What Is Considered Disciplinary Action for Children?

Being a parent occasionally requires tough love. Just like you can spoil a dish with too much sugar, so can a child be spoiled with too much leniency. Disciplinary action doesn't have to involve shouting and tears, however. Parents should be proactive and consistently talk to their children about expectations for their behavior -- and the consequences of not meeting those expectations -- to keep them well-equipped to make wise decisions.


Lecturing children is a common disciplinary action. If you’re angry, give yourself time to cool off before initiating the conversation, so your words come from a place of careful reflection and loving intention, rather than anger. Reiterate the rule your child has broken, explain why the rule is important and talk about what your child should have done instead. Discuss the consequences your child will experience if the behavior is repeated. During the conversation with your child, allow the dialogue to flow both ways. If you are positive your child understood your rules before he broke them, ask him why he chose to disobey you. Although your child’s reasoning likely won’t change your mind, it will make him feel valued and acknowledged if you hear him out. Before adjourning your talk, make sure your child understands why your rules are important for his own well-being so he isn’t tempted to rebel against what he might consider arbitrary restrictions.

Short-Term Consequences

Disciplinary action can also include short-term consequences, depending on what your child has done. Young children, for example, receive short-lived punishments like timeouts, early bedtimes or nap times and the temporary removal of specific pleasures, like toys, games, TV shows or sweet treats. Ask Dr. Sears, an online resource for parenting tips, advises that timeouts should only last approximately one minute per the child’s age. Use a timer or buzzer to signal to the child when her time is up. Always accompany any type of disciplinary action with conversation so the child understands why she’s being punished and what behavior is expected of her going forward. For example, “Marissa, Mommy put you in time out because you snatched Bobby’s toy. I expect you to share nicely from now on, understand?”

Long-Term Consequences

Long-term consequences are typically given to older kids and teens who need to experience the lasting effects of their choices. Disciplinary actions can include, for example, not allowing teens to continue jobs or extra-curricular activities until they bring up their grades or pitch in more around the house or the restriction of a car or social privileges until a teen consistently meets curfew on time. Other suggestions include taking away a teen’s cellphone or computer (except for emergency or homework purposes), or removing a TV or video game system from his room until his behavior improves.

Natural Consequences

Some parents choose to discipline their children by refusing to shield them from the natural consequences of their own behavior 2. If a teen keeps “forgetting” to put his clothes in the hamper, for example, the consequence would be that his mother “forgets” to do his laundry. If the teen wants clean clothes, he will have to adjust his behavior.

Corporal Punishment

Some parents choose to use corporal punishment as disciplinary action, such as spanking or hitting. Although corporal punishment might stop the undesired behavior immediately, it can lead to increased aggression in children, lower academic performance, depression, antisocial behavior and a poor parent-child relationship, according to EmpoweringParents.