What is positive discipline?

It should be unnecessary to use “positive” as an adjective to describe discipline. Sadly, though, negative conditioning and punishment have become synonymous with discipline in many homes, mainly because many of us were raised with punishment and we know no other way to discipline. When children are beaten, they often grow into adults who beat, despite how they hated it themselves.

The origin of the word “discipline” is found in the Latin disciplus, meaning one who learns. So discipline is about learning. Positive discipline empowers and promotes understanding and cooperation.  

Use these 6 steps to guide you towards establishing positive discipline as a culture for learning, at home.

Step 1. Understand your child

The first step involves knowing your child’s temperament.  There are nine temperament types:
Activity: Is your child always on the go, or is she relaxed and enjoys taking her own sweet time?
Rhythmicity: Is your child regular in his eating and sleeping patterns OR somewhat haphazard?
Sociable: Does your child enjoy meeting new people and going to new places or does she tend to sh away from new people or experiences?

Adaptability: Can your child adjust easily to changes in routines or does he resist transitions?
Intensity: Does she become excited by new situations, OR does she react calmly and quietly?

Mood: Is your child generally sunny natured or is she slow to warm up? Does his mood shift frequently or is he usually even-tempered?

Persistence and attention span: Does your child stick with an activity until completed or is she easily distracted and happy to give up if a task seems challenging?

Distractibility: Is it easy for your child to block out distractions and remain focused on a task or can external stimuli make it hard for him to concentrate?

Sensory threshold: Is she sometimes bothered by loud noises, bright lights, food textures, or the feeling of fabric or labels in clothing?

The answers to these questions will help you know what to expect of your child in different situations and how to support his or her needs.

Step 2. Understand yourself

As important as it is to understand your child, it is equally important to be honest with yourself about your parenting style and your behaviour patterns.

The four important dimensions of parents have been indentified as:
Disciplinary strategies
Warmth and nurturance
Communication styles
Expectations of maturity and control

Authoritarian Parenting – children are expected to follow strict rules set by parents.  Parents will often respond to queries with ‘because I said so” and may believe children should be seen and not heard. They are very focused on obedience and the training of their children.

Authoritative Parenting – these parents also establish clear rules and guidelines but are much more responsive to children’s questioning authority. They are more nurturing than Authoritarian Parents when children fail to meet expectations and are assertive but not intrusive or restrictive.

Permissive Parenting – these parents are more non-traditional and lenient. They generally have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often seeming more like a friend than a parent.

Uninvolved Parenting – this style of parenting is characterized by very little communication and low expectations.  Parents are generally detached from their child’s life.

Over-controlling and harsh
Kind and firm
“The more you suffer, the better you learn” – focus on suffering
“The more you learn, the less you suffer” – focus on learning
Misbehaviour is a crime and children are bad
Misbehaviour is a poor choice; which even good children make
Parents responsible for controlling children
Parents responsible for teaching children self-control and holding children accountable for their actions
Uses condescending lectures and blame
Is respectful and focuses on solutions
Respects only parents’ rights
Respects parents’ and children’s rights
Arbitrary; based on parents’ whims and anger
Logically related to misbehaviour
Reactive (revengeful)
Reminds child of past mistakes “I told you so”
Allows quick return to normal routine
Decreases self-esteem
Maintains self-esteem
Children become immune, developing an “I don’t care attitude” as severity of punishment escalates
Children care about behaving well and correcting mistakes
Resentment builds, rebellion increases
Respect and responsibility grows, self-control and self-discipline increases
Be a role model of disciplined behaviour yourself - practice what you preach
Appreciate your child’s temperament
Encourage the behaviour you want to see by catching your child when he’s being good, pointing out how well he’s doing
Be interested in your child’s activities and enjoy his or her company
Be on the look out for underlying needs and feelings
Give clear, specific instructions
Establish routines and follow them e.g. meal times, bath and bed times, etc.
Preempt transitions by planning for them. Pre-school children find change, and moving from one activity to another, difficult
Acknowledge and encourage rather than praise
Love unconditionally and never threaten abandonment
Offer choices within limits of acceptable alternatives “Would you like to change into your pyjamas or brush your teeth first?”
Communicate your own feelings “I’m am so annoyed and frustrated right now”
Validate your child’s feelings too “I can see that you are really angry”
Demonstrate appropriate behaviour yourself so young children learn what to do
Use positive language “Yes ” rather than “No” e.g. “Yes, you can go out to play, after you have put the toys away.” “Making your bed would be very helpful”
Give information “Littering means that somebody else will have to pick it up for you” 
Do odious or difficult tasks together “ I think we should say sorry to Emily”
Physically remove or restrain your child if necessary
Show children how to make amends if they’re to young to do it alone
Expect restitution if rules have been broken e.g. Make sure the toy is returned or replaced; the wall washed; the room tidied, etc.
Take action yourself i.e. Say sorry if you have broken a rule or hurt someone’s feelings 
Allow natural consequences e.g. If your child has forgotten to take his PE kit for kindergarten, let him be reminded by his teacher
Set and apply reasonable restrictions like grounding or removal of privileges
Use self-control time-out “You can join in as soon as you are ready to play without snatching” (Visit zerotothree.org for information on time out)
Use logical consequence so your child understands that his choice means conditions apply

Studies which focus on parents’ responses and attitudes towards these dimensions have enabled the identification of four parenting styles.

IMPACT: children can be obedient and proficient but often with low self-esteem, poorly developed social skills and rank lower in happiness indexes.

IMPACT: children generally are happy, capable and successful.

IMPACT: children generally rank lower in happiness, and self-control. They are also more likely to have difficulty with authority and this can affect performance in school.

IMPACT: these children unfortunately rank lower in all areas – happiness, self control, self-esteem, social awareness and academic competence.

Step 3.  Recognise the difference between discipline and punishment
The effects of punishment are long-lasting and far-reaching. It is never excusable or defensible to hit, beat, spank, poke, or inflict corporal punishment on a child.

Punishment vs Discipline

Step 4. Aim for cooperation rather than obedience

Offering children choices, within reasonable limits, enables them to cooperate and make their own decisions. Children raised with rigid limits, and few or no choices, are unable to think for themselves. Rather than ordering your child to bed, you might ask “Would you like to hear one more story or play with your dinosaurs before bedtime?” The response values the child’s developing right to choose.

When children obey out of blind fear, it may work in the short term, while building lasting resentment and rebellion over time. Positive cooperation on the other hand almost always works and promotes team work, self-responsibility and mutual respect – win: win!    

Step 5. Develop a tool box for positive discipline
To establish ground rules for children to follow, we need tools of prevention for use BEFORE incidents of misbehaviour:

DURING inappropriate or anti-social behaviour we need tools of guidance:

With the best will in the world, you will still need tools of consequence to help children learn what to do AFTER things go wrong:

Step 6. Take action!

At Chiltern house forum, children are encouraged to express themselves confidently, that way they are able to learn to take in feedbacks positively from their teachers and improve their behavior and actions. 

It takes a great deal of awareness, pre-planning and collaboration between parents to establish a culture of positive discipline. But it enables children, and adults, to form positive relationships at home, at work and at play, and to be responsible for their jobs, emotions, bodies and behaviour. It’s a more rewarding, healthy and enjoyable way to live, so why not choose today to give your child the best chance to lead a positive, self-disciplined life? Positive discipline starts with YOU!


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