Disciplining young children: the role of verbal instructions and reasoning

Pediatrics. 1995 Aug;96(2 Pt 1):336-41.


Pediatricians are often asked to advise parents who are having difficulty managing the oppositional behaviors of their toddlers and preschool-age children. A large number of articles provide advice to pediatricians and parents on effective disciplinary strategies. However, despite the fact that verbal explanations, reasoning, and instructions are commonly used by parents, few articles directly address the use of these strategies to affect children's behavior. In this paper, we review studies that explicitly investigate the ability of adults' verbal explanations or instructions to alter the behavior of young children. These studies suggest that under most circumstances, verbal explanations and instructions are not effective in changing young children's problem behaviors. We then discuss how theories in developmental and behavioral psychology help explain the limitations of using verbal reasoning and instructions to change young children's problem behaviors. Finally, we provide some recommendations for parents on the use of verbal explanations and instructions in disciplining young children.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child Development
  • Child Language
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Thinking*