Positive discipline? That sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?
I mean, we’re supposed to use discipline to correct unwanted behavior, not have a good time.
The term itself is misleading and has nothing to do with happy vibes. Positive discipline is a way of teaching and guiding your children by being firm in letting them know what behaviors are acceptable.
Overall, the idea of positive discipline is to teach, not punish.
Children are natural experts at knowing how to push our buttons – but they don’t do it specifically to drive us crazy.
Acting out is a child’s way of reducing their stress and trying to express emotions they don’t understand or can’t verbalize. It also functions as a means to gain attention and control.
All of this does not give children a free pass to behave however they want. It’s our job, as parents, to guide them and teach them how to behave appropriately.
The best way to do this is to show them what behaviors are good and what behaviors are bad.
We can do this by disciplining our children and using their behaviors as opportunities to teach them.
And you can do this by not punishing your child at all!
Don’t believe me? Read on to learn the differences between discipline and punishment:
What is the Difference Between Discipline and Punishment?
While both of these methods deal with a child’s negative and unwanted behavior, there is a vast difference between the two when you look at the definitions:
Disciplining works by encouraging and reinforcing good behavior while instilling consequences to discourage negative behavior.
This method helps children learn from their mistakes as well as how to manage their behaviors, solve problems and deal with their emotions.
Common strategies of discipline include time-outs and removal of privileges.
Punishment, on the other hand, uses fear, shame and guilt to control a child’s behavior instead of trying to teach the child. When children are punished, they are made to “pay” for their mistakes and offenses.
Oftentimes, children will internalize the punishment and perceive themselves as “bad” because they behave “bad”.
Corporal punishment is a form of punishment that uses physical pain to correct a behavior, such as spanking or other forms of abuse. However, punishment can still involve emotional and verbal abuse as well as consequences that are harsh and disproportionate to the behavior.
Frustration and Desperation
Now, I don’t want you to feel that if you’ve ever punished your child that you are a bad parent.
Most times, punishment stems from a parent’s frustration and desperation.
It happens but as long as it doesn’t happen regularly, you’re not being a bad mom. A single spank is not going to mess up your child and create a monster-person later in life.
Just be mindful of the fact that regularly punishing your child does have dire consequences.
How Does Punishment Affect Children?
Punishment is effective in squashing unwanted behaviors, but the effects it has on children are not worth it. Here are some ways punishment can negatively affect a child:
- Punishment instills fear. Children will develop a fear of their parents as well as fear of having their possessions taken away and their privileges revoked.
- Punishment makes children feel unsafe. Physical punishment will cause children to fear for their own well-being.
- Punishment confuses children. Because punishment doesn’t teach children, they do not understand why their behavior was wrong or how their behavior affects others. They end up lacking empathy.
- Punishment teaches children to hurt others. Children learn what they see so when they are punished and abused, it teaches them that it’s okay to treat others the same way.
All these effects of punishment will make it difficult for children to know how to deal with others later in life.
The Principles of Positive Discipline
Positive discipline operates on the principle of teaching your child instead of punishing them.
Does that mean you’ll never take the Xbox away when you’re at your wit’s end? Nope.
When you exercise positive discipline, you work through a series of steps to help your child before dishing out a consequence which is, in most cases, inevitable.
But it’s all about the journey right? Even if the situation ends in a consequence, you have provided supportive steps along the way.
Here’s a roadmap to using positive discipline:
Since children often use behavior as a means of communication, it’s important to try and understand what led to that behavior. Oftentimes, a tantrum is not just an inexplicable meltdown – there’s usually a reason.
Connecting with your child involves controlling your reactions and trying to respond appropriately. I know it may seem pointless to try and talk to a kid who’s in the middle of a nuclear meltdown but, even if they don’t absorb what you’re saying, you’re giving them that connection and invitation to communicate.
Because children typically act out because they can’t describe how they feel, giving them the words is a useful communication tool. Acknowledge their feelings by saying something like, “I can see that you’re [insert feeling here].”
Make sure you are listening and not arguing with your child. This is their time to talk and sort out their feelings.
As your child gets older, these simple conversations may be enough to dissolve the situation. However, don’t expect your two-year-old to sit down and have a heart-to-heart just yet – it’ll come.
When your words of support seem to be going in one ear and out the other, it may be time to shift gears and switch to a new activity. This can sometimes help alleviate the behavior with smaller children.
But I know that your older child is not going to fall for the ol’ “bait-and-switch” so give them choices of what they can do instead of what they can’t do.
Focusing on the positive can help reduce arguing and defiant behavior.
3. Be Preventative
Preventative discipline involves stopping the behavior before it even starts.
In order to prevent behaviors, you need to know your child’s triggers. When you do, you can either avoid the trigger (if possible and practical) or redirect them by intervening early.
You can’t avoid all situations that may set your child off – and your child will have to learn how to deal with their own triggers.
Avoiding situations that cause negative behavior should only be used if absolutely necessary – such as situations that require compliance or when you feel like you are going to absolutely lose your mind.
Otherwise, you can diffuse the situation before it even starts by distracting them and guiding them to more appropriate behavior.
You can redirect your child by offering them a choice. By giving them choices, you are giving them the opportunity to take control of their actions.
For example, you know that when it’s time to shut down those amazingly educational and informative videos (ha!) your child is hooked on watching that your little one is going to blow a gasket.
You can give them a time-limit and provide adequate warning in order to prepare your child for the end of their video fun. Sometimes knowing that their preferred activity is going to end is enough to circumvent a tantrum.
You can also give them a choice. Perhaps you can let them choose whether or not they turn off the videos and have 10 more minutes before bedtime or throw a conniption and lose video privileges for the rest of the day.
Even though you’re giving your child control, ultimately you are in charge of what happens after – whether it is a positive experience for the child or the implementation of a consequence.
Preventative discipline doesn’t work all the time because sometimes kids suck at making choices.
4. Natural Consequences
Sometimes when an unwanted behavior is occurring, you have an opportunity to jump in and control the situation.
This is called supportive discipline and the point of it is to get the child back on track during a behavior or lets them experience the beauty of natural consequences.
Natural consequences occur when a child faces the consequences of their actions without your involvement. If they throw a toy, it will break. If they don’t eat supper, they will be hungry.
This is real-world learning and, as a part of supportive discipline, we sometimes need to let it happen.
When natural consequences do not occur, you can still practice supportive discipline by acknowledging their emotions and helping them identify how they feel.
A lot of times children go berserk because they are frustrated or upset and have no sweet clue how to communicate that to you.
Listen to what they have to say and respond with understanding. Sometimes if they feel they are being understood, the behavior will dissipate.
5. Correct the Behavior
However, sometimes you need to go full-tilt with a consequence to end the behavior.
Corrective discipline deals with the behavior directly by implementing a consequence.
Before you dole out the consequence, give them a fair warning. You can use an “If/Then” statement to spell out exactly what will happen if they don’t stop.
Let’s go back to the example with the videos. Your little one has decided that they are not going to go quietly into the night regarding the end of their video time. They’ve taken it upon themselves to throw a tantrum.
You can give them a heads up by saying: “If you don’t stop then you are losing the videos for the rest of the day.”
Here is their chance to make an appropriate choice.
Plus, you have given them a warning of what will happen instead of springing a consequence on them out of nowhere. When you follow through with the consequence, you’ve already given them a reason why.
Remember, a huge part of discipline is teaching your child.
Helpful Tips for Using Positive Discipline
As straightforward as disciplining sounds, some kids don’t give a crap about consequences.
You may find yourself facing a cantankerous child who doesn’t really care if you take their videos away or send them to time out.
When you find yourself facing this type of situation, try these helpful tips to see if you can make discipline more effective:
Be consistent with consequences.
If you say you’re going to take something away, DEAR GOD please take it away. Kids are smart and if they catch on that you’re not following through, they are going to continue the behavior.
Make sure the consequence is proportionate and related to the behavior. When your child refuses to eat supper, don’t give them dessert yet take their tablet away. The consequence should be related to the offense. Likewise, don’t give out huge consequences for minor infractions – such as grounding them for a week because they slammed their bedroom door.
Establish consequences beforehand.
Children need to know what to expect – they function best on routine and expectation. You may have to pull something out of a hat the first time a behavior occurs, but make it perfectly clear what the consequence of that behavior will be in the future.
Discuss the behavior and consequences when everyone is chill.
In the heat of a battle is not the best time to talk to your child about their behavior and future consequences. Wait until the dust has settled then have a straightforward and calm conversation about it.
Model appropriate behaviors.
Children don’t understand hypocrisy so when they see you do something they understand it as permission to do it themselves. If you don’t want your child acting a certain way, don’t act that way yourself.
Dole out consequences immediately.
This is just as important as being consistent with your consequences. If you are handing out consequences for a behavior, do it right away. When you wait to do so, your child loses that connection between what they did and the consequence – therefore, the lesson is lost.
Most children will respond favorably to discipline.
However, if you find that nothing works for your child, it may be in your best interest to speak to your health care provider about underlying causes for their behaviors.
Not to get you worried about anything being wrong with your child, but something as simple as a food allergy can cause unwanted behaviors and tantrums.
When in doubt, seek medical help.
You Don’t Have to Be Perfect at Disciplining Your Child
As parents, we can’t be on our discipline game 24-7 or we will burn out and die.
Well, not die, but we will be utterly exhausted.
Sometimes it’s okay to pick your battles – as long as it’s the exception and not the rule.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my daughter it’s time to turn off the TV and did not have the wherewithal to actually do it when the time came (knowing that it would create an issue).
Sometimes, some behaviors are not worth getting upset over.
That being said, try to think of positive discipline not so much as a form of behavior correction but a monumental teaching moment as well.
What are some of your successful discipline techniques? Let me know in the comments below!