Mistakes Parents Make When Reprimanding Their Children

boy in sitting in corner in time out

 Jamie Grill/The Image Bank/Getty Images

To err is human, and making discipline mistakes is part of being a parent. Your child misbehaves and you find yourself losing your cool, yelling, or reacting in a way that you think could have been handled better. There are ways to fix these common blunders.

Visualize yourself reacting differently to your child the next time they do something to make you crazy and be confident in your ability to change their bad behavior—and your reaction to their behavior.

Remember to give yourself a break. These discipline mistakes are common and most parents make one or more of these at one time or another.

Common Mistakes

Remind yourself of the advice you might give your child when they make an error. Mistakes are what you learn from so that you can grow.

  • Discuss problems respectfully, but firmly

  • Calm yourself before disciplining

  • Give clear and consistent consequences

  • Give short and clear statements about wrong behavior

  • Discuss what can be done better

  • Think of discipline as teaching good behavior

  • Be a good example

  • Find an approach that works best with each child

  • Provide clear rules and consequences

  • Yell at or belittle your child

  • Discipline while angry

  • Be inconsistent, enforcing only at times

  • Deliver a long, detailed explanation

  • Focus only on what was wrong rather than how to correct the behavior

  • Think of discipline as punishing poor behavior

  • Break the rules you hold your kids to

  • Use the same discipline approach with every child

  • Fail to set any rules or consequences

You Weren't Respectful

Parents ask their children to respect them, but they sometimes forget that respect should be a two-way street. One of the most common mistakes parents make when disciplining children is yelling, speaking in a harsh and angry tone, or even insulting their children. Giving and asking for respect in return is one of the cardinal tips to remember about disciplining children.

The Fix: Think about how you would like to be spoken to if you were working out a conflict with an adult, such as a co-worker or relative. Get down to your child’s eye level, and discuss the problem at hand in a gentle (but still firm) and respectful manner. No matter how angry you are, try to remain calm.

Disciplining While Angry

There are some things that simply should not go together, like drinking and driving or writing a heated email to someone who’s made you angry before you’ve had a chance to cool down. Disciplining a child while angry is definitely in that category of don’ts.

When you reprimand your child while you're mad about something the child did, you are more likely to shout or say something you don’t mean.

The Fix: Take a few minutes (or more if you need it) to calm down and collect your thoughts before talking to your child about their bad behavior. Remove yourself or your child from the immediate situation. Take a walk. Giving yourself and your child some time to reflect on the conflict may help you both deal with the situation in a calmer manner.

Being Inconsistent

You reprimand your child for not cleaning their room, but ignore it when their room is messy for days. Then once again you scold him for not keeping their room clean. Your child is getting a very inconsistent message. One of the best ways to help children correct bad behavior is by giving them clear instructions about what is expected of them.

The Fix: Give your child clear and simple directions and a realistic list of expectations. For instance, if you want him to clean their room every week, mark it on a calendar and make that “room clean-up day.” Set him up for good behavior. If they don't follow through, give him a consistent set of consequences. Don’t give different degrees of punishment for the same misbehavior. Be constant and consistent in enforcing the rules.

Talking or Explaining Too Much

Giving a lengthy and detailed explanation of your child's inappropriate behavior is not a good idea. Children, even grade-school children who are getting better at paying attention, can easily lose track of discussions that go too much into detail.

The Fix: Be as direct as possible and break it down into basics for your child. With older children, talk about what went wrong and discuss possible scenarios that could have been better choices. With younger children, simply state what the behavior was and why it was wrong.

(“You went into your sibling’s room and played with their toy without their permission, and that made them feel like you didn’t care about their feelings.”)

Going Negative

Hearing a string of “don’t” and “no” isn’t any fun for anyone, especially a child. Focusing on what a child did wrong or what they should not do instead of emphasizing what a child should do can put a negative spin on things and set the tone for your interaction.

The Fix: Approach things from a more positive perspective by talking about what can be done better. If your child is whining or talking back to you, show them some examples of how to speak in a nice and more friendly manner.

After tempers have cooled on both sides, try a light-hearted game of speaking nicely to each other to express yourselves better. If your child is fighting with a sibling, suggest some ways they can build a good sibling relationship, such as by having them work together on a project.

Thinking That Disciplining Is Punishing

Often parents forget that the point of disciplining children is to give them firm guidelines and limits so that they do not need to be punished. Disciplining means setting up boundaries and expectations so that kids know what is anticipated of them. The primary goal is to have kids learn to eventually regulate themselves so that they do not need to be punished.

The Fix: Re-think the way you view discipline. When you discipline a child, you are showing them how to make good choices and choose behaviors that are positive and ultimately good for them.

By showing them how you handle their misbehavior positively—in a loving and constructive manner that emphasizes learning rather than punishment—you are teaching them how to one day interact with their own children when they demonstrate bad behavior.

Not Practicing What You Preach

You tell your child not to tell lies but routinely fib to get out of things you don’t want to do, like join that school volunteer committee or attend an unimportant meeting at work. You yell at your children and angrily tell them to speak nicely to each other.

The problem is that you often do not see your own behavior and forget that your children are watching your every move and learning how to behave by using your example.

The Fix: As much as possible, be a good example of the behavior you want your child to emulate. If you occasionally break one of your own rules, explain to your child the particular circumstances and why you behaved the way you did. Explore how you could have handled it better and talk about how you may do things differently the next time.

Not Tailoring the Discipline to Your Child

When it comes to child discipline, one size does not fit all. What worked on a child’s sibling or the kids of friends may be the wrong approach for a child. Repeatedly trying to use a certain approach to correct or guide a child’s behavior might not work best for an individual child.

The Fix: Remember that children, like adults, have their own personalities, temperaments, and quirks. One kid may be more stubborn than others or be more likely to have a meltdown when things don’t go their way. Try different approaches to tailor discipline techniques to each individual child.

For instance, while one child may be able to focus and stop dawdling after a few general reminders, another child may need charts, schedules, and closer supervision to keep them on track.

One child may stop misbehaving after a warning that they will lose privileges (a toy or an activity), while another child may actually need to have those things taken away and experience the consequences of bad behavior before they learn to follow the rules,

Not Disciplining Children at All

Among the many important reasons why you need to discipline children is the fact that children who are raised with clear limits and guidance are more likely to be happy, pleasant people who have good self-control.

When children are not disciplined, the effects are clear, and in most cases, quite catastrophic.

Children who are not given any limits or consequences and are spoiled are often selfish, unable to self-regulate, and unpleasant to be around.

The Fix: Give your child rules, limits, and clear and consistent consequences when they don’t do what they are supposed to do. If you are worried that disciplining your child may make them angry with you, keep the bigger picture in mind. Not disciplining a child is not good for them. As long as you handle their misbehavior with love and firm guidance, your child will learn and grow from their mistakes.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. HealthyChildren.org. What's the best way to discipline my child?.

  2. Effective discipline for childrenPaediatr Child Health. 2004;9(1):37‐50. doi:10.1093/pch/9.1.37

  3. Slatcher RB, Trentacosta CJ. Influences of parent and child negative emotionality on young children's everyday behaviorsEmotion. 2012;12(5):932–942. doi:10.1037/a0027148

  4. Sege RD, Siegel BS. Effective discipline to raise healthy children. Pediatrics. 2018;142(6) doi:10.1542/peds.2018-3112

Additional Reading

By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.