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Disciplining Your Toddler, Preschooler, and Young Child Introduction

Angela Oswalt, MSW, Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

image by Tanya Little (lic)This topic center covers parenting and child development of preschool children (early childhood aged 3 to 7. For a complete review of the theories of child development upon which this article is based, please visit our Child and Adolescent Development topic center. For coverage of child development and parenting topics applicable to infant children (ages 0-2) please visit our Infant Parenting and Child Development topic center. For information on parenting and child development of middle childhood children (ages 8 to 11), please visit our Middle Childhood Parenting and Development center and Child Development Theory: Middle Childhood center. For information on parenting adolescents (ages 12-24), please visit our Adolescence Child Development and Parenting and Child Development Theory: Adolescence topic center.

A core part of a parent's job description involves taking responsibility for raising kids so that they will grow to become responsible, healthy, and capable adults. Part of this task requires providing for children's basic needs. The other crucial part of the parent's task is to teach children how to take care of their own needs and how to develop judgment skills so they can make good choices as they move toward adulthood. Parents teach these important skills by providing discipline.

Often, parents use the words, "discipline" and "punishment" interchangeably. Some people don't think there's a difference. However, these words do not really have the same meaning. The word "discipline" comes from the root word "disciple," which means "to teach." To "punish" means to inflict pain or loss (e.g., taking away something) upon someone because of an unacceptable action or behavior. There are many ways to teach someone right from wrong that do not involve punishment.

In this article, we primarily focus on how parents can apply effective and safe discipline strategies as a means of helping children to learn how to make good choices. Research suggests that positive discipline strategies are a more useful means of teaching children how to make appropriate choices than are more negative punishment-oriented strategies. This article is organized with our other articles concerning Early Childhood (covering an age span between 2 and 7 years old), however, we are primarily focused here on describing positive discipline methods useful for working with preschool-aged children aged 5 or younger. Other articles† cover discipline techniques appropriate for school-aged children and teenagers.

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