Child Discipline: How Has It Changed Over The Years?

Child Discipline - Mother talking to child

Parents often wonder what they should be doing differently to improve their child’s behavior. But as it turns out, past child discipline is not a good predictor of future methods.

In this article, we will look at the latest trend in child discipline and share some tips to help you encourage and foster a positive environment so your children can thrive.

History of Child Discipline

Until the 1950s, the conventional wisdom fell toward the strict end of the discipline continuum. Parents felt that children should be seen and not heard, there should be no negotiation, and parents should make the rules and children follow them without questioning. The punishment for going against these beliefs was typically harsh. Discipline was more physical than it is today. Children were routinely spanked, slapped, hit, switched, swatted, belted, and more to enforce rules and good behavior. Of course, not all families engaged in this type of discipline but most used this form of punishment because their parents had disciplined that way.

From the mid-1950s, the approach to child-rearing swung to the opposite end of the continuum. Many studies found that other nonphysical forms of discipline worked just as well, if not better, and did not cause harm to the child. The child discipline swung to a method that focused on children’s feelings and very little on their parents’ needs. Children were allowed to rule the roost; parents were reluctant to set limits with their children and were often overly focused on their children’s feelings. Homes became very child-centered.

Currently, the most effective method has moved to the middle range of the continuum, where parents take into account children’s perceptions, temperaments, and abilities, while still holding them accountable to high standards.

If you want to get a good idea of how child discipline has changed over the years, ask your oldest living relative how their parents disciplined them. Then, ask younger families how they discipline. You may see some similarities, but more than likely, you will see a change from physical punishment to restrictive punishment through the years.

Using Spanking as Child Disicpline is On the Decline

Physical discipline is no longer common because parents can get carried away when angry and abuse the child instead of simply disciplining him. When it comes to physical punishment these days, most parents choose a different method, although some still believe in a good spanking. How you discipline your children is up to you; however, the trend now is to not discipline with physical punishment but rather take away privileges or send the child to time out. 

Current Positive Child Discipline Strategies That Work

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, positive discipline strategies teach children to manage their behavior, prevent harm, and promote healthy development.

Here are a few of the recommended strategies:

Model Positive Behaviors 

Children learn right from wrong through observing and modeling behavior that they admire. You should be a calm influence in your home and show what is right and wrong.

Set Limits

Children can follow specific rules. Explain the rules in age-appropriate terms.

Be Clear About the Consequences

Explain the consequences if they don’t behave. If they don’t pick up their toys, you will put them away for the whole day. Don’t back down. Follow through immediately for the time frame you stated. Do not use things your child needs as a consequence. They need to eat, so don’t take away meals as a consequence.

Use Good Listening Skills with Your Children

Let your child be part of the problem-solving. If your child complains about the course of action you have laid out, be sure to listen to them. If the story they tell you has more facets than just not wanting to comply, work with them to solve the problem before laying on the consequence.

Provide Positive Feedback

Catch your child doing something good and let them know that you have seen them. Be specific when you see good behavior. Praise your children and let them know that you see them trying. 

Let Logical Consequences Happen

If you make sure you praise your child for positive behaviors regularly, learn not to speak up about the non-dangerous negative actions so quickly. Your child will learn logical consequences naturally this way.  

For example, if your child throws a favorite toy and it breaks, you will have the opportunity to discuss what happened in a logical consequences sort of way with them. You threw your toy. It broke. Now, you don’t have that toy to play with anymore. Seeing logical consequences in this fashion will help them to control that behavior in the future.

Use Time-Out as a Reminder

A time-out is particularly useful when your child breaks a specific rule. It helps kids remember what they did wrong in a few words, reminds them of the consequences of their actions, and gives them a chance to calm down and reflect on their behavior without the risk of escalation. It also serves to provide children the space to calm down and think about their actions.

With young children at least three years old, you can try letting them take charge of their own time out. Just tell them, “Go to time out and come back when you feel ready and in control.” You may want to do this with older children, who may need more encouragement to be independent.


In conclusion, if you want to be a successful parent, you need to do more than provide for your family; you need to ensure that they are safe and healthy. It’s easy to tell a child to stop being naughty, but you need to teach them to respect themselves and others and act responsibly. You need to be consistent, fair, and positive and reward them for good behavior.

When you do this, they will learn the difference between right and wrong, and it will be easier for them to follow your and the world’s rules in the future.