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5.1: Discipline, Guidance, and Punishment

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    Parents and caregivers have a responsibility to guide and promote positive socialization strategies for children in their care. These activities are known as discipline or guidance-two words that are often used interchangeably in parenting education. Discipline is defined as “ongoing teaching and nurturing that facilitates self-control, self-direction, competence, and care for others”. [1] It is recommended that caregivers utilize a comprehensive disciplinary approach for guiding children’s behaviors.

    A father and mother walk alongside their daughter who is learning to ride a bike
    Figure 1. A family teaching a child to ride a bicycle with support. (Photo Source: Agung Pandit Wiguna, Pexel License)

    Caregivers should proactively teach children how to regulate their own behaviors by using age- and developmentallyappropriate strategies that enhance:

    • positive, supportive, and nurturing caregiver-child relationships,
    • safety, permanency, and consistency,
    • acceptable behavioral patterns by removing reinforcements to eliminate undesired behaviors and providing positive reinforcements to strengthen desired behaviors, and
    • cognitive, socioemotional, and executive functioning skills.

    For optimal outcomes, all of the above components must consistently function well in an individualized manner for each child, and within the context of youth, feeling loved, safe, and secure. Recommended child-rearing strategies are outlined in upcoming pages.


    Examples of caregivers’ guidance by stage:

    • Newborns: recognize and respond flexibly to infant’s needs while providing generally structured daily routines.
    • Infants and toddlers: use limitations, protection, and structure to create safe spaces for play and exploration.
    • Early childhood: utilize creative and individualized strategies to guide children’s desirable behavior patterns to become their “typical interactions”.
    • School-age: increase children’s own responsibility for self-control via the integration of previously-developed internalized rules of conduct.
    • Adolescence: change strategies to foster more autonomy, self-regulation, and responsibility while guiding teens’ safety and positive decision-making skills.

    For more information about positive parenting strategies by ages and stages, visit the CDC website.

    Corporal Punishment

    Worldwide initiatives have recommended banning the use of corporal punishment with or in children of all ages. According to the Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children, corporal punishment is defined as “any punishment in which physical force issued and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light”. [2] Examples include shaking, kicking, forcing ingestion (e.g., soap, hot sauce), and “smacking,” “slapping,” or “spanking” with any object or a hand. Nonphysical forms of punishment (e.g., verbal and emotional abuse) include activities that are intended to cause shame to a person such as humiliation, threats, ridicules, etc.

    Vast amounts of research have consistently demonstrated strong correlations between youth who experienced harsh punishment (e.g., spanking) by their parents and increased risks of:

    • changes in brain physiology that show on MRI studies,
    • mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety,
    • elevated cortisol levels,
    • cognitive problems,
    • aggressive behaviors,
    • unhealthy caregiver-child relationships,
    • suicide attempts,
    • moderate-to-heavy drinking,
    • substance use disorders,
    • misconduct, and
    • adverse outcomes that extend into adulthood.

    Key Takeaways

    • Corporal punishment is not an effective method for teaching or changing performance.
    • Corporal punishment has been linked to many negative outcomes.
    • Caregivers should utilize methods other than corporal punishment to effectively and optimally guide children’s behaviors and learning.

    1. Sege, R. D., Siegel, B. S., Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2018). Effective discipline to raise healthy children. Pediatrics, 142(6). DOI:
    2. Wolraich, M. L., Aceves, J., Feldman, H. M., Hagan, J.F, Howard, B.J., Richtsmeier, A. J., Tolchin, D., & Tolmas, H. C. (1998). Guidance for Effective Discipline. Pediatrics, 101(4) 723-728; DOI:

    This page titled 5.1: Discipline, Guidance, and Punishment is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Diana Lang via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.