4 Effective Consequences for Disciplining a Young Child

Making disciples of children (I agree with this article that "making disciples" is a better term than "parenting") looks different depending on the stage of life. For the purpose of this post, we'll consider a child that is under age 5 or 6, i.e., the stage in which he must learn to submit to authority.

When their children are this young, parents often overemphasize "leadership development" in their training. The truth is, a child cannot learn to lead unless he first learns to follow.

Parents must be proactive in teaching their children to willingly submit to authority (more on this in a future post). But, when a child fails to follow God's command (such as Ephesians 6:1 "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."), there needs to be consequences.

Remember that the purpose of consequences and discipline is not to bring about punitive punishment, but the goal is life change. Having said that, here are 4 practical consequences for training your young child to submit to authority: warnings, loss of privileges, time-outs, and spankings.

Be careful about warnings – how you think about them, and how you use them. A warning like, “You had better start cleaning up before I count to 3 . . .” actually trains the child to ignore your first command. Avoid those types of warnings.

Additionally, avoid making empty threats. I’ve made this mistake before. When my daughter was about 3, we were all at a social function. It was time to leave, and I had told her two or three times to come to our vehicle. Finally, I half-jokingly said, “Hannah, if you don’t come now, we’re going to leave you.” Joanna (rightly) called me out and reminded me not to do that. You need to say what you mean and mean what you say.

However, a warning can take the form of pulling your child aside and saying, “Your behavior is not right. You are being rude [or selfish, rude, destructive, etc]. You need to rethink the path that you are on, and make some better choices.”

Loss of Privileges
The amount of freedom and privileges a child (or an adult, for that matter) should have should increase with his proven responsibility. This principle is known as “parenting inside the funnel” and can be explained by the parenting video in this post.

When your child fails to be responsible with the freedoms that she has, her privileges should be reduced. As discussed in Teaching Stewardship, you need to lead your child to the level of responsibility (and freedom) that she is mature enough to handle.

You can read more about this concept in a previous post about us taking away our kids' Legos.

When your child is exhibiting foolish behaviors and attitudes, it is wise to pull him out of the situation for a moment. Giving him a time-out gives you the quietness you need to speak to his heart and head, and allows him to feel the discomfort of isolation. Additionally, what your child may need is a few minutes to “cool his jets.”

The duration of a time-out should vary based on the age of a child, and according to her temperament. Be sure to include an intentional heart level conversation at some point during the time-out, to ensure that the child understands the reason for and purpose of her being isolated.

 The topic of spankings will definitely bring out strong opinions on both ends of the spectrum. The purpose of this post is not to give a full discourse on this issue. But I will say that we have used spankings as a disciplinary tool, and I disagree strongly with those who say that spanking is always wrong.

Here’s what we need to remember: Rebellion must not be taken lightly. We need to remember that training our children is not about us, and about our own position of power. This is about a God-ordained responsibility, that parents are to lead their children. So, when your child defies your command, he is not just rebelling against you, but against God.

This is that serious. Do not shrug-off the seriousness of a child’s rebellion and foolishness against God. Your job as a parent is:
  • To help expose that rebellion,
  • To help the child realize his sin and rebellion against God
  • To lead your child towards the Cross, to help him trust in the grace and sufficiency of Jesus.

Without going into the details of the methodology of a spanking, I know that nothing gets my child’s attention like a spanking. The point of a spanking is not to vent my frustration, and it’s not a punitive action. The point of any method of discipline (such as a spanking) is to use a physical reality (pain or discomfort) in order to expose a spiritual problem (sin). A spanking is usually the most effective way to help a young child understand the seriousness of his sin.

Do you have anything to add to these types of consequences? Let us know in the comments.

Related Links:


  1. Was just turned on to Raising Godly Tomatoes website. This take on time-outs was fresh info for me. Thought I would share.

    �Time-Outs� are what modern child rearing experts tell us to use instead of spanking. When small children misbehave, the parents are supposed to tell them they will have to have a �time-out� for a little while until they can act better. For the �time-out,� the child is supposed to sit in a special chair or the like, and not be allowed to continue with their play. I always wondered how long the �time-out� was supposed to last. I have also wondered what the parents were supposed to do if their child did not want to willingly go sit in the assigned chair. I cannot believe that the average child is not bright enough to try resisting a little here. What was to keep them in the chair should they decide to leave? It seemed, from what I have picked up, that miraculously, after a short �time-out,� the child was supposed to be well-behaved once again and allowed to play. I could never quite figure out how or why this transformation would occur, although everyone seems to believe that it does.

    A short time ago, when I was at the doctor�s office, I ran across an article in a popular parenting magazine about �time-outs,� which answered at least a couple of my questions. First of all, I learned that you are supposed to begin by using a playpen for your �time-outs� so your little one will stay put. You are supposed to ignore him if he screams, cries, or otherwise protests. This may sound difficult, but it really is not so bad when you consider that the length of his �time-out� is only to be one minute per year of age!!!

    Now let�s get this straight. If little two year old Freddie bites little Suzy, Mommy should calmly pick him up and place him (perhaps kicking and screaming) in his playpen. (Before she does this, she is to tell him that she really loves him and that she knows that it is hard for him to not bite when he wants to, but that biting really isn�t very nice and that he should not do it any more.) Two minutes later, he will be a perfect playmate again and ready to go back to being with Suzy. Have you ever had a two year old? Do you believe this?

    Check out their blog (which is a book online) for more info on their thoughts on disciplining. There was also a GREAT section on self-control.
    Thanks for taking the time to write practical posts Joey!

  2. Thanks for sharing that, KK.

    It seems like the author is not a fan of time-outs. I would be too, if we were going to use only time-outs for every discipline situation (which the author seems to be implying, and which many parents do). But, different behaviors/attitudes should lead to different consequences.

    For example, repeated biting (especially in anger and selfishness) should have spankings as a consequence.

    But I do like many of the principles of the site you referred to (http://raisinggodlytomatoes.com/), especially the sections on Pride, Whining, and Fixing Parents First.

  3. If George could speak coherently, he would say: No spankings, more food bribes. LOL

  4. Did you know that for adoptive parents (according ot some agencies' policies), a lot of us have to sign that we will never spank our children? We had to assure our social worker of this before we were given permission to adopt. A friend of mine was denied to adopt from her agency b/c she said she wasn't sure if she would spank or not.

    We have had to be very creative in disciplining. So many children need families that we weren't going to let not being able to spank keep us from them. This has been hard for us. But we have managed by learning lots of new techniques. So for those adoptive families out there in our situation, we must be avid learners of creative ways to discipline our children.

    And here is an interesting perspective from my daughter, who is 6 and never been spanked. She saw one of her friends get spanked. She was very upset by it b/c "she got hit on her private parts". Hmmm. never thought about that. I had to talk her through that one. While this wouldn't keep me from spanking if we could, it is certainly something that I would have never thought of. Anyway, just thought I would put this out there!

    (I know your blog wasn't about spanking, per say. it just stuck out to me b/c we had some rebellious issues with our 2 1/2 year old this morning!! and time-out was not suitable enough for the degree of his rebellion...so i resonated with what you wrote! hope this makes sense.)

  5. Here's a consequence we use with our son where we take away his privilege of CHOICES all together - really seems to speak to his heart about who he needs to trust and why being wise in his own eyes isn't, well, wise. :)

    It also as served to be a good indicator to us of where we are possibly parenting out side of the funnel as by taking them away, it highlights all the times through out the day that we consciously and subconsciously give him choices (what book to read, which movie to watch, half a sandwich or whole sandwich...small things as well as bigger things.).

    I think I did this the first time as young as around 3( though I guess the right time would depend on the maturity of your child), when he pulled away from me in a parking lot very purposefully. Now, at almost 6, we most recently used the consequence during a time that he began "questioning" or decisions either in his actions or in arguing.

  6. My favorite example about the warnings and counting to three was my own parenting lesson from Mac when he was around 1 (now 14).

    He was playing with something he wasn't suppose to and I was across the room and told him "No, sir". He looked at me and then continued. I followed with "1", then "2" and when I got to "3", he popped his own wrist and then stopped. I thought....hmmmm, he knew he had plenty of time to get his own way and see if I really meant it. Let's just say...the counting stopped that day. It wasn't long until we changed our expectations to immediate, complete and without complaint or the softer version which I like more ...all the way, right away and with a happy heart.

    I am happy to say that with a 14 and 11 year old in the house now, I am grateful for the work done in the early years. I enjoy spending time with them and miss them when they are away. Take heart and stay strong parents with young children in the heat of what seems to be the most physically demanding years to me. Stay the course and keep the goal of their hearts ahead of your comfort or task list (ouch - that one is still my struggle).

  7. LA -- Thanks so much for all your examples from your successes and not-so-successes. I hope you know how much you've meant to us, in parenting and in ministry.