8 Things to Say When Disciplining Your Children

Saying These Things Can Change Behavior Problems Fast

When you’re frustrated, embarrassed, or flabbergasted by your child’s behavior, it can be hard to find the right words. However, the words you use to discipline your children have a big impact.

Here are some examples of discipline phrases you might want to use when your child breaks the rules. Saying these things will teach your child a valuable life lesson without harming your relationship or damaging his self-image.

1

“Remember to use your words.”

discipline phrases
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When it comes to discipline, any parent will tell you that it’s all about consistency. If you tell your child that they’re in timeout for hitting a sibling one day and then let it go the next day, it sends mixed messages about whether hitting is acceptable in your household.

Therefore, you need to find a phrase that consistently addresses your child’s behavioral issue. If your child hits or calls people names every time she’s angry, say, “Remember to use your words.”

It’s best when other caregivers can use the same phrase too. So if a teacher, daycare provider, and your partner all respond with the same phrase as you, your child will get a consistent message.

The goal should be for her to eventually be able to remind herself to “use my words,” before she lashes out. Giving her a consistent message from everyone will help her develop the language she needs to manage her own behavior better.

2

“No biting.”

When you are disciplining a little one, keep in mind that they don’t necessarily understand everything that you are saying, nor can they necessarily follow the directions that you are giving.

Therefore, you should evaluate the situation like a toddler would and speak to them in language they will comprehend. Skip the lengthy lecture and don’t launch into a discussion about all the reasons why your child’s behavior is bad.

For a toddler who bites, you might say, “No biting,” each and every time he tries to bite. An older toddler might be able to understand, “ No biting. Biting hurts.”

With older children, you can reiterate the problem and acknowledge how your child is feeling. Say something like, “I know that you are upset that your sister won’t share the doll. But we have to take turns in playing with toys, so when she’s done playing with the toy, then it will be your turn.”

Then, you can share an alternative choice by saying, “Play with the kitchen set until it's your turn to play with the doll.” Continue with other options. Redirection allows your child to feel like she can control her emotions and her behavior.

3

“Go to time-out for hitting your brother.”

When your child acts outrageously, you might be tempted to yell, “What did you do that for?” or “What were you thinking?” But losing your cool won’t do anyone any good. Yelling will only escalate the situation. 

No matter how upset you are, use a neutral tone. You can still be firm and direct but skip the screaming. It’s prime time to ​model how to manage your emotions effectively. 

Simply state the consequence and why your child is being punished. “No electronics for the rest of the day because you didn’t turn off the TV the first time I told you,” or “Time-out for hitting.”

4

“If you don’t pick up your toys, you won’t be able to play at the park today.”

A child quickly learns whether threats of time-out, grounding, gadgets being taken away are legitimate or if they’re empty threats.

It’s important to give your child a warning that you are willing to actually follow through on. One of the best kind of warnings can be an if…then statement.

Say, “If you don’t pick up your toys right now, then you won’t be able to go to the park today.” Then, leave it up to your child to make the choice. If he doesn’t listen, follow through the warning you gave him. Don’t give him multiple warnings—or you risk training him he doesn’t need to listen the first time you speak.

5

“I know it’s hard but I expect you to do it anyway.”

As a parent, you’re going to hear things like, “That’s not fair!” a whole bunch of times. It’s important to acknowledge that what you’re asking might feel hard, but make your expectation clear.

As long as your expectation is one that your child is able to meet, he’ll be more likely to do it when you’ve made it clear that you have faith in him.

Avoid arguing or debating. Give a simple statement and ignore further protests about why he can’t do it or how you shouldn’t expect him to do so much.

6

“Thank you for putting your dish in the sink the first time I asked.”

Discipline shouldn’t just be about pointing out the things your child does wrong. It’s also important to pay attention to the things he’s doing well.

Praise encourages your child to repeat his good behavior. So don’t forget to tell him that you appreciate it when he’s playing quietly or when he does a chore without being asked.

7

“When you are done cleaning your room, you can play outside.”

It can be tempting to remind kids what they’re missing out on by saying, “You can’t play outside until you clean your room.”

But kids respond best when they know they can earn a positive incentive (as opposed to feeling like a privilege is being taken away).

So rather than tell your child what he can’t do, use Grandma’s rule of discipline and frame it in the positive. Say, “When you are done cleaning your room you can play outside.”

Then, leave it up to your child to decide when he wants to clean his room. In addition to chores, this works well for homework. Say, “You can use your electronics as soon as your homework is complete.”

While it means the same as the negatively phrased statement, framing it in a positive way gives kids an incentive. Similar to the way adults earn a paycheck for going to work, kids begin to see that they too can earn privileges for their good behavior.

8

“Use your walking feet.”

Most kids hear a lot about the things they aren’t supposed to do, like “Stop banging your blocks,” and “Don’t run.” But, it can be helpful to remind them of the good behavior you want to see, as opposed to the bad behavior you want them to stop.

So instead of saying, “Don’t run,” try, “Use your walking feet.” Or, rather than say, “Don’t yell,” say, “Use your inside voice.”

Pointing out the behavior you want to see puts more emphasis on the good, rather than the bad. And that can motivate kids to behave better.

A Word From Verywell

While it’s frustrating to address misbehavior, the words you use can be key to helping your child make better choices. Of course, all kids make mistakes and test limits sometimes. But, using these discipline phrases consistently can be one of the best ways to address behavior problems.

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