What to Do When Discipline Doesn't Work

Do you feel that discipline doesn't work with your child? In this article, we'll tell you what you may be doing wrong and how to fix it.
What to Do When Discipline Doesn't Work
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 27 May, 2023

Many parents feel lost at times and seek professional help for guidance when discipline doesn’t work with their children. We don’t know how to deal with misbehaviors at school and at home or disruptive behaviors that affect our lives. It’s then that we realize there’s something we’re not doing right.

Asking the right questions can make us figure out and identify what’s going on. That way, we can apply new tools and improve discipline at home with our children. Although this always has to be based on love, respect, communication, and trust from all family members. In this article, we’ll help you to know what to do if the discipline you use isn’t working. Keep reading.

Find out what to do if discipline doesn’t work with your children

If the discipline we apply with our children doesn’t work, it’s important that we ask ourselves a series of questions to find out what the reasons are.

Is the discipline I use consistent?

Discipline works if we’re consistent. That is, we must always apply consequences after misbehavior. Otherwise, our children won’t be held accountable for their behaviors. Therefore, it’s important to be consistent, realistic, and very patient.

A little girl who's angry because she's facing the consequences of her misbehavior.
Many parents focus on applying negative consequences when a child engages in inappropriate behavior. However, this doesn’t solve behavior problems.

Are my expectations appropriate?

Many times, children will test our patience, even when we use discipline that works. So, if our expectations aren’t appropriate for our child’s age or abilities, our authority will suffer. As a result, the child’s behavior won’t change.

For example, a 2-year-old child will have frequent tantrums because they don’t yet know how to express themself through language and this is completely normal. On the other hand, adolescents may have rebellious behaviors in the search for their identity, which is also considered normal. If we’re clear about all this, our expectations of our children will be realistic, which will help us to apply more efficient discipline.

Is there a way to motivate good behaviors?

If children don’t have reinforcement to motivate them to change their behaviors, they’ll most likely not change them. Therefore, it’s much better and more effective to give positive consequences when they display the behaviors we want. In that regard, we can use a points chart to motivate them to get the ultimate reward for their effort.

When discipline doesn’t work, could it be that I’m reinforcing my child’s bad behavior?

It’s possible that, at times, parents, without realizing it, may be reinforcing bad behavior with negative reinforcement. For example, when we pay attention to them, even if it’s to scold them.

To avoid this situation, what we have to do is to ignore that negative behavior. That is, we shouldn’t respond, because otherwise, we accentuate it negatively. On the contrary, it’s much more effective to reinforce our children with positive attention when they behave well.

A mother smling while her toddler daughter brushes her hair.
It’s important to work on children’s emotions and self-regulation so that they can understand those of others.

Can I teach my child other behavioral skills?

With our own example, we can be good role models for our children. Many times, children or adolescents have problems in this regard because they lack the skills and tools to control themselves. For example, a child who doesn’t know how to express how they feel may do so in the form of aggression.

What to do if discipline doesn’t work with my child

You may feel at some point that discipline isn’t working for your child. However, what you need to do, in addition to all the questions you have to ask yourself, is to use positive discipline. If you apply it, you’ll educate your child in mutual respect, understanding, and affection. In this way, you can favor their emotional development and strengthen your emotional bonds.

Remember to be patient and consistent with rules, consequences, and strategies when educating your children. And don’t forget that, if you have any doubts, you can seek help from a professional.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Nelsen, J. (2001). Disciplina positiva. Editora Cultrix.
  • Fernández, R. (2007). Disciplina positiva. Una herramienta imprescindible en la metodología comunicativa. Revista electrónica E/LE, 1-25.
  • Vega, L. G. (2020). Castigar no es educar: Todas las ventajas de la Disciplina Positiva. La Esfera de los Libros.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.