This Is What All Parents Should Know about Positive Discipline

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What is positive discipline? Once children hit preschool age, their desire to be independent grows, and they become much more likely to test their parents limits. When this happens, parents should be very careful not to let their emotions get in the way of producing positive outcomes by using these challenging moments as teaching moments. Yet we also don’t want to be overly lenient and encourage tyrannical behavior. Positive Discipline is a method for navigating big emotional reactions in children while fostering in them a sense of independence and healthy self-esteem—helping children learn to handle situations for themselves rather than developing an unhealthy, fearful, or overly dependent relationship to authority.

Below you’ll find some very basic, but useful tips to introduce you to the concept of positive discipline. These tips were originally notes from webinar presented by Janeen Hayward, founder of Swellbeing. a service dedicated to helping parents create a harmonious family life.

Discipline vs. Punishment

  • Discipline and punishment are not the same thing. To discipline means to teach—to train someone to follow socially desired pattern of behavior. The goal is to teach your child to be self-responsible and to act in way that gets positive results, whether an authority figure is present or not. In contrast, punishment is used for the purpose of control and retribution. Young children do not commit crimes that require punishment.

Consequences Should Be Logical and Consistent

  • When we discipline children, we should create logical consequences —the consequences should follow the rules of the 5 Rs: Respectful, Reasonable, Related, Revealed in Advance, and Repeated back to parent.

Always Appear Calm

  • You should strive to always appear calm in front of your child. Children tend to pattern their behavior after parents. Staying calm also helps children to maintain their composure so they can better understand their feelings and do some problem solving. When parents yell/scream, it can be frightening and children slip into a fight-flight response. The opportunity to learn is lost.

Avoid Excessive Praise

  • Praise, incentives and rewards are actually detrimental to children’s motivation. These forms of approbation are external motivators, which means that children learn to expect/need these things in order to continue to do the desired behavior. The desired behaviors must be maintained. It is far better to use encouragement, which means to focus on the action that led to a child’s success rather than the outcome. When children feel competent and proud of themselves, they are more likely to repeat a positive behavior. We often hear parents say, “Good job” or “That was so amazing” after a child accomplishes a task. This conditions the child in the future to seek, or at least to expect praise. The child often learns to get gratification from the praise instead of from the pleasure of the activity or the joy of accomplishment.

Offer Forced Choices

  • Children need to feel a sense of power over their worlds. Most choices are made for children by adults, and this can lead children to feel powerless, which often leads to power struggles with adults. Parents can pre-empt this by offering forced choices (choice A or choice B) and by building in opportunities for children to give age-appropriate input.

Develop a Sense of Empowerment through Play

  • Carve out designated playtime (10 minutes or more) each day where your child knows that she will get to direct the play, without distractions. You can, for example, call this “Mommy-Sammy Time” or “Daddy -Sophie Time.” When children know that they get parents’ undivided attention at designated times, children will be less likely to seek negative attention.

Dealing with More Serious Behaviors

  • How should we apply positive discipline in cases of more serious negative behavior? For example, what should parents do when their children harm other children? What matters most here is that the child who inflicts harm understands the impact of her behavior, and cultivates a desire to repair the misdeed. Parents can say, “It is never okay to hit— it hurts! Look at his face. How do you think he feels? What can you do to help him to feel better?” If you find that your child is hitting a lot, she may benefit from going somewhere else to discharge that energy appropriately (i.e. clapping, banging on a drum, hitting a ball, relaxing in a quiet space.)

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