Discipline and guidance are major components of a preschool program.



Discipline and guidance are major components of a preschool program.

You need to establish your own philosophy before you can communicate this with parents.

Review the following quizzes to reflect on your opinion of discipline and guidance.

· The Best Discipline Tactics: A Quiz

· The Discipline Quiz: True or False

  1. Review Table 7:1 (SEE ATTACHED FILE)in your text, “Approaches to Guidance and Discipline with Young Children,” and choose two extrinsic reinforcers/rewards and two intrinsic reinforcers/punishments.

  2. Give an example of each choice to demonstrate your understanding of “How It Works” and explain why it is an appropriate choice for a defiant child.

  3. Explain what you would say to a parent who might question your decision to use this method.

  4. Finally, share with your classmates your favorite extrinsic reward for a 3-year-old.

7.3 Approaches to the Guidance and Discipline of Young Children

It is important to remember that the goal of discipline and guidance is to help children internalize important rules and societal expectations. If the discipline or guidance approach a caregiver uses is consistent with Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, success will be higher, and the caregiver will be less frustrated. Further, when all parties involved in disciplining a child are consistent, the results will be more effective. These various approaches are summarized in Table 7.1. An important category of learning is behaviorism, which is an observable change of behavior caused by the environment (Ormrod, 2008). Behaviorism can be roughly divided into two overall categories: rewards (known as positive and negative reinforcement) and punishments. (The exception to this rule is the social cognitive approach [modeling], which is both behavioral and cognitive.)


A reward, or positive reinforcement, is the consequence of a child’s behaviors that increases the probability of it recurring (Marzano, 2003). Rewards can be a smile or a positive personal message, such as “I love how you put the books back on the shelf.” Rewards can also be in the form of external privileges, such as the use of the computer after the child has finished an assignment. Rewards include things like money, toys, candy, dessert (after eating a main meal), tokens, and stickers.

Reinforcing agents, or reinforcers, can be primary reinforcers or secondary reinforcers. Primary reinforcers satisfy a built-in need or desire, such as food, water, air, or warmth, and are essential to our well-being. Other primary reinforcers, such as candy, are not essential, but physical affection, a smile, and cuddling would seem to be (Ormrod, 2008). There are individual differences regarding the effectiveness of these rewards. For example, for someone who does not like chocolate, chocolate is not a reinforcer. Secondary reinforcers are previously neutral stimuli that, through repeated association with another reinforcer, have become a reinforcer. A neutral stimulus is a stimulus that a person does not respond to in any noticeable way. For example, initially ringing a small bell in the classroom causes no response from the children; however, after the bell is continually followed by a snack, the bell will produce a marked response. Other examples of secondary reinforcers are praise, tokens, money, good grades, and a feeling of success.

Extrinsic Reinforcement

Positive reinforcers are rewards that increase a person’s behavior, such as a smile from the teacher after a child has helped another child solve a problem, or the feeling of satisfaction when one has completed a difficult task. They are arranged into two different categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic reinforcements are rewards provided by the outside environment.

Material reinforcers. These are actual objects, such as food, toys, or candy. While this approach is extremely effective in changing behavior, it can be counterproductive, as it focuses the child’s learning on achieving the reward, rather than on the complexities and strategies required to learn.

Social reinforcers. Social reinforcers are gestures or signs (a smile, praise, or attention) that one person gives to another. Teachers’ attention, approval, and praise are powerful and effective reinforcers (McKerchar & Thompson, 2004).

Activity reinforcers. This is the opportunity to engage in a favorite activity after completing a less favorable one. It is called the Premack principle. The more desirable activity is contingent on the completion of the less desirable one (Premack, 1959).

Positive feedback. Positive feedback works when it communicates to the child that he or she is doing well or making progress, and it is particularly effective when it gives students guidance about what they have learned and how to improve their behavior. Students think about this information in an effort to modify their behavior (Ormrod, 2008).

Token economies. A token economy is a program in which individuals who have behaved appropriately receive a token—an item that can later be traded for objects or privileges of the child’s choice. Most children under age 5 cannot benefit from a token economy due to their developmental stage and lack of experience.

Intrinsic Reinforcement

Intrinsic reinforcements are the internal good feelings that come from within the child. Feelings of success, pride, and relief at completing a task or assignment are all examples of intrinsic reinforcement. For many young children, the motivation for achieving a variety of new skills and tasks, from learning to walk and talk to toilet training and holding a spoon, come from a deep sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction. Rather than generally praising children for what they have attempted or achieved, a parent or teacher can praise the effort: “I like how you kept trying until you were able to tie your shoe” and “I see how carefully you decided which tomatoes were ripe enough to pick, and which were the ones that needed to stay on the plant.”

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement increases a response through the removal of a stimulus—usually an unpleasant one. Thus, negative reinforcement occurs when something negative is taken away to improve a behavior. Telling children they can leave the classroom to go to the playground once they have completed their math activity is negative reinforcement. Other examples include when a parent picks up a crying baby (negative stimuli) and the baby stops crying, as well as the annoying buzzer in your car that keeps going until you put on the seatbelt (you put on the seatbelt [the desired behavior] to get rid of the annoying noise [the negative stimuli]).


Punishment is a behavioral approach that attempts to reduce a child’s inappropriate behavior (Ormrod, 2008). There are two kinds of punishment: (1) the presentation of a negative stimulus, for example, scolding a child who has misbehaved or assigning a failing grade after a child did not complete an academic task; and (2) removal of a stimulus, usually a pleasant one. This could be, for example, taking away an allowance or the loss of special privileges. Both kinds of punishment reduce the target behavior. Forms of punishment used in early care, education programs, and homes include natural consequences, logical consequences, unrelated consequences, response cost, verbal reprimands, and time out. Punishment does not directly help the child gain emotional regulation or internalize accepted behaviors, but it does help children (if used consistently) know which behaviors are acceptable and which are not acceptable (Bodrova & Leong, 2007).

Problems with the Use of Punishment to Modify Children’s Behavior

Though punishment is a very popular approach used by adults with young children (both parents and early care and education staff) and can be very effective (Hall et al., 1976), it tends to be overused and is fraught with problems. For example, a punished behavior is not eliminated. It often reappears when the person doing the punishing leaves, thus requiring constant adult supervision at home and in the program. Further, punishment does not address the cause of the behavior. Often, there are clear and salient reasons why a young child is behaving a specific way in a specific situation, and it is important that these causes be addressed.

In some situations, punishment can actually lead to an increase in the behavior that is being punished. This can occur in two ways. If punishment is the only attention the child gets from the adult, the child will continue to engage in the behavior for attention. Punishment can also increase the behavior in a setting where there is no one to control it; for example, punishing certain bad language in the classroom can increase the use of the same language on the playground. Further, young children are often unaware of the specific behavior being punished, and then they believe they are being punished for being “a bad child.” This develops low self-esteem, particularly in young children who take an all or nothing view of personal criticism (e.g., “I am all good” or “I am all bad”).

Punishment can also lead to children avoiding certain places and activities. For example, a child who always does poorly at an assignment, such as math, and is punished for it, may not only learn to avoid math, but may learn to dislike school because he or she learns to associate all of school with math (Smith & Smoll, 1997).

When punishment is used on children, they are not always being shown how to engage in the appropriate behavior. The punishment only tells them what not to do and what they are doing poorly; it does not teach anything about what they should be doing instead. Often, children do not know how to engage in the socially acceptable alternative to aggression (for example, how to resolve a conflict without being aggressive). A child who grabs a toy from another child may not understand that there is another way to get what he or she wants; a child who bites another child may not have the language to communicate his or her anger and frustration. Punishment can also lead to aggression and later to bullying (Landrum & Kauffman, 2006), because it models aggressive behavior and the use of power by adults to achieve their goals (see Helping Children Develop: Do as I Do: The Power of Example).

Finally, severe punishment can lead to emotional and physical harm. Punishment can potentially lead to child abuse; many adults with low self-esteem can trace this back to receiving constant and harsh negative putdowns and punishment as children (Smith & Fong, 2004), and parents who were abused as children are more likely to become abusers themselves (Milner et al., 2010).

Natural and Logical Consequences

Natural and logical consequences are forms of punishment that make much more sense to children and teach them that certain behaviors have consequences, some of which are unpleasant.

Natural Consequences

Natural consequences are the result of a child’s behavior without any direct involvement by an adult. They teach children the causes and effects of certain behaviors. For example, if a child fails to put on a jacket, the natural consequence is that he or she might get cold; a child who comes late to lunch may get cold food or fewer food choices. Natural consequences do not work when a child is too young to make the connection between cause and effect. They also do not work when the adults involved are overly protective and do not allow children to “suffer the consequences” of their actions or inactions.

Logical Consequences

Logical consequences occur when a child must rectify a situation or repair damage caused by his or her behavior. When a child spills milk on the floor, the logical consequence is for the child to help clean up the milk; if a child draws on a table top, the logical consequence is for the child to scrub the table top clean. Logical consequences only work when the following occur:

Children are able to make the connection between their behavior, the consequences of that behavior, and what they are then asked to do. This connection develops during the preschool years, through experience and brain development.

The consequence is logical. Preventing a child from going outside to play because he misbehaved in the classroom is not a logical consequence.

The consequence occurs immediately after the infraction takes place.

A logical consequence might be to remove a child from an activity or group, which is called time away. For example, a child who continually knocks down other children’s constructions in the block area may be asked to leave for a while; but again, this consequence must be logical and timely. Because logical consequences require a child to “fix” the problem, they are rarely something the child would choose to do and thus are not often viewed by the child as a reward. However, the child learns that if he or she wants to participate in an activity, or do what the other children are doing, then he or she needs to engage in the appropriate behaviors. While time away is a form of time out (discussed later in the chapter), its focus is on making it clear to the child that removal from the activity is directly related to the child’s behavior.

Unrelated Consequences

Unrelated consequences are the punishment of a child’s inappropriate behavior with something that is totally unrelated to the behavior—as in the example of keeping a child from outdoor play after he or she has misbehaved inside the classroom. Because the consequence is not logically related to the behavior, this approach is usually ineffective (Ormrod, 2008). It can also misfire; for example, the child who is kept indoors because he or she misbehaved may need to go outside to burn off energy and take a rest from academic activities; preventing this will cause further classroom disruption.

Response Cost

Response cost involves taking away something the child previously earned. Thus, a child might have earned time at the computer by cleaning up the art area but now loses this privilege due to fighting with another child. The response cost approach is most effective when used with positive reinforcement for an appropriate behavior and when the child does not lose everything he or she has earned by only a small infraction (Phillips et al., 1971). When children lose everything they have earned, they will soon not bother to earn anything.

Verbal Reprimands

Verbal reprimands are more effective when they are immediate, brief, and accompanied by eye contact or a firm grip (Pfiffner & O’Leary, 1993). (See Chapter 6 for a discussion on this in relation to eye contact.) A verbal reprimand may also be more effective when spoken quietly and close to the child, thus not bringing attention to the child, which would cause guilt and shame. Verbal reprimands should also provide an encouraging statement indicating the caregiver knows the child can engage in the appropriate behavior (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002).

Time Out

Time out is punishment because the child is removed from a pleasurable and enjoyable stimulus due to his or her inappropriate behavior (Skiba & Raison, 1990). Time out differs from time away in that time out is a general punishment for any kind of behavioral problems, while time away is removal of the child when the child’s behavior directly results in the disruption of an activity. Further, in time away, the focus is on the child understanding the relationship between his or her behavior and the resultant disruption, and not on putting the child in a stimulus-free environment (removal is the punishment). In time out, the child is usually removed to another room or a corner of the classroom that is screened off. The time out environment should not be reinforcing, such as the school corridor or principal’s office—or frightening, such as a dark closet (Walker & Shea, 1995). Time out is usually quite short—for example, one minute for each year of a child’s age. A key for using time out is that a child’s release from the environment is contingent on the child’s demonstrating the appropriate behavior. Time out has been shown to be effective in reducing a variety of disruptive and inappropriate behaviors (Pfiffner & Barkley, 1998; Rortvedt & Mittenberger, 1994) and does not interfere with the ongoing classroom activities and events. Time out also does not give undue attention (a reward) to the child.


Modeling is both a behavioral and cognitive process of social learning by which a person observes the actions of others and then copies them. The academic term for modeling is social cognitive theory. Infants imitate facial expressions of others within a day or two after birth. By 6–9 months of age, they learn new ways to manipulate objects by watching a model demonstrate those behaviors, and by 18 months of age, they remember how to imitate an action they observed a month before (Collie & Hayne, 1999).

Albert Bandura is the theorist most associated with our understanding of modeling. According to Bandura, modeling can teach new behaviors, increase the frequency of previously forbidden behaviors, and increase the frequency of similar (but not exactly the same) behaviors (1977, 1986). From a discipline perspective, modeling can teach and increase desired behaviors, such as putting blocks back on a shelf like a teacher or classmate does. Negative behaviors can also increase through modeling (e.g., teasing Johnny because others are doing so) (see Helping Children Develop: Do as I Do: The Power of Example).

Modeling works by the learner (child) observing the behavior of the model (adult, peer). After the behavior of the model is reinforced, the learner repeats the behavior. The reinforcement of the model’s behavior is called vicarious reinforcement and is the behavioral part of the theory. The ability of the child to imitate the model’s behavior (even some time later) and the motivation to do so make up the cognitive part of modeling.

As mentioned, children can learn both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors through modeling. A great amount of research has been conducted on learning aggression from real models and from film, television, and video game models. These studies show the powerful effect of models on teaching children aggressive behaviors (Bandura, 1986). However, modeling (both real and symbolic) can also effectively teach prosocial behaviors—those aimed at helping others (Bandura & McDonald, 1963).


Do as I Do: The Power of Example

It works better than rewards and punishments to change a child’s behavior.

It works better than direct instruction to teach academic skills and concepts.

It explains why children imitate the behavior of people and characters their parents and teachers might find unacceptable.

It is one of the most effective ways for parents to help their children develop important literacy skills.

What is This Miraculous Thing?

Social cognitive theory. Commonly called modeling, social cognitive theory is a very powerful, yet often misunderstood, method for teaching young children.

Children will imitate the behavior of a role model, which can be a live person or a symbolic model such as a character from a TV program, movie, video game, or book. Unfortunately, the behaviors they copy may be appropriate or inappropriate—it works equally well for both! But social cognitive theory is more complex than simply copying a role model. The theory is powerful because it combines cognition (thinking), behaviorism (rewards and punishment), and motivation. For modeling to work, the following conditions must be met:

The model must be competent in the area or skill being modeled. While a professional athlete would be a good model for encouraging athletics in children, he or she may not be an effective model for teaching children to read.

The model must have respect and stature in the eyes of the learner.

The model must model behavior in which the child is already interested. For example, someone who can speak Portuguese is likely to be a role model for someone who is about to go to Brazil and wants to learn Portuguese. But this same person is not likely to be a role model for someone who has no interest in learning Portuguese.

The role model’s behavior must be reinforced in some way. Many children look up to professional athletes and rap stars, for example, because these stars’ actions are seen by the children to be rewarded with money and the things money can buy, such as fancy cars, big houses, and expensive jewelry and clothing.

Teachers, parents, and even children can become role models for teaching good or bad behavior. If Johnny, a popular boy in the classroom, picks on another child and other children laugh while the teacher ignores his behavior, other children are likely to engage in this kind of bullying behavior. If, on the other hand, when Johnny teases another child the teacher sternly cautions him and removes him from the action for a short while, chances are the other children in the classroom will not mimic Johnny’s behavior, because it is not being rewarded.

Uses of Social Cognitive Theory

When a teacher wants a young child to clean up after the child has played with blocks, the teacher can tell the child to replace the blocks on the shelves and threaten him or her with some sort of punishment if the task is not done, or the teacher can get down on the floor with the child and show him or her how to put the blocks on the shelf, making it a pleasant experience. Then, when the child has finished, the teacher can praise the child for helping. If a parent wants to help a child learn to read, the best thing the parent can do is model reading to the child. Modeling can be done by reading a newspaper or book, reading the directions aloud when a child wants to make something, and reading books to the child on a regular basis. This will help the child realize that reading is a pleasant and rewarding experience.

Finally, if parents and teachers want to know why a child is using bad language or engaging in poor behavior on the playground or in the classroom, they usually only have to look as far as the role models in the child’s life, which sometimes means reflecting on their own behavior and making positive changes.

Wardle, F. (2003). Do as I do: Power of example. Children and Families, 17(4), pp. 62–63. National Head Start Association.

Table 7.1: Approaches to guidance and discipline with young children

Type of discipline/ guidance

How it works




Material reinforcers

These can be primary (e.g., food) or secondary (e.g.,money). These are given to the child after the child has exhibited the required behaviors.

Be careful not to create situations where children believe

They must be rewarded for everything they do. Never reward

a whole group for the behaviors of a few.

Social reinforcers

Smiles, hugs, and kind words are social reinforcers, as is adult attention (which is why teachers must becareful when responding to negative behaviors).

This is often the best kind of reinforcement because itcreates

important trust and relationships.

Activity reinforcers/ Premack principle

Completing a less-than-desirable activity (e.g.,cleaning up the art area) is rewarded by a More favorable one (e.g., playing on the computer).

Caution must be observed to make sure this does not punisha

child incapable of completing the first task to the teacher’s


Positive feedback

This is verbal feedback that tells the child he or she is doing well and making progress.

The more specificthe praise, the more effective it is in modifying behavior.

This is an extremely effective approach because it lets

children know what they are doing correctly.

Negative reinforcement

This is increasing a behavior by removing a negativestimulus. For example, children will complete work more quickly so they can go to the playground sooner.

Rather than using negative reinforcement, teachers should

determine whether the behavior children are trying to avoid

could be made more meaningful and interesting.

Token economy

Children’s appropriate behavior is rewarded immediately with tokens, which are exchanged for material reinforcers or privileges.

Tokens must be exchanged for things students really

want; a choice should also be provided. Many believe

tokens do not work with children under age 5.

Intrinsic reinforcement

Intrinsic reinforcement comes from within the child: feelings of success or happiness, or a sense of competence or pride.

The ultimate goal of discipline and guidance is that they are

internalized. Some people believe using extrinsic reinforcers

reduces the power of intrinsic reinforcement.


Natural consequences

This is the natural result of what a child does or does not do. A child who forgets to put on a jacket will get cold on a winter day. A child who comes late to the meal may miss out on his or her favorite food.

This works only when adults are willing to let go, and to let

the child live with the consequences of his or her behaviors.

A child needs to be able to make the connection between the

behavior and the result.

Logical consequences

If a child spills milk, a logical consequence is to have him or her clean up the mess; a logical consequence for a child drawing on a table is to have him or her scrub the table clean.

The focus should be on fixing the problem and not on the

punishment. The child must be able to see how he or she

caused the problem and how the action helps to fix it.

Unrelated consequence

A child who does not complete a math assignment is prevented from playing on the playground. There is no logical connection between the behavior and the consequence.

This approach should be avoided as much as possible,

because it does not teach anything and can backfire.

Response cost

A child’s inappropriate behavior is punished by removing a privilege he or she has earned. For example, a child may earn money for a task and then have it taken away for disobeying.

This approach is most effective when combined with positive

reinforcement for appropriate behavior, and when the child

does not lose everything he or she has earned.

Verbal reprimands

This is a verbal response by the adult to the child’s inappropriate behavior. The response should not be sarcastic, in anger, or degrading. It should inform the child of how he or she can engage in the appropriate behavior.

Verbal reprimands are more effective when they are brief,

immediate, and accompanied by eye contact or a firm grip.

They should be softly spoken and include a statement

acknowledging that the child is capable of exhibiting the

appropriate behavior.

Time out

This is a punishment that removes a child from a pleasurable, engaging, or enjoyable situation. The setting should not be reinforcing and the duration of the punishment should be quite short.

Time out should be used sparingly and at the highest end of

a behavioral continuum. If it ends up being used frequently,

it is not working.


Modeling is a very powerful way to teach both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. It works by the child observing an adult or child who has prestige and competence in a certain behavior or skill.

Adults and children whom other children see as behavioral

and learning models must be extremely consistent in their

behaviors. It is ineffective to say, “Do as I say, not as I do!”

Wardle, F. (2013). Collaboration with families and communities [Electronic version]. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/