17 Positive Discipline Guidelines

by Heligirl on March 16, 2010

in Parenting Articles

When I attended the Sanity Circus class put on by the Puget Sound Aldlerian Society, we were given a handout that really broke down Positive Discipline for me. I’ve written it up for you here. It came from the Positive Discipline website. There are a couple of things to keep in mind: 1) some of these are too advanced if you have a toddler. Typically you can really start using this stuff after your child turns 3. And 2) it never hurts to start putting this into action early. You’d be surprised what younger ones really do understand. Just don’t expect it to really start working until later.

1. Misbehaving children are “discouraged children” who have mistaken ideas on how to achieve their primary goal – to belong. Their mistaken ideas lead them to misbehavior. We cannot be effective unless we address the mistaken beliefs rather than just the misbehaving.

I’ve really started seeing this work already with Sweetness. When I stop and identify her needs, which sometimes are as basic as just getting a little attention, her behavior starts to change.

2. Use encouragement to help children feel “belonging” so the motivation for misbehaving will be eliminated. Celebrate each step in the direction of improvement rather than focusing on mistakes.

I’m always thanking Sweetness for things I see her do that I want to encourage. Remember to stay away from praise. “Good Girl” is not as good as “thank you so much for helping me put the toys away.”

3. A great way to help children feel encouraged is to spend special time “being with them.” Many parents have noticed a dramatic change in a “problem child” after spending five minutes simply sharing what they both like to do for fun.

To take this a step further, I’ve also learned that having a scheduled special time with each of us (and no sibling around) does wonders with keeping the connection with each child.

4. When tucking children into bed, ask them to share with you their “saddest time” during the day and their “happiest time” during the day. Then you share with them. You will be surprised what you learn.

While a bit advanced for Sweetness at the moment, I do ask her if she had fun today and when I know she’s had a hard time, I comment on that too. Right now I am doing a lot of the commentary about her. This will evolve. I think she appreciates it as now she asks to “snuggle with mommy” each night, which is when we have our talk.

5. Have family meetings to solve problems with cooperation and mutual respect. This is the key to creating a loving, respectful atmosphere while helping children develop self discipline, responsibility, cooperation, and problem-solving skills.

Mr. Man leads these discussions. Ok, seriously, this is advanced for us and I’m still working on convincing Hubby that they’re a good idea. He’ll see it my way eventually. 🙂

6. Give children meaningful jobs. In the name of expediency, many parents and teachers do things that children found do for themselves and one another. Children feel belonging when they know they can make a real contribution.

Sweetness already does things around the house to help and we’ve found it really does please her greatly. She’s even taken some initiative, such as when she spilled some water. Without any prompting she got a Kleenex (something she can reach), wiped it up and put it in the trash. I thanked her profusely and she beamed with pride in her ability to do it herself.

7. Decide together what jobs need to be done. Put them all in a jar and let each child draw out a few each week; that way no one is stuck with the same jobs all the time. Children have ownership, motivation and enthusiasm when they’re included in the decisions.

Again, advanced for us. But thinking back to my childhood, I would have loved to have had a say rather than be ordered. Goes back to that respect thing.

8. Take time for training. Make sure children understand what “clean the kitchen” means to you. To them it may mean simply putting the dishes in the sink. Ask, “what is your understand of what is expected?”

Oh, so this is why Mr. Man can’t seem to clean the bathroom right?

9. Teach and model mutual respect. One way is to be kind and firm at the same time – kind to show respect for the child and firm to show respect for yourself and “the needs of the situation.” This is difficult during conflict, so use the next guideline whenever you can.

Constant struggle for me. Note to self: you must respect yourself first.

10. Proper timing will improve your effectiveness tenfold. It does not “work” to deal with a problem at the time of the conflict – emotions get in the way. Teach children about cooling-off periods. You (or the children) can go to a separate room and do something to make yourself feel better – and then work on the problem with mutual respect.

Yeah. Attempting to do this during DEFCON 1 isn’t recommended.

11. Get rid of the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first you have to make them feel worse. Do you feel like doing better when you feel humiliated? This suggests a whole new look at “time out.”

Amen sister. Wish they taught this to bosses too.

12. Use Positive Time Out (or your own name for this time, such as quiet time, take a break, etc.). Let your children help you design a pleasant area (cushions, books, music, stuffed animals) that will help them feel better. Remember that children do better when they feel better. Then you can ask your children, when they are upset, “Do you think it would help you to take some positive time out?”

I’ve introduced this and call it “taking a break.” Be careful that you don’t call it that nice word but use it as punishment, such as when your child is screaming and carrying on because she doesn’t want to wash her hands and you suggest she needs to “take a break.” Guilty.

13. Punishment may “work” if all you are interested in is stopping misbehavior for the “moment.” Sometimes we must beware of what works when the long-range results are negative – resentment, rebellion, revenge or retreat.

No question about it, guilt works. Like a gem. Kids will do anything to keep from losing your love. Look at me. And my therapy bills are still piling up. This takes work, but you just have to work on it, for the children.

14. Teach children that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn. A great way to teach children that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn is to model this yourself by using the Three Rs of Recovery after you have made a mistake:

  • Recognize your mistake
  • Reconcile: Be willing to say “I’m sorry, I didn’t like the way I handled that.”
  • Resolve: Focus on solutions rather than blame. (#3 is effective only if you do #1 and #2 first.)

You know, Sweetness has already shown understanding and interest when I apologize for snapping at her. She’s even given me a hug after I do. This really, really works!!

15. Focus on solutions instead of consequences. Many parents and teachers try to disguise punishment by calling it a logical consequence. Get children involved in finding solutions that are:

  • Related
  • Respectful
  • Reasonable
  • Helpful

Again, a bit ahead of us, but worth trying to practice what you’d say and do now.

16. Make sure the message of love and respect gets through. Start with “I care about you. I am concerned about this situation. Will you work with me on a solution?”

I’d probably use language more appropriate to the age level. “I see you’re frustrated with this. I love you and want to help. How can we make it better?”

17. Have fun! Bring joy into the home.

Silly voices and suddenly doing something crazy and totally unexpected (running around flinging my hands in the air and screaming) tends to make both kids giggle rather fierce. And no, I’ll not be posting images of that.


Kate Walton March 16, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Great site–nice design and wonderful content! But the more I read, the more I’m worried that we’ve been doing *everything* wrong! : ) Oh dear. So: do you never (never ever!?!) use old-fashioned ‘time outs’? We do, I will admit. Especially when Big Sister hits Baby Brother–a rare but not unheard of crime. What do you do in that type of situation? Is expressing anger/setting a conventional ‘punishment’ always a no-no?

Heligirl March 17, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Kate – thanks for the comment. I agree that the feelings your having are similar to the ones I had when I first started learning about this parenting style, but the more I read and researched, the more I understood why it was that way. Katheryn Kvols, author of Redirecting Children’s Behavior, put it in a way that made sense to me: When a child is put into a time out, she really hears “I’m sick of you – go away.” When a time out is punishment, the child feels resentful and doesn’t focus on what to do better next time, only how not to get caught. I believe punishment works because children are afraid of disappointing us and losing our love. That’s using fear and manipulation. Instead, remember a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. Why is she discouraged? See if you can attend to that. As for teaching about hitting, try telling her what she can do. If she hits her brother: “Hitting hurts. We are gentle with each other. See how hitting him makes him cry?” Then demonstrate on her a nice touch, like a hug or a pet, rather than giving brother additional attention at that moment. I’ll cover time outs in my next article. How’s that? 🙂

Kate Walton March 18, 2010 at 7:53 am

That’s excellent. Thanks and keep up the great work!

Heli Guy March 19, 2010 at 9:31 am

Good stuff Jen,

I am trying to learn as much about adaptive positive parenting as possible. I have been getting by well on my instincts as a loving dad, but there are a lot of distractions for lil-dude and our lives leave gaps for his attention span. I am also listening too a good Dr Phil book on family that focuses on raising kids positively. Thanks for the blog, I am laughing along. Have a great day with the sweeties.

Kristi March 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Good Stuff. This is the way I was taught to discipline at the school I worked at and in college in my child development classes. It is hard to correct years of bad habits, but worth it. I had to learn not to beat myself up about not always doing it right. I think I was harder on me than the kids. The hardest thing for me was admitting to a child that I was wrong and should have handled that differently. I’m over it now because after a lot of practice you see just how much better off you and the child are for being positive with discipline. It’s good for them to see we all make mistakes. I am really excited that you are getting the word out because a lot of people can benefit from all this great info. I would be so lost as a new parent without my schooling and pre-school years. It makes me wonder how anyone doesn’t go nuts raising kids without info like this to help! I like reading your blogs to help me brush up too. Thanks

Tristan Dalke April 11, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Really nice writing.

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