by Dr. Grace Wilson

“If you don’t stop that right now, I’m going to come over there and…” Most parents have said this statement more times than they’d probably care to admit. Unfortunately, this kind of rash, kneejerk reaction to misbehavior can result in ineffective discipline. Rather than a quick decision, cautiousness is warranted in discipline – taking the time to ensure the right decision is made or action is taken.

Take a Moment

When a child misbehaves, make an effort to pause and take a moment before responding. While it’s true that punishment needs to be paired in somewhat close succession with the problematic behavior, it is typically not useful for parents to discipline in anger. The child will experience your anger at their misbehavior, rather than the correction you’re trying to provide.

Parents who respond immediately in anger to misbehavior are more likely to enact unreasonable punishments or to be more aggressive in their physical discipline than they may want to be. Instead, take a moment to have a cooling off time – for the child and yourself – before giving the punishment. You can send the child somewhere safe and quiet (to sit on his or her bed, for example) while you manage your own emotions and determine the best consequences for their action. During the pause, take control of your anger, frustration, or other emotions and consider what the best consequences might be for the child’s actions.

Choose the Right Consequence

When you’re choosing a consequence for a child’s misbehavior, there are several things to consider. First, make sure the magnitude of the punishment lines up with the significance of the bad behavior. Some parents will tell a child he or she is grounded for a month for a small infraction. This is unrealistic for a smaller misbehavior, and when the parent later goes back on this punishment, it undermines their authority in the future.

Second, try to choose a consequence that has some relationship with the misbehavior. Natural consequences or punishments that are in some way related to the misbehavior have a better effect than things that are unrelated. For example, if a child continually doesn’t put away their model cars when they are finished playing, perhaps the cars need to be put away for a pre-determined period of time. Finally, though, make sure the consequence you choose is one that you’re willing to enforce! I know a family, for example, whose preteen daughter was taking too long getting dressed every day before school. She changed her outfit several times before she was satisfied, and she would make everyone late. The consequence the parents enacted was to take away her decision-making about her clothing – she would have to wear whatever her mom picked out for her. They quickly found, however, that it was hard for the mom to remember to pick out an outfit, and the punishment became cumbersome on everyone! Think ahead before enacting a punishment and make sure it is something you are willing to follow through and enforce.

With cautious, intentional, principle-based parenting, children grow up secure, confident, and better able to make good decisions.

For additional information on cautiousness, shop the Character First Elementary Education Curriculum at