No parent finds it easy to discipline their child. I mean, we even have a hard time disciplining ourselves! But kids’ tantrums, tears, and begging make it extra difficult to follow through on time-out or saying “no.” Parents with especially sensitive children tend to struggle even more with discipline, as their child may lack the emotional skills they need to cope with not getting their way.

discipline also sets boundaries about what’s right and wrong and gives children a sense of safety – even though there might be conflict when they bump up against those boundaries, ultimately kids need to know they’re there

While challenging to manage, it is vital for children to be disciplined for their actions as they grow and mature emotionally and physically. When you discipline your child, you help them learn right from wrong, that actions have consequences, and that they as a person have choices. Discipline also gives children a sense of safety – even though there might be conflict when they bump up against those boundaries, ultimately kids need to know the boundaries are there. Honing these skills as a young child helps develop self-motivation, control, decision making skills, and other emotional skills further down the line.

When Should I Start Disciplining My Child?

Discipline tactics are obviously going to vary depending on the child’s age, developmental stage, and environment. For example, the practices used to discipline a 5-year-old at a playground are going to look different than those used to discipline a 2-year-old at home. With that being said, there are general “milestones” parents should be using with their children based on their age and emotional skill level to teach them the basics.

12-18 Months: This is the wonderful age where your child is probably going to be testing their vocal chords (and you) with their yelling. To us, it seems like screeching; to a toddler, it’s just another new skill and way to express themselves that they are discovering. Coupled with their lack of impulse control and understanding of social settings, you end up with a screaming toddler at Applebee’s. To counteract this, explain in simple terms that they need to lower their voice, suggests Parents Magazine. “We talk in a quiet voice when we’re in a restaurant.” If the screaming continues and a tantrum ensues, it’s time to take that order to go!

18-24 Months: Your child at this age has discovered words and language, but still cannot articulate their feelings, which is frustrating for them and us as frustration can manifest as a tantrum. The best thing we can do is add words to how they’re feeling so that they can start to recognize them and make the connections themselves, suggests Aditee Narayan, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at Duke University Medical Center in Parents Magazine. “You must feel frustrated because you can’t reach your Elmo blankie. “Let’s see if we can get it for you.”

Pre-schoolers: Preschool age comes with teaching your child social and emotional skills like sharing, manners, and making friends away from home at school. This is also the age when children start “not listening” as a way to test you and learn from your reaction. It’s important to keep calm, and ask only once, according to Sarah Chana Radcliffe, author of Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice. She suggests the following tip for an article in Today’s Parent:

– Ask once nicely (“Please put your toys away”).

– Ask a second time, but warn of a negative consequence if your child doesn’t listen (“I asked you to please put your toys away. If you haven’t done it by the time I count to five, I’ll have to keep them from you until tomorrow evening”). Avoid making unrealistic threats like “Slam that door and you’ll never watch TV again!”

– Apply the negative consequence, if necessary.

Big Kids: By now, your little one isn’t so little anymore and is becoming more and more independent every day, which means they are starting to choose what they want to do and why. From ages 5 – 10, discipline is about getting children to do what they should be doing – their homework, cleaning their room, brushing their teeth, etc., for themselves, mostly because by now they’re too big to be carried to do the task. It’s all about learning a lesson at this age, so asking them what they could do better next time, giving them opportunities for second chances, and laying out logical consequences for their actions are the best steps you can take to discipline negative behavior.

What if My Child is Sensitive? 

If you’re the parent or caretaker of an extra sensitive child, you probably notice that they display their emotions in an extreme way – crying a lot, getting extra mad, becoming over excited, etc., which can be overwhelming for both you and your child. As a result, some discipline tactics that work for other children might not work for your extra sensitive child and may actually do more harm than good when it comes to the development of their emotional skills.

With that being said, here are some tips to help you manage disciplining your sensitive child:

Children need discipline to build emotional skills.
  1. Set Clear Rules – Children need some form of discipline, despite whether or not they’re sensitive. Make sure you communicate clearly with your child what the rules are, before the rule is broken! While we shouldn’t be rigid and legalistic, it is important that the boundaries are clear and consistent. Once those boundaries are set, it’s important to follow through on the discipline that occurs if they are broken.
  2. Your Words Matter – Sensitive children are extremely perceptive, especially when it comes to the tone and language of our voices. Speak calmly, clearly, and with lots of feeling words, even if your toddler is a sobbing screaming mess. Empathize with how they’re feeling and don’t be afraid to communicate how you’re feeling with them too. Try finding a program like HAPPɒs Mission I’m Possible to help them find positive ways to express and manage their emotions.
  3. Rewards – According to Very Well Family, “Sensitive kids sometimes feel bad if they ‘get in trouble.’ Simply changing the way you word things can spin it into a reward. Instead of saying, ‘You can’t eat dessert unless you eat all your dinner,’ say, ‘If you eat all your dinner you can earn dessert!'”
  1. Quiet Time – Sometimes, extra sensitive kids get overwhelmed and overstimulated, so it’s important to plan some down time where they feel safe and comfortable. Having a place, maybe a corner or special chair, where they can calm down may help too. 

EFT Tapping – Otherwise known as Emotional Freedom Technique Tapping, this anxiety and stress management technique has been proven to reduce cortisol, anxiety, and depressed feelings and improve happiness and productivity. HAPPÉ Life offers children a fun, free way to learn these techniques and hone their emotional skills with Ellie, an animated tapping coach.