How to Discipline Your School-Age Children

Mother pointing finger at boy (8-9) in living room
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Disciplining children of grade school age has its unique challenges and rewards. While children this age are better able to articulate their feelings and demonstrate self-control, disciplining big kids can still require some handling of tantrums and tears.

When a big kid has the occasional meltdown, try to be mindful of the importance of teaching respect when disciplining children. Even if your child is pushing your buttons, try to remember to talk to her the way that you would want to be talked to.

It's also helpful to keep in mind that disciplining school-age children can be a way to lay down foundations for good behavior in the years to come. Some parents may think of child discipline as something you do when a kid misbehaves. But many experts say that disciplining children should be more about working with your child to guide him toward good behavior so that he can make good choices on his own. Here are some ways you can guide your grade-school age child as he grows into someone who can increasingly discipline himself.

Expect Some Steps Forward...and Some Back

As children get older and enter kindergarten and grade school, they begin to develop better self-control to deal with frustrations and disappointments. They also become increasingly more able to talk about their feelings and are better able to understand and follow rules. That said, they are still young, and can sometimes easily fall back into meltdowns, whining, and other negative behavior more common in toddler and preschooler years.

Get Your Child Involved in Setting Limits and Rules

Now that your child is in kindergarten or grade school, he will be better able to understand why some rules are necessary (for his health, safety, etc.). Explain your position, listen to his opinion, and then compromise where you can. If his friend goes to bed at 9, but you’d rather that your child’s bedtime was 8, tell him you’ll try out 8:30 provided he doesn’t seem too tired during the day.

Be Firm About R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Let him know it's safe to express his feelings -- as long as he does so respectfully. If he acts cranky with you (hey, we all have bad days, grown-ups included), tell him to speak to you in a nice way. Then, when he’s more peaceful, talk to him about what was making him unhappy. Respect also goes both ways, so speak to your child the way you want him to speak to you. Don't shout, say what you need to in a calm manner, and remember to say “please” and “thank you.”

Give "Do's" Instead of "Don'ts"

Focus on the behavior you want to see, not what he’s doing wrong. Instead of saying, "Don't throw that ball around the house" say “Doing that could break something. Let’s go outside and play.”

Find Out What's Behind the Behavior

Maybe he was rude to a playmate because he’d had too many activities that day. Step back, and consider what may have caused him to misbehave. Later, after he’s calmer, ask him what he was thinking and feeling.

Keep Child Discipline Short and Simple

Though your grade-schooler is better able to understand rules, avoid going into too much detail. Getting into a long explanation about something you want him to do can be confusing. It can also give your child the message that you’re not certain about what you’re saying.

Be Consistent and Firm

Bedtime is bedtime. Just one more (fill in the blank) is not negotiable. If you waver, he’ll know he can push the boundaries again the next time.