Why “Go to your room!” isn’t an effective discipline method

You’re frustrated after telling your toddler the same thing numerous times, but before you lose your cool, take a deep breath and consider this expert advice. By Thobeka Phanyeko


Telling your toddler to go to her room is a popular discipline method among exasperated parents, but have you ever stopped to consider if it’s effective? Educational psychologist Dr Ian Opperman explains that this method does not help your child identify what she did wrong, but means you have also not been specific regarding discipline. “Children’s rooms are filled with things to keep them busy and they often forget they’re being punished and what they’ve even done wrong.”

ALSO SEE: 7 discipline mistakes parents make and how to fix them

He further explains that giving in (saying, “Do whatever you like.”), telling your child to think about what she has done (When she doesn’t know what she has done wrong), telling your child to say sorry (when she  isn’t sorry or doesn’t understand what she’s sorry for), saying no to everything (instead of explaining why you are saying no), are not effective discipline strategies either. So, if none of these methods work, you might be wondering what does?

Dr Opperman shares the following discipline tips:

Keep calm and avoid being too emotional

You need to clearly explain to your child what she has done wrong, why it’s wrong and why she’s being punished. You need to keep what you say to your child short and to the point. Also, learn to set expectations for your child, verbalise what is expected of her and let her understand that there will be a consequence for her behaviour. For example, we are going to the shop and you can choose one sweet only. If you throw a tantrum, you will not get a sweet at all and when we get home you will sit in the naughty corner. Some suggest that you should allow your child to make a choice to avoid a tantrum over something she wants, like choosing one sweet from the shelf in the shop.

ALSO SEE: New ways to say “no” to avoid toddler tantrums

Be clear about what punishment you are enforcing

“Go to your room” could mean go to your room and play or watch TV for as long as you like. Instead, tell your child what punishment they will receive, for how long the punishment will be and what is expected of her. For example, you will sit on the chair, facing the wall, in the corner, for 10 minutes.

Be consistent and persistent with discipline

If you put your child in “the naughty corner” and she gets up and walks away, you need to put her back in the corner over and over. If you have disciplined your child for something she has done wrong and she does it again, she needs to be punished again, irrespective of the circumstances; for example, it can’t be OK to jump on the couch at grandma’s house, but when you do it at home you are punished.

Try to prevent the “naughty” behaviour

Perhaps your child was bored, not stimulated, or left by herself, which is why she was “naughty”.

Sometimes children don’t want to share and act out. To avoid conflict when children play, ensure that there are enough toys for both children to share. In a case where there are enough toys, yet the children continue to argue over one toy, remove the toy.

Use distraction to redirect your child’s attention

For example, if your child insists on touching the glass ornaments in a shop after your have told her not to. Show her one object, let her touch it to see what it feels like, satisfying her inquisitive nature, and then redirect her attention with a toy in the trolley.
If redirecting doesn’t work, explain that if she continues with the behaviour you will have to leave. Remember,  you have to follow through with the discipline strategy once you have verbalised it to her.
In other words, you remove your child from the situation or remove the object from the child’s field of vision.

ALSO SEE: Your survival guide to shopping with a toddler

Children learn through modelling what they see

You can’t tell your child she isn’t allowed to shout at you, but then you and your partner shout at each other when having a disagreement.

When your child has perhaps written on the wall, show her the writing on the wall (visual) when you explain to her that she’s not allowed to do this before you then implement the punishment.

Always remember to praise your child

When she listens, does what you asked, behaved in the shop and didn’t throw a tantrum, acknowledge the desirable behaviour and tell her you’re proud of her.

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