Parents often ask me what they can do to help their child who displays out of control behaviors and/or does not take responsibility for their actions.  After years of sharing and modeling Effective Discipline for parents I have gotten responses like “at first I thought this was all foo foo – rainbows and lollipops stuff, but it really works!”

Effective Discipline

With the motto of teach, not punish Effective Discipline can help your children learn self-control and responsibility which in turn helps them to be successful throughout life.  By using choices parents help children see the connection between a choice and the outcome, giving children a feeling of control.

Brain Research Concerning Choice Giving

According to research, having options or choices affects the chemistry of the brain.  When you are given choices, you feel in control.  Feeling in control leads to lower stress levels and encourages the release of endorphins in the brain which promote a feeling of pleasure.  On the flip side, take choices away and instead the brain generates different neurotransmitters which slow down our thinking leading to reduced motivation and enjoyment.

How Do I Give Choices?

Rather than being told that they made a “bad” or a “good choice” after the fact, pro-active choice giving empowers children.  They are given decision-making power and the responsibility for their actions.  Empowerment helps children accept authority as well as to take initiative.

The choices you offer your child should be acceptable to you, relevant and enforceable.  State the choices and consequences clearly and positively helping your child to feel confident and secure.  Follow through with the choices you offer calmly and consistently.  Reflect on a child’s emotion (disappointed, angry, etc.) as well as the child’s choice, such as showing self-control or any movement towards self-control.


1. Your child asks to play his/her video game (or ride his/her bike, go to a friend’s house, watch TV, etc.) after school.  You want your child to do their homework first, so here are some choices you can give …

You really want to play your video game and are disappointed that you have other things to do first.  When you have finished your homework, you can play your video game.

If you finish your homework by dinnertime (state the time) you can play a video game for 30 minutes tonight.

If you do not finish your homework by dinnertime, you will have to wait until another day to play your video game.


2. Your child does not want to go to bed.  Here are some choices you can give …

You are disappointed that it is time to stop playing.  When you have your pajamas on we can read a book (or play a game, etc.) together.

If you get your pajamas on by 7:30* we can have 15 minutes** of daddy/mommy and me time.

If you do not get your pajamas on by 7:30, you will have to go to sleep without a story (game, etc.).

*at first, you may need to give 5, 3 and 1 minute warnings leading up to the deadline

** set an egg timer so that children can track the time you have together, again you may have to give warnings of the time


3. Your child hits someone (themselves, a sibling, a pet, etc.)  Here are some choices you can give …

You are very angry, but ____ is not for hitting.  You may hit this pillow.

If the child hits the person or object again…

If you chose to hit ______ , then you chose to play in another room.  If you chose to stop hitting _____ then you can keep playing in here.

If the child hits the pillow …

You chose to hit the pillow.  That shows self-control especially when you feel so angry.

If the child hits the person or pet again …

You chose to stop playing with _____ today.  You can play with him/her again later/tomorrow.**(

***This would be a good time to suggest the child use their calm down box/corner, remembering that it is for self-regulation, not punishment.

If a young child loses the privilege of playing with someone or something for a few hours or overnight, this is the length of the punishment.  Each day should be a chance for a new start.

Adapted from Choices Teaching Control and Responsibility by Dr. Kay Sudekum Trotter

Brook Howell is Licensed Professional Counselor with Step by Step Counseling.