Q&A: Changing Your Discipline as Children Grow Older

For each stage of development, the method of discipline changes.


By Dennis and Barbara Rainey


What’s the best way to discipline children as they grow older?


Barbara: The toddler and preschool years are a time to lay the groundwork for behavior and for moral choices in your children. Once you’ve got a problem conquered in your 4-year-old, it’s easy to think, That’s been taken care of, and my child won’t ever do that again.


Unfortunately, it’s very common for the same issues to crop up again when the child is 6-9 years old. There’s a lot of repetition in the discipline process in the pre-adolescent years. Spanking gradually decreases during this older stage. Five- and 6-year-olds get far more spankings than 7- and 8-year-olds, or 9- and 10-year-olds.


Dennis: At this time, you need to be a good student of your child and evaluate other forms of discipline that will work. For example, when our kids were at home we had a chore box—a highly productive form of discipline—for the kid who tried to get away with doing as little as possible. The outside of the box said, “For those who care enough to do the very least.” Inside the box were 25-30 of the most unpleasant chores that needed to be done around the house. We would have the child open the box, close her eyes, reach in, and draw one out.


When our kids started griping and complaining frequently we found a jar and put some coins in it. Each time a child complained a coin was taken out of the jar. We then informed our children that they could keep whatever was left in the jar at the end of 30 days, but if they went through all the coins in the jar, we would start taking from each child’s allowance. Thus, the jar is both a reward and a penalty.


This process never ends with children, but you can drive these points home with punishments for negative behavior and rewards for positive behavior.


As children transition from grade school into junior high and high school, spanking becomes obsolete and you shift to removing opportunities and privileges from the offending child. Your teenager is going to want to be trusted with more and more, but he or she needs to be faithful with the little things first.


During your child’s teen years you need to remember to follow through on the promise to remove privileges. Avoid undermining your own discipline. One of our neighbors grounded his son from driving his truck for two weeks because the boy was five hours late for dinner. But while the kid was grounded, his dad added a roll bar, a new stereo, and new wheels to his truck. This communicated to the kid, “Not only can you get away with it, but it sometimes pays off.”


Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” This verse makes the point that when our children disobey there needs to be a penalty, a consequence. If they learn this when they’re young, they will be more responsive to God as they grow older.


Copyright © by FamilyLife. Used with permission.


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