Practical Discipline Strategies for the Difficult Child

By Stacey Lynn
Stay consistent in the face of bad behavior and don't give up.
Stay consistent in the face of bad behavior and don't give up.

A child can be difficult in a number of ways and at times can be creative with her behavior. When it is time for discipline, it's important for a parent to remember that there is always a reason for the behavior, and discipline strategies are much more effective when you can determine the reason. Having a positive relationship with your child is the key to making discipline work.


Sometimes children exhibit bad behavior because they simply want attention. Unfortunately, this technique often works for them because the parent usually responds to the negative behavior and gives the child the attention that she wants. You can combat this type of attention getting by ignoring the negative behavior and giving more attention to the positive behaviors. This shows a child how to fulfill her need for attention in more appropriate and rewarding ways. Once she sees that her positive behavior is getting her the desired outcome, the negative behavior is then made "extinct." There are important guidelines to follow, which the Child Welfare League of America outlines on its website. Never ignore behavior that could cause harm to the child.


The statement, "Just follow through with the consequences," sounds easy, but in reality, when faced with a well-rehearsed sad face, it's sometimes very difficult for a parent to stick to the quoted punishment. However, this is doing the child a disservice; if you don't teach children that there are consequences to every action, they will never learn this valuable lesson. "Natural" and "Logical" consequences are two different techniques described on Healthy Kids.Org, a website powered by the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Natural" describes a learning consequence that would naturally occur if allowed to happen. For instance, when a toy breaks, the child can no longer play with that toy. "Logical" consequences are those that are enforced by action, so if the child has been warned to put the toy away but doesn't, the toy gets taken away. Of course, never allow or enforce a consequence that could be dangerous for children. The exercise is for them to learn from the experience, not to get hurt.


If parents look at time-outs as purely punishment, then the technique is not being used for what it is intended, giving the child -- and the parent -- a chance to calm down from a state of agitation to enable more rational thought. To use time-outs productively, Dr. David L. Hill, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, shares some tips in his book, "Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro." Dr. Hill advises parents to think about the set times before the situation arises, use time limits that are age appropriate and set a timer. It is also very important to not engage in communication or give attention to the child; the parent must consider the location of the time-out carefully, so there is no chance for harm. If a child leaves the time-out before time is up, Dr. Hill suggests calmly returning him and starting the time over again.

Rewards and Charts

Teachers have discipline methods that you can use at home. The "Reward Chart" is one outlined on Education.Com. This system not only gets the child involved in his own discipline, so he learns to take responsibility for his actions, but it is also an excellent visual aid. The chart should be posted in plain sight and be easy for the child to understand. It should provide a visual indication of good behaviors and bad behaviors, discouraging unwanted behaviors while simultaneously encouraging desired behavior. It is even more effective if you have the child track his own progress, which really teaches the child that the merit or demerit was a direct consequence of his actions.

About the Author

Stacey Lynn graduated from the University of London with a BSc in psychology. She holds two certificates in counseling and has worked in a variety of fields including mental health, academic advising and rowing Coaching, to name just a few.