When parents use constructive and effective forms of discipline, they are teaching their children how to use inner controls. The effective techniques for doing this depend upon a child’s developmental level.

Toddlers, for example, need help as they learn to moderate, contain, and find alternative ways of handling a wide range of emotions. Much of this learning to develop into healthy human beings comes from a parent’s reaction.

The preverbal or barely verbal toddler may be able to understand what is being said to him or her, but it will be helpful if parents offer some form of simultaneous action on occasions when they intervene, whether that action is stopping or redirecting behavior. For example, a parent can help a preverbal toddler contain his or her impulse to hit and bite by redirecting the behaviors toward activities that will not cause harm to others—activities such as hammering on a toy bench or biting a teething toy rather than a peer.

The older toddler or an older child has more developed internal controls, which make it easier for parents to offer only verbal directions with the expectation that appropriate behavior will follow. Even older toddlers and children, however, can still test limits at times and may need some form of action to go along with the corrective words being delivered. If a child is unwilling to take turns, for example, it may be necessary to walk him or her to the side of the room and explain that each person gets a turn, it is now someone else’s turn, and he or she will have a turn again.

Effective forms of discipline help build skills of emotional regulation. Teaching these skills may require words and actions. Help your child learn to understand what he or she can do in a given situation.