Testing the parents starts in a child’s first year. When she drops food or a toy over the edge of her high chair to see whether a parent will pick it up for her, she knows she’s testing the system. “How many times can I get away with this?”

At first, parents may turn this back-and-forth into a game. The child will continue until the parent makes it clear by saying “That’s enough” or “No more food,” or by removing her from the high chair to change the subject and end the game.

As a child gets older, some rules change. It can be hard to for her to adjust to them. So she may disobey when she isn’t sure about the new rules.

A child may also disobey when she knows the rule but can’t bear the frustration she feels when she gives in to it.

When facing disobedience, a parent will do well to step back and pause:

Stay calm and in control. Your child learns to handle her frustration by watching you.

Evaluate the child’s motivation in disobeying you.

Ask her if she knows what the rule or expectation is.

Make sure she understands that the rule applies to the current situation.

If she truly doesn’t understand the rule, then this is a learning opportunity. If she seems genuinely surprised to find out she’s done something wrong, and interested in doing better the next time, punishment may not be necessary. Still, you will both feel better if there is a chance for her to make up for what she’s done. One way is to say “I’m sorry” — especially if she means it.

Use your behavior as well as your comments to let the child know that she has been disobedient. In a calm, low voice (this will catch her attention quicker than an out-of-control voice), say: “You simply can’t do this. I need to stop you until you can stop yourself.” This kind of statement is useful at any age.

If it’s necessary to go further, then you may need to use a time-out to help the child calm down and think about what she’s done; or a denial of privileges that her behavior has shown she is not ready for.

For a small infraction, it may be enough to let the child know that you are aware of her disobedience and that you expect better behavior from her. Disciplinary measures become less effective if overused.

Make sure your child learns from your discipline. If your child knows that what she did was wrong, why did she do it? Out of anger? To get your attention? Because she just couldn’t resist the temptation?

None of these will excuse her behavior, but understanding her motivation will help you decide on an effective response.

If a child has acted out of anger, she still needs to face the consequences of her behavior and make reparations. But she will also need a chance to understand what has angered her, and to make sure that those who care about her understand as well.

A child who disobeys to get attention needs a response that doesn’t involve more attention, which would just reinforce her behavior.

A child who just can’t resist disobeying will also need to face the consequences of her behavior, and to try to make up for what she has done. But she should also have help in learning how to control her impulses: “The next time you really want to take something that isn’t yours, you’ll need to try to stop yourself and remember what happened this time.”

This article is adapted from “Discipline — The Brazelton Way,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. Questions may also be sent by email to:

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