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When Kids Want Discipline

Breaking rules with a buddy

Why your child wants discipline: Children -- especially very young ones -- don't do well with peer pressure. They need you, the adult, to help enforce the house rules. And once your child's 5 or so, she'll be relieved to know she can use you as her excuse to get out of stuff she doesn't want to do ("That's against our rules -- my mom will just make us clean up"). It's a chance to teach your child how to handle peer pressure so she'll be ready when she's older and the stakes are higher, says Pantley.

What to do: Channel your inner actress and try to remain calm while telling the kids you're unhappy about, say, the way they've colored on the wall. It's tough, no doubt about it. It's tempting to flip when you know your child knows better, but it can tickle kids to know they got under your skin.

Sit the pair down and ask (sternly -- remember, this is discipline), "Where do we draw with crayons? Are walls the same as paper? What can you do now?" Then get out the cleaning supplies and show them how to scrub. Yes, you might have to do more later on, but rest assured: They've learned that when they make a mess, they clean it up.

If the kids have broken some other rule, like jumping on the bed or pestering the dog, you should still step in and tell them what's what, but you don't need to make up a punishment. Getting in trouble will chastise most kids. And you probably don't even need to send the other child home. "If you've handled the situation well, the kids will likely be sweet as pie afterward," says Pantley.

If your child seems downright relieved when you firmly step in, here's why: She can't verbalize it, but she may be thinking: "Thank goodness! The cavalry has arrived. I don't have to handle this battle alone."

And that's an important experience for her: When she's older, that feeling of safety and order will become the cornerstone of her own self-discipline.

Teri Cettina is the sometimes-calm mom of two mostly well-behaved daughters. She also writes for Real Simple and Better Homes and Gardens.