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5 Discipline Traps to Avoid

3. Underdoing it

We've all been there. Little Jake is throwing sand at everybody within reach from the sandbox, and the responsible (I'm using the word loosely) grown-up is saying, distractedly, "You're going to get into trouble if you don't stop doing that." And little Jake keeps right on heaving sand because he clearly knows his mom isn't going to stop him.

Sometimes these types of kids are punished, but they're not bothered by it. "I take away his Game Boy, but he just plays with something else," their parents tell me in the office. Or they'll say, "I put her in time-out, but she just plays there." Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating harshness. But for a punishment to work well, I explain to parents, it needs to be something your child doesn't want to have happen again. In our house, taking away favorite toys (the length of time varies with the gravity of the offense), sending the kids to their rooms (our variation on a time-out), or losing screen time (computer and/or TV) generally works. So does "No playdates for X period of time" and, for the teenagers, "You're grounded!" Of course, every family, and every child, is different. In the office, I try to help parents think about what would be most effective; for example, taking away playdates might work for a social kid. Or if your child loves Dora, no TV/DVD for that day will get her attention.