Best ways to discipline kids, per OSU study

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OKLAHOMA CITY - How do you discipline your child when he or she is misbehaving? A time out? Reasoning? Offering alternatives?

Researchers at Oklahoma State University say you may need a little bit of each to do the best job.

"Any parent who has more than one child will know that those children have very different temperaments and personalities," said Sada Knowles, who helped conduct the study, and is the middle and high school principal at Oklahoma Christian Academy. "And so a one size fits all approach is likely not going to work for most parents. You have to consider what's happening at the moment."

Knowles and her team realized many parents were receiving contradictory advice on the best ways to handle their kids, which is why they set out to conduct the study in the first place.

And they found, it may be best to balance punishment with positivity.

"You kind of have to pick your response based on your toddler in that moment," Knowles said. "Punishments can be beneficial usually when combined with reasoning and only for those most oppositional and defiant children."

The approach should depend on a child's personality too, Knowles said.

"I think one of the biggest takeaways is use your brain!" she said. "You know your child better than anyone else, you know the circumstances of the day, you've spent more time with them and know more about their temperament and what their strengths and weaknesses are, so don't buy into advice that's a one size fits all approach."

Some mothers, like Heather Head, have learned that through trial and error, using different forms of discipline on her three sons through the years.

"I think you find with each kid you need to try different tactics," she said. "It depends what the situation is."

Shea Adamson says her family is more likely to use time outs for her kids, but realizes that's not necessarily best for other kids.

"We don't use reasoning a lot," she said. "We find the consequence for the action is the best route to go.

"You do what works for you. You do what works for your family. My kids respond pretty well to time outs but that doesn't work for every family."

Georgia Lamirand agrees not all children are the same.  But the early care and education instructor at Francis Tuttle Technology Center says every child goes through the same stages.

She teaches her students to take a purely positive approach.

"I think time out is used too much, to the point where they get used to time out and they use that for gaining attention," she said. "We don't reward them for negative behavior here. We reward them for doing the right things at the right time."

The only time Lamirand teaches students to do otherwise, is if a student is a threat to his or herself or others.

But the Oklahoma State study cautions against relying on using the same discipline over and over.

"There is some evidence that there may be that sweet spot," said researcher Sada Knowles. "You can definitely overuse certain disciplinary practices with our kids."

For example, if a child whines for a cookie before dinner, parents are encouraged to offer an alternative, like a slice of apple.  But those alternatives can become problematic if used repeatedly.

"It may bring you a compromise right now," Knowles said. "But if you use that tactic too often with a child that's pretty naturally oppositional, that's probably not going to have a good outcome long term."

The key, Knowles says, is to avoid patterns of discipline.

"Just because giving in and giving them a piece of candy in the checkout line stops the crying in the moment, that may not be the best approach for socializing my child down the road," she said. "So you need to look at things down the line and tailor them to a specific kid."

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