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Is Your Family Out of Control?

Experts say bringing back discipline is key to getting well-behaved kids.

Set Clear Limits

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers begin purposefully testing the limits of acceptable behavior at about 18 months of age. It's up to you to set and communicate those limits. You can't expect your children to behave if they have no idea what the rules are. Long suggests making the rules very clear and specific. "If we tell our kids, 'be good' or 'be careful' it can mean so many different things. Be concrete, such as 'be gentle with your sister.'"

Set Clear Consequences

Just as your children need to know the rules, they need to be aware of the consequences of breaking those rules. Whether you use the "time out" technique or take away a child's favorite toy, there must be something tangible at stake. It's fine to explain the reasoning behind your rules, but don't expect that to be enough to make your kids cooperate. "Nagging and lecturing are ridiculous," Peters says. "You're wasting your time. There must be clear consequences."

Be Consistent and Predictable

Once you make a rule and tell your kids what's at stake, you must follow through. If you don't, they won't take the rule seriously. And if the rules keep changing, your kids may end up confused and frustrated. "If they can jump on the furniture one day and the parents don't do anything, and the next day the parents yell about it, the children won't know what the limits are," Long tells WebMD. Some children will test the limits again and again just to figure out what they are.

Parents Can Be a Good Example

You may tell your kids, "Do as I say, not as I do," but children learn by watching their parents. If you don't want your children throwing tantrums, set an example by keeping your cool -- even when your toddler has just redecorated the family room couch with finger paints. "Parents should punish their children in a matter-of-fact manner without getting too angry or upset," Long says.

Avoid Reinforcing Undesirable Behavior

When children whine or throw tantrums, it's tempting to give them anything they want so they'll stop wearing down your already frazzled nerves. But rewarding a tantrum with candy or anything else is a sure-fire way to inspire more tantrums.

Praise Good Behavior

"Discipline is not just punishment but includes positive feedback," Long says. Don't take good behavior for granted, or your kids may feel they get more attention when they behave badly. Just as praise from a teacher can motivate kids at school, praise from mom or dad can encourage good behavior at home.

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