The Power of Positive Discipline

The hardest part of parenting, arguably, can be disciplining. Disciplining has to do with parents guiding and teaching their children good behavior. It is not always an easy task as children test limits and act in ways that may not be desirable as they explore the world. It can be hard work and can sometimes trigger frustration or anger in both parents and children. There are many different approaches to discipline which come about as a result of experiences in your own upbringing, as well as cultures and communities you are a part of. Experts agree that there is no one perfect formula to approach discipline but there are some underlying ideas behind discipline that research has found to be beneficial when it comes down to it. In this post, we will talk about one research-driven approach to discipline that is also practiced within Ethos, known as positive discipline.

Positive Discipline

 Positive Discipline embodies the idea that discipline is about teaching and guiding children rather than forcing them to obey. It has to do with pointing out unacceptable behavior while at the same time making sure that the child knows that their parent loves and supports them. In a positive discipline approach, parents employ positive framing of the situations and behaviors children participate in which thus promotes self control, responsibility, and making good choices (Nelson, 2006). Each situation is seen in a positive light as an opportunity to teach a valuable social or life skill to build your child’s character. For example, when a child is angry and throwing toys, a parent might validate the child’s feelings and offer other solutions to express anger or provide comfort ( “I can see that you are feeling angry, how about you try squeezing this pillow so you can let some anger out in a safe way”).

Aversive discipline Refers to acts of yelling, spanking, or other harsh acts. Consistent use of these techniques is tied to higher risk of aggressiveness, mental health problems, and behavioral problems within children long term and short term. Take the visual on the right to reflect on this idea. This visual doesn’t come from a study related to parenting and positive discipline (rather classroom management-(Osher, 2007)) but the cycle shown in the visual resonates with the experiences a parent may experience when disciplining their child. When a child displays a behavior that may be undesirable, an adult experiences stress. The adult’s response impacts the stress levels that the child will feel after, which is then unleashed in behaviors such as stomping and screaming. What positive discipline and other approaches from research are showing is that, essentially, the response you have to your child’s behavior is going to affect how they behave/respond. 

Strategies and Positive Discipline Ideas:

Child misbehavior is impossible to prevent completely. Children will keep you on your toes with their curiosity and creativity, making them capable of engaging in behaviors and actions that parents may not expect. However, there are many positive steps adults can implement to minimize and respond to these situations. 

  • Model problem solving and cooperation, taking preventative measures for undesirable behaviors: Cooperation: Allowing children to help you decide what happens if something occurs can be good practice for cooperation. An example that I came across recently was about a family taking a drive and wanting to prevent siblings getting into arguments. The mom reminded the children before getting on the road that  when they fight, they both feel bad. The kids said  they won’t, with the parents responding, “I appreciate that and I think we should come up with a plan for what will happen if you forget.”  Involve your child in the process of deciding what happens. This allows them to cooperate and self regulate.  Problem Solving Behaviors: These are structured actions that follow specific misbehaviors. The child should be able to see how the behavior and the effect are directly related. If they have caused a problem, they can and should be part of the solution! For example, if your child knocks down or damages something, they need to help clean it up or fix it.  If they cause someone distress, they should help relieve it. 
  • Reinforce good behavior. Say things like, “I appreciate it when you…” or “That was so nice that you did that!” Focus on the desired behavior, rather than the one you want to avoid.  Children like encouragement, and may be more likely to behave well when they see that it’s worth their while (this is also why children sometimes will participate in actions you may not like- because they see that you focus on those!) One note to keep in mind is praise versus encouragement (see link here). 
  • Be mindful of your own needs and reactions. Thinking about that cycle shown above, remember that your response and reaction will affect your child’s response to you. Parenthood is hard. Sometimes parents need to take a moment for themselves. If you feel yourself getting really upset, make sure your child is somewhere safe and then take some time to calm down. It’s important to remind yourself that you may need to teach your child many things over and over before they are developmentally ready ( after all they have only been in this world for less than a decade)! Minimize your words and maximize your actions (a cute phrase I came across is “I love you too much to argue”). Remain the adult in the situation and do what needs to be done without guilt and shame. 
  • Redirection: This strategy can work when you notice your child not following the rules and being uncooperative. Quickly get your child’s attention and introduce another activity. Pre-verbal children might need supervision, distraction, and redirection. Quietly take your child by the hand and lead him/her to where he/she needs to go. Show them what they can do instead of what they can not. A child that hears “no/don’t”, will probably tune those directives out. Better to lead here with actions than words. For example, a child acting out at the grocery store can be enlisted in helping find the apples.
  • Choices: Be respectful when you make requests. Don’t expect children to do something “right now” when you are interrupting something they are doing. Ask, “Will it work for you to do this in five minutes or in ten minutes?” Even if you don’t think a younger child understands completely what you are saying, you are training yourself to be respectful to the child by giving choices instead of commands. 
  • Warnings: Along the same lines of being respectful to the child is giving them some warning. “We need to leave in a minute. What is the last thing you want to do at the park?” An analogy to think about this is when you are writing an email and someone comes to interrupt you. You may have a final thought or need a few minutes to finish what you were writing. In the same way, your child’s play is important to them and they may need time to finish up as well.  Giving a warning provides them that same respect and thought you need when finishing up that email. 
  • Keeping your tone Firm, but Kind : Your attitude is a key element in being kind AND firm. Kindly follow-through without anger, modeling with words that you would want your child to use (‘please, thank you’ etc).  If you are too angry to follow-through kindly, you may need to take a moment to calm down before dealing with the situation (Sometimes it may even be helpful to calm down together with your child. Everyone can practice some Yoga Breaths like Ms.Maggie has taught. ☺️ It has been said before to never underestimate the power of a deep breath.)

More Resources to Share

Positive Discipline broken down by age group 

Positive Discipline Blog (as much as we love you reading our blog, here’s one specifically dedicated to positive discipline if you are more curious) 

What is really the reason behind my child’s behavior- chart depicting different needs  

Same Chart but for birth- 3 years : This chart really gets to the belief behind the behavior. When your child does something you do not want them to do, it is useful to ask yourself, what do they really want to accomplish with this behavior? This then allows  for getting to the crux of a problem rather than implementing a short term fix (think of it as targeting the problem rather than the symptom). 

Different parenting blogs and essentially, different families, work in different ways. The strategies listed above all fall within positive discipline. This doesn’t mean that you have to do all at once. Do what works best for your family, keeping in mind that your goal is to help your child mature into a responsible, respectful and resourceful human being. With a positive mindset towards discipline along with all the love and care you already provide, they are well on their way. 

Till Next Post, 

Aleezeh Makani 

Ethos Early Learning Center Educator