What Is Positive Parenting?
How to discipline effectively?
Every parent grapples with this issue. If you have young children, you know how everyday can be a struggle if your child doesn’t behave. Even the most patient and nurturing parents can sometimes “lose it” when facing a defiant little human.
Consider this: A preschooler is throwing a tantrum because Dad poured the gravy on her turkey instead of letting her do it herself. She throws up her hands, thrashing back and forth, screaming and crying for what seems like hours. Out of frustration, the Dad shouts, “Stop screaming NOW!”
Does it sound familiar? I myself am guilty of having done this more often than I’d like to admit. So how should we discipline our children without falling into such a “Do as I say, not as I do” trap?
Here comes Positive Parenting. It’s a parenting and disciplinary philosophy based on the work of Viennese psychiatrists, Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs. In recent years, Dr. Jane Nelsen Ed.D. refined and championed this method in her famous series of books and made it well known.
Positive discipline emphasizes mutual respect and utilizes positive instructions. It focuses on learning (for the future) instead of punishing (of the past). Studies consistently show that using positive discipline yields better outcome in terms of the child’s behavior, emotional growth, academic performance and mental health.
Here are 8 tips on practicing positive discipline.
Tip 1: Focus On The Reasons Behind The Action
There is always a reason why children misbehave even though the reason may seem silly to the parents. It is reasonable to the child and that’s why they behave that way. If parents can address the cause directly, even if they don’t get what they want, children would feel that their needs are acknowledged. They can then move on without the need to misbehave. They may still be grumpy, but they do not need to act out once they feel understood.
Knowing the reason behind can also help parents avoid them in the first place. For example, a child hit his brother. The reason could be that his little brother took away his toy and he was frustrated. So teaching children to ask for permission before taking someone else’s things will prevent the issue from arising.
Tip 2: Kind And Firm Discipline
Be kind to model how to be kind and respectful to others. Children learn by mimicking others and parents are their primary role models. When a parent yells, humiliates or calls a child names, the child learns to do the same when he’s upset. The converse is also true. When a parent is kind and respectful despite being upset, the child learns to deal with difficulties with composure and respect. Being kind also helps a child to calm down, be receptive to reasoning and more likely to cooperate.
Being kind is not the same as giving in. Many parents mistakenly equate kindness to permissiveness. This is simply not true. You can firmly and kindly tell a child that she cannot have what she wants. There is no need for yelling, using a mean tone or talking in a stern voice. A firm and calm NO is as good as, if not better than, a loud and mean NO.
Also, be firm in setting limits and enforcing consequences so that the child knows what to expect and what to base his future decisions on. Practicing decision making this way helps children grow their cognitive thinking.
Tip 3: Time Out Yourself
Yes, you heard that right. You need to take a time-out yourself when needed. It is inevitable that sometimes parents are just exhausted and angered by children’s unruly behavior. But this is the true do-as-I-say-AND-as-I-do moment if you can calm yourself down and speak in a respectful and firm way. Think about this, if something doesn’t go your child’s way, do you want him to blow up, or do you want him to have the ability to control his own emotion and remain respectful?
For me, this time-out strategy works very well. When I feel that I’m about to lose it, I tell my child that I need a moment by myself because I am upset and then go into another room. Walking away allows me to cool down and remind myself about my goal in disciplining which is to teach. While there, I take a few deep breaths and clear my mind for a second. This time-out-myself technique also gives me more time and some breathing room to think of ways to deal with the issue at hand. When I return, I am refreshed and ready to tackle the challenge again.
Tip 4: Be Non-Punitive. Be Creative.
According to Positive Discipline: The First Three Years by Dr. Jane Nelsen, punitive punishment produces Four Rs that do not help a child learn – Resentment, Rebellion, Revenge and Retreat. Oftentimes, punishment cannot stop bad behavior and it also doesn’t teach good ones.
A positive, non-punitive response is much better at settling an overstimulated child and engaging her in learning new behavior. One such response is to use positive time-out. Positive time-out differs from conventional time-out because it is non-punitive. It is not a punishment. The child is removed from stimuli that creates or aggravates the misbehavior and put into a place to cool off and feel safe.
The full name of time-out is Time Out From Reinforcement1. The idea is to take the child out of the environment where the problematic behavior occurs to remove the reinforcer. Eventually, the child calms down and learns to diminish or stop the undesired behavior. Unfortunately, many parents use it incorrectly as a form of punishment. They isolate and restrict the child’s movement during the time-out and add a secondary punishment by chastising and lecturing the child afterwards.
To use time-out properly, here are the key points:
- State your expectation (no hitting the dog) and consequence (time-out) clearly ahead of time. The child needs to know that he can choose the consequence by his own action. This process helps him learn to make choices and develop cognitive thinking.
- If he chooses to carry out the unwanted behavior, calmly tell him or take him to a quiet, safe place. Don’t call him names (you’re a bad boy), scold him, look hatefully, or be mean to him. That is, be kind and firm when using time-out.
I also let my child play with toys or roam around if that helps her calm down. Sometimes, when she’s very upset, I would even sit and cuddle with her. Remember, it is not a punishment. Afterwards, I would explain (not lecture) why her previous action was inappropriate and help her come up with a better response the next time she feels like acting out.
Positive time-out doesn’t work in every situation. It is not easy to come up with a positive response to every situation. Positive Discipline A-Z: 1001 Solutions to Everyday Parenting Problems, also by Nelsen is full of good advice and recommendations on how to discipline positively. But if you’re like me, you probably can’t remember all 1001 solutions or always have the book handy when you need it. So it’s important to be creative and flexible. I use my three disciplinary principles and the 8 tips here as the guiding light when trying to come up with a solution.
Tip 5: Be Clear, Be Consistent And Follow Through
Decide and explain the consequences of violating limits clearly before being enforced. In addition, parents need to be consistent and follow through on them. If a parent is not consistent, there will be confusion. The child may keep testing or challenging the limits to see what else can happen.
To follow through means do not say something unless you mean it. For instance, do not make empty threats to cancel the ball game if he misbehaves unless you are willing to carry it out when that happens.
Tip 6: Understand Brain Development And Age-appropriate Behavior
Children under the age of three cannot reason because the part of their brain2 responsible for understanding consequences and making sound judgment has not yet developed. So for children in this age group, redirection instead of reasoning or giving consequences should be used.
For older children, you can help their cognitive development by reasoning and giving them choices.
Tip 7: Make It A Learning Opportunity
When children are old enough to reason (older than three), every misbehaving episode can be turned into an invaluable life lesson.
For instance, what is the lesson of breaking a toy? It means the child cannot play with it any more. If he didn’t like the toy, he should have given it to a friend or donate it so that others could enjoy it. If he broke a toy out of frustration, help him find other outlets to release the anger such as punching a pillow. It is also a good opportunity to give him vocabularies to explain his feelings (“I am angry because…”) rather than acting out. You are helping him develop his communication skills at the same time.
Tip 8: Be Patient And Don’t Despair
Positive discipline most likely won’t produce the behavioral change parents want overnight. It is not about getting fast results. It is about teaching behavior that parents want their children to emulate over time. It will take longer to see real changes because children need repetitions to learn.3 It can be weeks or even months before your child starts to get it. But when that happens, it will be very rewarding and the benefits will last a lifetime.
With patience and (plenty of) practice, you can turn disciplinary moments into valuable lessons for kids.
To happy homes!
invented by behavioral psychologists, Arthur Staats, when he was raising his own children ↩
prefrontal cortex ↩