How to Know When to Discipline

Kids throw three problems at you. Learn to identify them so you can respond.effectively with love.

Parenting’s the hardest jobs out there. Being Jewish, business is always hiring. In Israel the national birth rate’s a whopping 3.11 children. This beats out Mexico’s 2 but pales in comparison to Kiriat Sefer’s 7. The streets are teeming with children, literally. This blessing poses a challenge your run-of-the-mill 1.5 children and a dog family doesn’t confront. For large families, discipline is more a measure of if you have the energy to “deal with it.” Brass tax, even if you did have the energy. There is a fine line between disciplinarian and tyrant. When should we disciple children?

From a clinical standpoint, this question’s a blessing in disguise. You can’t dole out discipline like it’s going out of style. For one, a lot of problems kids grow out of on their own. Second, it’s ineffective and can even be harmful to be rigid and punitive all the time. Whether you’re raising Timmy and Fido or the 9th Foreign Legion, smart parenting means targeting what counts.

As a rule, there’s three different categories of behaviors kids will throw at you. 1) Blank Stare Mischief 2) Fads Going Out Fast and 3) Real Problems.

Blank Stare Mischief

Most problems are just blank stare mischief. These behaviors are outside a kid’s cognitive development. Up to age four, the “inside voice” is as real as the tooth fairy. Remind, scream, and punish all you like – cognitive awareness speeds up for no man. Short of traumatizing your child into silence, these problems are only solved by time.

Fads Going Out Fast

Fads going out fast might be on a kid’s cognitive radar but aren’t the battlegrounds parents need to die on. Time is on our side. 50% of a four-year-old’s whining is a “significant problem” according to most parents. But, around six the whining magically disappears – no spanking required. While kids might “know better,” their emotional regulation isn’t up to par yet. Counterintuitively, parents risk making these problems worse with punishments. The negative attention reinforces them. It’s more efficient and humane to wait them out.

So, what do you do with real problems? In my next article we’ll get our hands dirty dealing with that ball of wax.


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Yonasan Bender LCSW graduated from Hebrew University’s School of Social Work. He works with adults, couples, and children from his private therapy practice in Jerusalem.  To share your thoughts, experiences, questions, or a different perspective, you can reach Yonasan Bender LCSW at 053-808-0435 and at or check out his website at


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