“Cut it out. Or else …”

How many times have you’ve resorted to this tired threat with your child? And how many times has it worked? Yup, you’re not alone.

Disciplining kids is one of the most confusing, difficult, and important jobs we have as parents. Research has shown that kids around this age respond to positive feedback. What’s more, they barely even register negative messages. So instead of saying, “Don’t pick at your food,” try “Please eat your dinner.”

Kids this age really just need to be told what to do. Also keep in mind that they love being told when they’ve done something right. So don’t be afraid to heap on the praise!

By staying positive and avoiding these three basic pitfalls, you might be able to sail through the adolescent years with, well, relative ease.

1. Being inconsistent

The problem: One day you punish your child for not doing his chore. The next day you let it slide. Sometimes the consequence is no TV after dinner. Other times you ground him. If you mete out inconsistent punishments occasionally and let bad behavior go other times, your child will in turn be inconsistent in his behavior.

Try this instead: Make it clear what the rules are — and the consequence of not following them. Then, without exception, follow through. (If you want to make the house rules crystal clear, post them on the fridge or in your child’s room.) Being consistent also means that all the adults in the family are in agreement about the rules. If Dad lets your kid watch TV before doing homework and you’ve told him that the TV stays off until after homework, there will be trouble ahead.

2. Not following-through

The problem: “If you don’t turn off the TV right now, no more shows for the rest of the week. I mean it!” Really? Parents often make threats that we don’t — or can’t — follow through on. Our kids know it too. And when they do, they’ll take advantage.

Try this instead: Before you announce the consequence, make sure it’s one you can follow through on — and live with. (Do you really want the whole family to skip the Fourth of July parade?) Once you start carrying out your promised punishment, your kid will know you mean business. And remember: Keep it short and simple. “No Wii until your homework is finished.” Simple, relevant, and very effective.

3. Losing it

The problem: Have you ever screamed at your child, “Be quiet!”? Seems pretty silly to be screaming about being quiet, right? Your child probably thinks so too. When  kids push our buttons — which by now they’ve perfected to a fine art — it can take superhuman strenth for parents o keep their cool. But yelling is one of the least effective forms of discipline. Kids don’t hear the words; they just hear the anger. Worse, after all that yelling, they rarely change their behavior (and you feel like a monster after seeing the frightened look on your child’s face).

Try this instead: If you find yourself in a situation where you feel like yelling, try your best to walk away. This can be easier said than done. It often helps to have a “stop yourself” word (“stop” works) so you don’t yell without thinking. Or try counting to 10 before yelling. If you can get to 10, chances are you’ll no longer have an impulse to yell. Also, leave the room for a minute to regain your composure. When you return, make sure you calmly tell your child why you’re angry: “I asked you to finish your math homework before you could play on the computer.” Then tell her (again, short and sweet, avoiding a lecture or recrimination) what you want her to do: “Turn off the computer and finish all of your math.”