verbal aggression are all forms of abuse and are never acceptable teaching tools for any parent to use. Discipline lessons that can work well for a difficult teen include taking privileges away and grounding. For example, if your teenager breaks her curfew and keeps the car out late, take away her driving privileges for a week or two.

Consequences & Rewards for Parenting Teens

Set Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations establishes boundaries for your teen. Keep expectations reasonable such as maintaining good grades and behavior, and complying with house rules, according to the website Kids Health. If the expectations are unrealistic, your teen will have little motivation to care one way or another. Creating rules just for the sake of having control and compliance will cause conflict. Rewarding your teen for exemplary behavior should encourage her to continue displaying the desired behavior. For example, if she has kept to her 10 p.m. weekend curfew, bump it up to 10:30 p.m. after a few months and stress how proud you are of her. Likewise, if she is constantly late, give them a logical consequence -- prohibit her from going out the next night or make her curfew one hour earlier.

Consequences vs. Punishment

James Lehman, behavioral therapist and author of "Transform Your Child," warns that a consequence is not the same as a punishment. A consequence will teach something while a punishment is a payback of sorts. A consequence should coincide with the undesired behavior or choice that your teen displays. A consequence for a poor grade is a loss of privileges such as video games, use of the car or hanging out with friends. These privileges could have contributed to his poor grade, which can teach him the cause and effect relationship. A punishment would be requiring your teen to complete additional chores in hopes that he would be motivated to maintain their grades to avoid extra work.

Get Them Involved

Teenagers often like to think of themselves as adults, and they are well on their way to being just that. Having your teen take an active role in establishing her rules and consequences is often an effective way to work out clear guidelines for chores, curfew and behavior. Also, you can discuss rewards for following her rules, which will help reinforce the positive behavior. Extend her curfew, let her have a pizza party or movie night to show your teen you support her.

Modeling Behavior

Children imitate their parents -- parents notice it when they realize the need to watch their language so their child doesn't say a cuss word. This goes on throughout life with many other people acting as influences. Model behaviors you would like your teen to adhere to such as honesty, having integrity and compassion, being reliable, and having ethics and morals. Setting a good example for your teen will help him develop those characteristics and develop into a well-rounded adult.

Consequences for Teen Misbehavior

Withdrawal of Privileges

The Austin Psychology and Assessment Center encourages withdrawing some of your teens' privileges for a short time when they misbehave. For instance, if they always come home late on the weekends, restrict them from going out again for a while. Prior to withdrawing any of their privileges, have a candid conversation with them, explaining why you found it necessary to make the decision. Your conversation with them should be meaningful and reflective, letting them know the connection between their behavior and your expectations.

Natural Consequences

Natural consequences revolve around the duties and responsibilities of everyone in your home. Tell your teens you will only wash clothes that are in the hamper or serve supper at a specified time. The natural consequences of failing to put dirty clothes in the hamper or coming home late are having your teens do their laundry themselves or prepare their own meals. The consequence you choose to enforce has to be relevant to your teen for it to be efficient, according to the website, "Family Education." If, for example, your teen does not care about wearing dirty clothes, failing to wash their clothes won't be effective.

Apologies and Restitution

Your teens' misbehavior may sometimes harm their peers or other people in your community. You can have them write an apology letter and accompany them when they deliver it. In cases of damaged property, such as breaking a door or window, they can repair or replace it. Making restitution is an effective problem-solving skill, which enhances positive behavior change. The process of repairing or replacing something they damage helps your teens to be mindful of the possible implications of their negative behavior.

Practical Punishment

Iowa State University recommends using practical punishments when other techniques do not work. When your teens' behavior results in the disruption of other people's peace, for instance, you can have them perform some community service, such as working in a concession stand for charity or in a nursing home. Misbehaving at home can result in having your teen clean his room or wash the family car. The severity of punishment should be related to the grossness of their misbehavior.

How to Discipline a Child With Low Impulse Control

Make sure your child is well aware of the different rules you have in your house and that anytime he breaks one he will suffer a consequence, advises the Family Education website, part of the Pearson Education family. Discussing the rules with your child helps remind him what he can and cannot do if he wants to stay out of trouble. Informing him ahead of time that you will discipline him for breaking the rules can make it easier for you to impose discipline because he will be expecting it.

Take something away from your child when she acts on impulse. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this is an effective form of discipline for children. Depending on her age, you might take away the privilege of going on the next play date she has scheduled, you might take away her favorite toy or you might take away the freedom to use the phone or computer for the day. This will teach her that acting on impulse means missing something she thoroughly enjoys, and might curb her impulse the next time.

Place your child in an area of your home that offers no distractions, such as television or toys, and call it time out. According to Kids Health, sending your child to time out for approximately one minute for each year of his life is a good punishment. This gives your child a few minutes to sit still, free of distraction, and think about exactly what it is that he did wrong and how he might better handle himself in the future to avoid this punishment.

Use consistency when it comes to disciplining your child. You should send your child to time out or take away a privilege every single time he breaks a rule, not just when it’s convenient. For example, letting it slide once or twice because his actions didn’t hurt anyone, or because no one else saw what he did, does not teach him a lesson on proper behavior.

How to Discipline a Child when Nothing Works

Have clear expectations. Since children develop at different rates, it is important that you have an idea of what your child is capable of and do not expect too much of her. In some cases, children do not listen because they do not understand what you are asking of them, notes HealthyChildren.org.

Set limits. Your child will begin testing you at a certain age, and having rules set before this occurs teaches your child what you expect of him, states HealthyChildren.org.

Take privileges that your child values away when she does not respond. When your child ignores a rule or disregards what you have said, this is an effective way to get her attention. Make sure you discuss the reason for this discipline with her, suggests KidsHealth. In doing so, you can open up a dialogue about your child’s behavioral issues.

Avoid giving in to your child. If you give in when he throws a tantrum, you can expect the same behavior to repeat itself the next time you ask your child to do something he does not wish to do.

Provide natural consequences. Although you do not want your child to fail, sometimes allowing the natural consequences of her not completing her homework or staying up too late is the only way to get her to listen, suggests KidsHealth.

Be consistent. Once you have set limits, impose them no matter what. In many cases, children will start ignoring their parents as a method of testing the boundaries. If the boundaries do not change, however, the child will soon abandon this technique.

Avoid arguing with the child. The point is to impose immediate consequences rather than to begin a conversation with the child about the issue.


Do not spank or shout at your child, as this can cause him to ignore you.

Options for Disciplining Teenagers


According to behavioral theory, reinforcement increases the likelihood that a particular behavior will be repeated. Positive reinforcement involves giving a reward when the behavior occurs. For example, if your teenager completes his homework, you might allow him to play video games. Negative reinforcement involves removing something that your teen doesn't like. For example, if your teenager brings home a good report card, he might be relieved of babysitting duties or a particular household chore.


Punishment is the opposite of reinforcement. The goal of punishment is to prevent a particular behavior from occurring. Positive punishment happens when you apply a consequence that your teen doesn't like. For example, when your child fails a test, you might make him clean the garage. Negative punishment occurs when you take away something that your teen enjoys. For example, a teen who misses curfew might not be allowed to date for two weeks.

Beyond Behaviorism

While it is true that reinforcement tends to increase specific behaviors and punishment tends to decrease them, it is equally true that behaviorism ignores the very real cognitive and emotional processes that guide many human behaviors. As teens struggle to form their own moral compasses, it is critical for them to learn how to make good choices in their lives. Open communication, the honest sharing of ideas and experiences, and an explanation of your own moral choices help teens understand the implications of their own decisions.

Putting It All Together

Set reasonable boundaries for your teenager and allow her to operate autonomously within those parameters. Create clear guidelines for often-contested issues such as grades, curfews and dating activities. Enlist your teen’s help in developing fair, appropriate consequences for breaking those guidelines. When discipline is warranted, impose the agreed-upon consequence without arguing or yelling. Maintain open communication and encourage your teen to discuss tough issues and choices. Help him learn to function independently, rather than simply following a list of rules.

How to Write a Teen & Parent Contract

Meet with your teen and spouse/other parental figure so that you can discuss the contract together.

Make a list of problem behaviors, or potential problem behaviors, such as breaking curfew or getting poor grades.

State the expectation for each behavior, for example, “teen will come home at 10 p.m. on school nights,” or “teen will maintain a B average.”

State the consequences or privileges for each behavior outcome. An example of a consequence is: “If teen gets lower than a B average on his next report card, he must complete his homework every day before going out with friends/watching TV/talking on the phone.” An example of a privilege is: “If teen gets a B average or higher, he may continue to do his homework whenever he wants." Commit yourself to enforcing the consequences or offering a reward consistently.

Check with other parental figures to make sure they agree to the consequences and privileges.

Include a clause for updating the contract with additional rules, consequences and privileges, as necessary.

Have everyone involved sign the contract.

Discipline Methods for Teenagers

Clear Expectations

One definition of discipline is “to teach." With this in mind, strive to teach your teen life skills, such as responsibility, self-control and respect using discipline methods that teach in a respectful and positive manner. Set clear expectations for your teenager so that he knows the rules and knows what you expect from him. When teenagers have this consistency, it gives them security and helps them concentrate on gaining independence in a positive manner.


Along with the clear expectations, there must be consequences if your teenager decides not to follow the rules. Consequences can vary in nature, with some fitting the “natural” definition and others fitting the “logical” definition. Natural consequences are effects of mistakes or rule breaking that aren’t imposed by a parent. An example of a natural consequence might be having a bike stolen if your teen forgets to lock it. An example of a logical consequence might be taking the car keys from your child if she doesn’t replace the gas she used.


Although time-outs may sound like something meant for the toddler set, they can also be effective discipline for teenagers, suggests the American Academy of Pediatrics. If a teenager loses his cool and becomes disrespectful, it’s reasonable to tell him that you’ll be happy to discuss the matter with him after he calms down. Most teens are better able to handle the situation after retreating to a quiet and secluded spot to calm down before feeling ready to interact with family again.


When a teenager has exhibited behavior that needs correcting, parents might use one of two corrective techniques: adding responsibilities or adding restrictions. By adding responsibilities, you would give your child additional chores or work to accomplish around the house to atone for the misbehavior. By adding restrictions, you remove privileges and restrict the teen’s activities as a punishment for the misbehavior.

Positive Reinforcement

Look for examples of your teenager making good choices and following the rules whenever possible. When you see compliance and a good attitude, reward it with praise or other types of rewards. Known as positive reinforcement, this type of discipline motivates and encourages people to repeat the behavior. The positive reinforcement might be as simple as a high-five, or it could be something like a trip to the movies or a new article of clothing your teen has been wanting.

Discipline Checklists

Clear Expectations

First and foremost, children need to know exactly what to expect from you as a parent. The first step for effective discipline is to talk to your children about the behavior you expect and what type of behavior is inappropriate. Once you've made your expectations clear, it's easier for your kids to predict how you'll react. If you're not consistent in your expectations, however, it could lead to children who push the boundaries to test your reaction and resolve. Once you make a rule, stick to it.

Consistent Consequences

If you've said that misusing the computer will result in 48 hours without the computer, follow-through with your punishment. Letting your kids get away with negative or unacceptable behavior only sends the message that you're not serious about your rules and expectations, warns KidsHealth. Instead of wavering, create logical consequences that help your kids learn a lesson from their behavior. If a child breaks a lamp in the home, for instance, he's responsible to earn the money to buy a new one.

Parental Communication

While it's important to be clear about your expectations, it's also OK to leave room for negotiation, notes the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Talking to your children about your expectations and possible punishments allows you to be partners in your family's success, rather than rivals. If your daughter is pushing for a later curfew, for example, sit down and talk about why she wants a later curfew, where you could compromise and the punishment for missing a later curfew. Communication allows your children to be heard while you still elicit positive behavior.

Positive Feedback

The term "discipline" can sometimes have negative connotations, but it isn't inherently unpleasant. By giving your kids plenty of positive feedback when they meet and exceed your expectations, you use positive discipline to get the behavior you want. Watch your children and offer specific praise when you notice good behavior, like sharing with a sibling or doing chores without nagging. Your kids want your approval and feel rewarded when you notice positive behavior.