Disciplining school age children
(ages 9 - 13)
Age 9 is a time when typically there is a lot of change in a child developmentally. And with change brings a whole new set of questions on how to discipline school age children during their transition from younger childhood to the teenage years. Parents often question where to draw lines, how to discipline an older child and how to get an older child to start controlling their own behavior.
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- Introduction to disciplining school age children (ages 9 - 13)
- Set appropriate rules for your school age child – how to draw your lines
- Create age appropriate consequences – how to discipline your school age child
- Additional ways to make consequences more effective
- Tips for disciplining a school age child (ages 9-13)
- How to help with consistency
- How to enforce consequences
- Set your child up for success - how to help a child learn self control
- Want to speed up your child’s learning process?
- How reflective listening can help with discipline
- How to begin setting your child up for independence
- Final Thoughts
- A note to our BIPOC community members
Introduction to Disciplining School Age Children
Ages 9 thru 13
The goal for all discipline is to teach your child how to control their impulses and self-correct their behavior. And the good news is that the older your child gets, the more developmentally ready they are to do those things, but they still need a lot of structure at this age.
Follow these 3 tips for disciplining school age children (ages 9-13)
- Set appropriate rules for your school aged child (ages 9-13)
- Create age appropriate consequences
- Set your child up for success
Set appropriate rules for your school age child
How to draw your lines
As a child grows, there are different rules a parent must incorporate.
Non-negotiable rules are rules for the welfare of the child or for others. They are rules which teach safety, compliance and set the limits of behavior. For example, ‘you must tell a parent before you go anywhere with a friend’. These non-negotiable type of rules make up the majority of the rules when a child is young and lessen in number as a child grows older.
Negotiable rules are rules to teach responsibility and thinking skills. These rules can be harder for parents because they are often in the gray areas of parenting. Negotiable rules set out an overall expectation, but leave the specifics up to the child. For example, ‘your weekly chores must be completed by Sunday at 6:00’. In this example, the parent has specified the expectation for chores to be completed and by when, but has left the child to problem solve and plan for when and how they will complete all their chores by the deadline.
During the younger childhood years, there should be no negotiable rules because developmentally they are not ready. But as a child grows older and reaches age 9, you should start to incorporate negotiable rules. There should be 1 or 2 when your child is 9 - 10 and then slowly continue to increase the number so that by adolescence there is more negotiable rules and less non-negotiable rules.
If you struggle with creating rules, start by basing them off of safety concerns or family values. You can watch videos about having a family meeting and defining your family values on our resources page.
As you get more used to the idea of negotiable rules, you can invite your older child to contribute to the creation of negotiable rules. It is a great way to teach them self-discipline, problem solving and acceptance of the rules.
Have just 10 rules as your core rules to start, more than that can feel overwhelming for both you and your child. For example, you can have a rule that states ‘we treat everyone with respect and kindness, including ourselves’. This rule can encompass any infraction for fighting, talking back, bullying, etc. So if you have a rule like this, and you receive notification from the school that your child hit another child you can say, ‘in our family, we treat everyone with respect and kindness, including ourselves. We do not hit because it is not kind or respectful. If you want someone to to stop doing something, you need to say stop or you need to walk away or get help from a teacher’.
Create age appropriate consequences
How to discipline your school age child (age 9 - 13)
Although they are not toddlers anymore, older kids are still going to make mistakes, they are going to break rules. It is part of how they continue to learn.
Once you have your rules created, it is time to define the logical consequences that go with each rule. Logical consequences for behavior are consequences that make sense as a result of an action or behavior, and the more natural the consequence the better.
Below are the guidelines to create effective consequences for children:
- The consequence must somehow be linked to the behavior the rule it addresses, the more logical or natural the better.
- The consequence must occur immediately after the behavior or in the very near future to be effective. This means if something happens on Tuesday your consequence should not wait to be enforced until the weekend. If the infraction occurs on Tuesday the consequence should also occur on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest if it happened late Tuesday night.
- The consequence must be consistently applied. That means every time the rule is broken the same consequence occurs, without fail. Consequences do not need to be harsh and long to be effective, if anything that just makes it harder to enforce or creates more push back from your child. So make it easy on yourself and keep it short and simple, but consistent. If your child breaks a rule have the consequence last for the rest of the day or for the next day if it is late in the day. It does not need to be longer than that to be effective.
Tip: The consequences for each rule should be set at the time the rule is created, not after the fact and not on the fly.
It is also important to tell to your child the consequence for each rule in advance, when there has not yet been a rule violation. This provides your child an opportunity to ask questions and participate in a discussion about the consequence so they can learn and agree to the consequence before it needs to be enforced. Advance warning also ensures fairness in the eyes of your child and therefore results in better compliance.
Additional ways to make consequences more effective
Giving your child a choice in their consequence can help with compliance. Keep it simple, and only offer choices that follow the guidelines for effective consequences.
For example, let’s say your child is caught taking money from your wallet without asking permission. You can give them a choice to either return the money with an apology or they can apologize and take on extra chores to earn the money they took. Once the consequence has been completed make sure you close the discipline loop by discussing with your child how their behavior was inappropriate and how you expect them to act the next time. For example, ‘thank you for apologizing for taking money without asking. In this family, we do not take from others without asking first. Next time, when you feel you need money you need to ask first or ask to earn more money’.
Tip: Create a consequence choice for when your child keeps doing the same inappropriate behavior over and over to help them learn self-control
For example, your child keeps talking disrespectfully to you. You tell them ‘in our family we treat everyone with respect and kindness. That language and tone towards me is not acceptable’ then have your child try talking to you again. But what happens when your child keeps talking disrespectfully towards you because they really want to get your attention and the easiest way to do that is to get you riled up?
That is where the consequence choice comes in. You can give your child a choice of consequences, they can either apologize and re-try with respectful behavior, or they can lose all screen time until they are ready to apologize and re-try with respectful behavior. You can add that if they don’t stop talking disrespectfully or make a choice, then you will make the choice for them and it will be losing screen time (chose the more restrictive consequence of the two).
By giving your child a choice as to what consequence they choose and telling them what you will chose, you are both previewing what is going to happen, and giving your child a chance to figure out how to control their own behavior.
Tips for disciplining a child
Parents can find disciplining their school age child more difficult than disciplining younger children because their child may give more push back and refusals to comply. Consistency, family meetings and remaining as neutral as you can when you are enforcing the consequences will help your child to learn the expected behavior and reduce the push back and refusals. It can also help to practice the consequence when everything is calm and no rules have been broken.
EYE CONTACT- Don’t require your child to look you in the eyes when they are distressed or for apologies if they are trying to avoid eye contact. Children truly feel bad when they have done something wrong and making your child look you in the eyes to apologize can feel too overwhelming, triggering feelings of shame and fear, which then can escalate their behavior. When your child is calm, that is a time you can request they look you in the eyes to talk about family rules and how they can do better the next time.
KNOW YOUR CHILD - Understand your child and their capabilities when you set your consequences. If your child has a disorder, special needs, high sensitivity or a history of trauma or intense emotions, consequences need to be adjusted to match your child. This will help your child succeed more and will make you feel more successful as a parent. If you need help with setting consequences for your child, we happily offer a free, no-obligation 30 minute consultation to get you set up.
Tip: Shame can be an unintended consequence of discipline so to help avoid this remind your child what the family rule is by beginning with 'in this family...' and use ‘we’ when correcting their behavior.
How to help with consistency
Remember for discipline, consistency is key. If you struggle with that, don’t worry you are not alone. Sometimes we are busy or we don’t have energy and we just let things slide. Or sometimes consistency is just something that is personally hard for us. To help with consistency, make sure you are setting yourself up for success as a parent by making realistic consequences for your child – simple and short.
Tip: Post your rules, with the consequence right underneath it, in a common area of your house where your child will see it on a daily basis (pictures work great for this). That way when your child breaks a rule you can simply reference the consequence on display.
How to enforce consequences
When you do need to enforce a consequence, make it as matter of fact as possible. Simply tell your child they broke a rule and reference the consequence.
If your child throws a fit or pushes back, stay as neutral as possible and reflect their feelings back to them. For example, ‘you are feeling really mad right now. You think this is unfair’. Keep your phrasing short and your words simple. Do this until your child calms down. Once you can tell your child is calmer, ask them to express their feelings in their own words or in a drawing if that is easier for them.
Use reflective listening to repeat how they feel and get confirmation that you heard them correctly. End by repeating the rule and the consequence in a matter of fact manner, and offer to help them transition to the consequence. For example, ‘would you like to hand me your device or should I go and get it?' or 'would you like a hug before or after you are done?’.
Sometimes kids just need help with that transition to get them back on track. It is also important for your child to feel your love since their own emotions, as well as a parent’s reaction, can feel overwhelming and scary to them at times. So tell your child you still love them while enforcing the consequence.
Set your child up for success
How to help a school age child (age 9 – 13) learn self control
Viewing discipline in the school age years as mostly a time for continuing to teach your child what is expected while granting them little tastes of independence to test their learning will set you up for success and help your child begin to learn impulse control.
To be an effective teacher for your school age child, it is important that you talk with your child about their behavior when they are calm and what to do the next time. A child who is age 9 – 13 years old, has more executive functioning, working memory and context than a younger child so you can talk more about why their behavior is inappropriate. You can also talk about how feelings and society factor into rules, but all this must be done when the child is calm in order for learning to occur. And you should still keep it relatively brief. While they are developmentally ready to learn some impulse control, it will still take until their 20s before they gain full control.
Additionally, children are still very focused on themselves at this age and so they need to be taught how their actions can impact others. It is not yet intuitive.
Finally, if you want your child to behave differently, you have to tell them exactly how you want them to act the next time.
The most critical step in disciplining a child is telling them what to do the next time. A lot of parents think what a child should do next time is obvious so they simply say, ‘don’t do that again’ and leave it at that. But that does not tell your child what you expect them to do the next time.
If you want your child to succeed and behave differently, you have to tell them exactly how you want them to act.
Want to speed up your child’s learning process?
Role playing with your child when you are playing or talking with them can really help them remember and practice. You can also teach discipline by asking questions or discussing consequences while you are watching a show with your child or reading a book together. For example, ‘do you think that character did the right thing? Why or why not? What do you think would have been a better way to do things?’.
Finally, asking your child the following questions can help them build their problem solving and conflict resolution skills which will help grow their skills to control their impulses.
- What happened?
- How did you feel?
- What do you think I/another person is feeling right now – help explain how you or another person might be feeling if your child does not know. This is theory of mind – being able to figure out what another person may be thinking or feeling – and is an important social development step you can help foster*
- What do you think can be done to fix this?
- Is there anything I can do to help you succeed?
How Reflective Listening can Help with discipline
When you have a conversation with your child, practice reflective listening so your child really feels heard. A lot of the time a child will accept rules and consequences as long as they feel their opinion has really been heard. So when you child tells you their story and why they broke a rule, repeat it back to them. For example, “you copied your friend’s work because you were scared you would get the answers wrong and you thought that would make me mad or disappointed”.
Remember: Reflective listening does not mean you agree with your child or even that they are going to get away with their behavior. You are simply granting them space to hear them and acknowledge them.
End the conversation with, “is there anything else you think I should know”. Make sure you have given them the opportunity to say everything they want to say and you have reflected it back to them, then you can say how you view their behavior and your opinions.
Often the hardest part of this process for a parent is to listen without interrupting your child or trying to logic with them about why their behavior was in error. Do your best to hold off on interrupting and lecturing. It takes practice, so keep trying because the payoffs with your child are huge.
Tip: A child who feels heard and seen by their parent will develop more trust and closeness with their parent and will naturally work to follow the rules.
How to begin setting your school age child (age 9 – 13) up for independence
This age is all about learning and transition, so that means the rules you have need to be very fluid.
You should start with 1 or 2 negotiable rules when your child is 9 or 10, but if your child struggles with those negotiable rules, don’t be afraid to pull the negotiable rule and replace it with a non-negotiable rule for a while. For example, let’s say you have a rule that your child can go over to a friend’s house in the neighborhood as long as they tell you where and when they are going. But you find out your child has been going to the corner gas station to buy candy when you thought they were over at their friend’s house. You first want to start by having a conversation with your child about the purpose of the rule and the impact of them breaking the rule. Then apply the pre-determined consequence for breaking the rule. Based on your individual child and their past behavior, if you can, give your child another chance to follow the rule by restating your expectation and the consequence.
If you feel your child needs more structure based on their past behaviors or continued non-compliance then replace the negotiable rule with a non-negotiable rule like 'a parent must take you to and from your friend’s house; you are not allowed to go places without a parent’.
If you end up taking away a negotiable rule and replacing it with a non-negotiable rule, make sure you have a plan to revisit the rule at a later date.
Remember: The goal for disciplining your child is self-control. You are only putting the training wheels back on the bike until your child regains their balance.
So set a time for 3 weeks or a month out to revisit the rule to see if the rule can go back to a negotiable rule based on how your child is responding. If you feel your child has not grown or demonstrated they can handle the negotiable rule yet, then leave it as non-negotiable for longer or create a new negotiable rule that still grants freedom, but a little less freedom than the other rule.
Whenever you are disciplining your child, it always helps to end the conversation with “I love you, you are going to make mistakes and that is okay. I’m here to help you get back on track and I know you will do better next time”.
By ending the conversation with love and confidence in your child, you are setting them up for success and giving them confidence in themselves.
Remember to grant yourself and your child some grace. It is important to remember that it is the first time you have ever parented this particular child in this particular stage, so it is okay to stumble and not know what to do and to make mistakes. Share those stumbles and mistakes with your child to remind you both that you are human and that you are both going through this learning process together.
*Note: The above tips are meant to help the majority of parents. Children who struggle with certain disorders, high sensitivity or trauma may need a different approach that is individualized to their needs and how they best respond. Children with neurological disorders, such as autism, struggle with developing theory of mind and benefit from more involved intervention to help develop this skill. While you can assist your child who has special needs in developing this skill, it will generally take longer to develop. If you would like to discuss personalized options for your child, we invite you to schedule a free 30 minute consultation with us so we can tailor tips that would work best for your family.
A note to our BIPOC community members
As a certified parent coach we recognize the struggles and adversities our Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities face. We also understand that due to systemic racism and racial bias, BIPOC children do not have the safety and advantage of behaving in the same manner as white children and therefore their culture of discipline is different than white culture.
We recognize the use of punishment as a parenting tool is prevalent in BIPOC communities because BIPOC parents and caregivers must protect their children from an unforgiving and biased white culture because the consequences of failed discipline outside of the BIPOC community can have serious consequences, especially as a child grows.
We do not condemn or judge any parent for parenting the best they can with the tools they have and we always acknowledge the effects culture and an environment of adverse challenges and systemic racism has on both parents and children.
We seek to help all BIPOC parents and caregivers who need parenting support in a culturally informed way to meet the needs of each individual family.
Please schedule a free consultation to see how we can support you.