How to Practice Positive Discipline at Home

Positive discipline is a parenting technique focused on kindness, trust, and connection. Here’s why it may be the ideal way to teach children right from wrong. 

Positive discipline is a parenting technique focused on kindness and trust. According to Ari Brown, M.D., pediatrician and author of Baby 411 and Toddler 411, positive discipline means that showing respect, listening, rewarding good behavior, and reminding your child that you love them while teaching them right from wrong. These affirmative actions make your child feel respected and loved, which in turn, should encourage positive behavior in the future.

So, if you regularly respond to bad behavior with yelling, lecturing, or revoking privileges, you may want to rethink your disciplinary method. "Kids don't learn when they're feeling threatened," says Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., author of the Positive Discipline series and a licensed marriage, family, and child counselor. Your child may comply with your demands because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t, rather than because they’ve grasped anything about right and wrong.

worried mom and daughter hugging

Are you looking to incorporate positive discipline into your own life? Read on to learn more about the disciplinary technique.

What Is Positive Discipline?

Advocates for positive discipline don’t believe in verbal and physical punishments for kids. These strategies often trigger fear, distrust, and low self-esteem.

Instead, Dr. Nelsen's positive discipline model instills social and life skills in a respectful, encouraging way. She lays out five key criteria for positive discipline:

  1. Positive discipline is equally kind and firm.
  2. It helps children develop a feeling of connection (belonging and significance).
  3. The effects last long-term.
  4. It builds good character in children by teaching social and life skills.
  5. It shows children that they’re capable and can use their personal powers in constructive ways.

Advocates of this positive parenting technique don’t want to eliminate discipline altogether. Rather, they want to create a “loving hierarchy” that helps a child feel safe and protected, says says Shauna Shapiro, Ph.D., professor, speaker, and co-author of Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

Positive discipline aims to lead children in the right direction, and it lets parents view discipline as an instructive tool that teaches right and wrong. “If you let your toddler call the shots, it will haunt you as your child gets older and the stakes are higher. This week, it’s demanding candy at the grocery store checkout line. Later it’s going to a party with underage drinking or drug use,” says Dr. Brown, adding that the key to effective discipline is having a plan, setting limits, and following through.

The Benefits of Positive Discipline

Positive discipline has many benefits, including:

  • It's effective.
  • It promotes self-esteem and confidence.
  • It helps kids feel motivated and encouraged.
  • It encourages connectedness.
  • It models kindness and emotional stability.

Other discipline strategies that rely on shame and punishment aren't effective. “When we shame ourselves or other people, the parts of the brain that have to do with learning new behaviors are shut down,” says Dr. Shapiro. “Shame and self-judgement rob the brain of the energy it needs for changing, so the behaviors we want kids to change get stuck.”

In other words, a child will be more likely to act out again if you shame them for their behavior. In the long run, this may lead to issues with self-esteem and confidence.

On the other hand, positive discipline, like methods used in authoritative parenting, helps children feel motivated, encouraged, connected, and empowered. And since you're modeling kindness and emotional stability, it tends to lead to the development of those same traits in kids.

Also, a 2017 study on the effects of parenting and substance use found that positive parenting increased academic achievement and reduced substance use in kids.

How to Master Positive Discipline

Incorporating the positive discipline method into your life can be easier said than done, especially if you're in other parenting habits. But, with the right tools, anyone can do it. Some examples of positive discipline strategies include:

  • Redirecting
  • Positively reinforcing desirable behavior
  • Time out or time in
  • Brief reminders
  • Choosing to ignore some behaviors

Further, Dr. Brown has developed eight key points to mastering the technique.

Be a good role model

According to Dr. Shapiro, positive discipline always begins with the parent. “You need to make a change in your own life—start to integrate mindfulness and compassion” she says. Your children will learn from this behavior, and they’ll start acting with kindness in return.

Be consistent

Stick to your guidelines without backing down. Otherwise, children will think they can bend the rules whenever they’d like.

Be calm and brief

There’s no need to drag the discipline on with lectures; short and sweet comments work just as effectively.

Act quickly

Discipline your child as soon as possible, even if you’re in public. That way, the reason for correction is clear, suggests Dr. Brown.

Pick your battles

Not every bad behavior is worth the effort of disciplining; sometimes kids will simply act like kids. For example, you may correct your child for slapping their sibling, but ignore a snappy comment made right before naptime.

Be realistic

Do you really expect a 4-year-old to sit quietly during an hour-long trip to the grocery store? Dr. Brown says parents need to have reasonable expectations of their kids.

Catch your child behaving

“Your child craves your attention. Kids prefer positive attention like hugs or praise, but they’ll also accept negative attention like you screaming and yelling," says Dr. Brown. So, if you praise your child for cleaning up their toys, you’ll be more likely to see more of that behavior, and less likely to see them resort to misbehaving to get you to notice them.

Remind them that you love them

Remember that even though your child may behave badly, your child isn’t "bad." So, follow your correction with hugs and sweet words, then move on afterwards.

The Bottom Line

Positive discipline is a great method that encourages good behavior and centers kindness. While it is effective, it’s important to note that your child won’t immediately change their behaviors. “You are planting the seeds of discipline; don’t expect a tree to grow overnight,” says Dr. Brown.

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