Experts say the popular tricks most parents use just don’t work. That’s because flat-out punishment is often ineffective. If you take away one toy, they’ll just play with another. Spanking makes kids afraid of parents, but they don’t learn a lesson besides fear. And reasoning doesn’t work because kids’ brains aren’t developed enough to reason.

So, what is effective? The techniques psychologists frequently use with the most difficult kids, like those with Defiant Disorder. The techniques have been proven effective by hundreds of scientific studies, and will work on any child. Here’s a rundown:

  • Instead of focusing on ways to punish a child, decide what behaviors you want to see in them. Say, keeping their room clean, and playing nicely with their siblings. Then, when they do something on your list, praise them, because consistent praise makes kids more likely to repeat the wanted behavior. But know that our brains have a built-in "negativity bias," which means we pay more attention when kids behave badly, than when they’re little angels. Dr. Alan Kazdin, a professor of child psychiatry, recommends that for every timeout a kid gets, we should praise them three times for good behavior.
  • Don’t discipline kids too soon. When most parents tell a child to do something, like “put on your coat,” they wait only 2 seconds before repeating it, which can easily become an argument. But kids often react more slowly than we expect. So, count to five before you repeat a command, so they have enough time to comply.
  • What’s the best way to keep your kid from whining? Whine with them. It changes the equation – and makes them aware of how silly they sound. So, a “whine-fest” often turns into laughter.
  • How can you stop temper tantrums for good? Get your child to "practice" them a couple of times a day. Gradually ask them to eliminate one part, like kicking. And then effusively praise any tantrum where they leave something out. Dr. Kazdin says that’ll reduce the frequency and intensity of tantrums. And within three weeks, most kids will be done throwing tantrums for good.

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