Tears, tempers and tantrums are part and parcel of childhood but, even so, coping with children who persistently misbehave can be frustrating for parents. If you’re struggling with little angels who turn into cheeky devils at the drop of a hat, read on for practical tips that will help you set reasonable boundaries, and discipline your children fairly and kindly.

  1. Know that you’re doing your kids a huge favour by applying fair and firm discipline. Children need to know what the limits are. Rules are essential in a happy home, and kids feel more secure if they understand what’s expected of them – and what won’t be tolerated.

  2. Generally speaking, the fewer rules you have, the better. Discard trivial or petty rules and concentrate on the basics. Make sure your children know what the rules are and that they understand the consequences of breaking them.

  3. Here are some ideas for ‘golden’ rules of a house. These are suggestions only, and you’ll need to add to them or adapt them to fit your personal code of conduct. If there is anything in particular that really drives you wild – such as slamming doors or shouting – then add it to the list. Your house, your rules.

    • We do what we are told.
    • We don’t hit or kick each other.
    • We don’t throw things.
    • We don’t use bad language or call people nasty names.
    • We don’t hurt other people’s feelings.
    • We are respectful of other people.
    • We take care of each other’s toys and belongings.
    • We treat animals kindly.

  4. Be consistent. These rules need to be consistently applied if they are to be of any use at all. If your child breaks the rules, be sure there are consequences, and follow through with your threats. But, at the same time, be flexible. Rules need to be modified as issues arise, and can be broken under special circumstances.

  5. Encourage your kids to contribute to the list of rules. This will help them feel they’re part of creating the family code of conduct. If necessary, write the rules out on a big sheet of cardboard and stick it in place where everyone can read it.

  6. It’s up to you to decide what the consequences of breaking house rules will be. You could, for example, send your child to a time-out, or ban all TV for a few days, or take away a favourite toy. What should never be a consequence is hurting or humiliating your child (see point 10, below).

  7. Set a good example. As the old saying goes: ‘What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’. The rules apply to you too. If one of your rules forbids foul language, for example, you’ll be undermining your own authority if you let rip with swear words in times of stress. Try to create a culture of mutual respect in your home. Yelling, threats and physical violence are counterproductive, so stay calm and firm at all times, no matter how much you feel your kids are provoking you. And let them know you expect the same respect from them.

  8. Don’t reward bad behaviour. For some children, negative attention is better than no attention at all. Instead, try praising excellent behaviour. If your kids are fighting, for example, concentrate your attention on the victim and ignore the aggressor. Celebrate with your child, praise him when he gets it right, and try not to focus on his mistakes.

  9. It’s important to discipline children in a fair and kind manner without hurting them (or their feelings), or humiliating them. Smacking, insults and verbal abuse set a poor example and send mixed messages to kids. Criticise the action, not the child: ‘Writing on the wall is unacceptable and I expect you to clean up the mess you’ve made’ is a better response than ‘You’re a naughty, naughty boy, and just wait until your father gets home’.

  10. Divert and distract. If you see that a situation is spiraling out of control, especially with an infuriated toddler who is spoiling for a fight, try defusing the situation by distracting your child. Don’t offer any sort of treat, such as a sweet, but use your creativity to find a way of derailing the tantrum: put on some bouncy music, or suggest a race around the garden, or start an activity that will interest him.

  11. Show your child how to cool off. Even very young children can be shown how to sit quietly and take a few deep breaths, or how to visualise a happy scene (such as a walk on the beach or Christmas morning) in their minds. A good tip is to create a ‘Cool-Down’ corner with comfy pillows, books and toys.