What Can I Expect of My Child? Limit Setting and Discipline by Age Group

Luckily, child development is a relatively stable process. This means that children who are healthy and do not suffer from any developmental delays can reasonably be expected to follow the standards at each developmental stage.

Limit setting and discipline by age groups

Limit setting and discipline need to be adapted to the age and abilities of the child. The expectations do not change, but the way the message is delivered does evolve. Parents can provide better teaching and have better success with limit setting and discipline when the development of the child is taken into consideration.

Each developmental stage demands a different approach to limit setting and discipline. Toddlers have very short attention spans as well as small vocabularies which constrain their ability manage complicated, lengthy explanations. Whereas, in contrast, teenagers are able to express themselves completely with their words and think abstractly which allows a parent to talk at greater length and discuss consequences that may not have happened. Using the same approach with both a toddler and a teen will result in frustration for both the child and the parent.

Below are general guidelines as to what should be included in limit setting and discipline based on the developmental tasks of each period.

Developmental groups:

  • Infants (0-12 months) – No discipline is needed. Infants do not have the ability to control their bodies or action at this age. The parent is responsible for keeping the child safe and cared for.
  • Toddlers (1-3 years) – Starting at 1 year, discipline should start. Discipline should focus around safety (i.e. staying in a car seat or not standing on furniture) and obligations (i.e. picking up toys after play and not screaming in the house).
  • Pre-school (3-5 years) – Discipline should continue to focus on safety (i.e. not running into the street) and obligations (i.e. getting dressed independently) as well as adding respect for authority figures (i.e. parents, caregivers, family members). Respect for authority includes activities such as following directions promptly, listening when an adult is speaking, using please and thank you when asking and receiving items. This will help the child prepare for school entrance.
  • School-age (5-10 years) – Discipline should continue to focus on safety (i.e. wearing a bike helmet), obligations (i.e. brushing teeth independently and packing school bag), and respect for authority figures (i.e. parents, teachers, neighbors). Additionally, discipline should start to include respect for peers (i.e. classmates or children at the playground), controlling desires and wants (i.e. learning to be patient, taking turns, or sharing fairly), and participating in household obligations independently (i.e. completing home chores).
  • Tweens (10-13 years) – Discipline continues to include all of the above on safety (i.e. not sharing private information over the internet), obligations (i.e. doing homework and earning acceptable grades), respect (i.e. not talking back to adults), self-control (i.e. delaying self-gratification to complete school projects or practice musical instruments), and participating in household obligations (i.e. doing laundry, cooking, setting/clearing the table). Then, additionally at this age, honesty and truthfulness (i.e. white lies, partial truths, saying one thing but doing another, blaming other people for personal faults) become important.
  • Teens (13-19 years) – Again, all of the above still are important. Additionally, discipline can begin to focus on honor, reliability, decency, trustworthiness, and morality. Examples of these types of behaviors include: practicing the family’s values, being home by curfew, going where they tell their parents they are going, standing up for what is right, following the law (i.e. not underage drinking).

Each family should interpret and use these guidelines uniquely based on their family values and morals. However, each child is capable of meeting these expectations. By encouraging our children to meet these demands, we are teaching our children to become more independent, self-assured, and capable of performing self-care. In essence, we are guiding them to become fully functioning adults.

Limit setting and discipline help our children maximize their potential and learn more about who they are as individuals while also absorbing our family values and morals.

Knowledge is power

  • What new information did you learn from this posting?
  • Did it help you identify something in your family you would like to change?

Share your experience below and what steps you plan on taking to guide your family.

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About the instructor
Proactive Parenting
Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.

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