What is Positive Discipline?
Positive Discipline is a parenting style that focuses on teaching your child with kindness and firmness, and working together to solve issues.
I found the Positive Discipline Parenting Method by Dr. Jane Nelsen when my oldest child was a teenager, and it completely changed my understanding of Parenting and Discipline, and my relationship with my kids. I’m grateful that now I have the mindset, foundation, and tools I need to be a successful parent. Are you ready for a paradigm shift in your important role as a parent?
Positive Discipline Basics
Positive Discipline Background
Positive Discipline was created over 35 years ago by Dr. Nelsen, a California-licensed marriage, family, and child therapist. Its core principles are based on the work of Dr. Alfred Adler and Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs, psychiatrists who specialized in parent education in the early 1900’s. Positive Discipline is taught to both parents and teachers, but on this site I will be focused on Positive Parenting.
What Does Discipline Really Mean?
It might seem like the words Positive and Discipline don’t go together. When you think of the word Discipline, you might think of not-so-positive things like scolding, spanking, or punishment.
But if you go back to the Latin root disciplina, you can see a different way of looking at what Discipline literally means.
Discipline: to teach
So erase any negative thoughts about Discipline. When we talk about disciplining our children, what we’re really talking about is teaching our children.
Positive discipline means teaching our children in a supportive and encouraging way, with love and respect.
The Positive Discipline method shows parents how to teach our children to become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of society. Children learn important social and life skills from parents who are respectful and encouraging, kind and firm.
3 Main Parenting Styles
Before I go into more details about the Positive Discipline method, let me give you a quick overview of the 3 main parenting styles, as taught by Dr. Nelsen. This will help you to see why I choose to parent using Positive Discipline. You’ll also see how Positive Discipline is a mix of the best characteristics of the other two types of parenting.
kind & firm:
Strict parents exercise control over their children. They dictate the rules and punishments, and the kids have no say in the matter.
“You do it because I said so” is the strict parent’s mindset.
For many of us (myself included!) this is our natural tendency to parent. When my kids misbehave, my knee-jerk reaction is to hand out a punishment.
Most of us grew up with strict parents, where we had to obey without question. And if you didn’t obey, you knew you were in trouble. Maybe you got grounded, spanked, whipped, or scolded.
There were strict rules to follow, and strict punishments.
Our parents weren’t bad for parenting this way. This was how they knew to parent, and it was also how society was. At work, the employee obeyed the boss without disagreement. At home, the wife silently submitted to the demands of the husband. And of course, the kids were expected to be strictly obedient.
Human Rights Movement
Think about all the equal rights laws that have been made since you were a kid, and the many different groups pushing for equal rights.
In the 1990’s, there was a big push for equal rights for girls and women. I remember all the talk in high school about girls being allowed to join the football and wrestling teams.
Then in the 2000’s, the gay rights movement became huge.
Now there’s a focus on LGBTQ rights, black rights, and immigrant rights.
I’m not trying to start a political discussion, only to point out that the society our kids are growing up in is very different from our childhood.
In Our Homes Today
In our society today, kids likely see that their parents treat each other as equals. The dad would be in trouble if he ordered his wife around. I’m definitely grateful for this shift in our society! If my husband demanded dinner be ready by 6:00, I would be fuming.
It’s no wonder many of our kids are so strong-willed. From relationships they see in the home and on TV they think of themselves as equals to their parents.
The “Strictness” approach to parenting isn’t working anymore because our kids aren’t willing to be silently obedient and submissive.
Strict parenting can be extremely effective short-term, but it can have damaging effects long-term. Underneath the obedience, a child likely feels resentment, maybe even wants revenge. Strict parenting can damage self esteem and a parent’s relationship with their child.
Sometimes, maybe because we feel guilty about being too strict, or because we don’t want to be like our strict parents, we jump to the other extreme of permissive parenting. We let our kids play on the computer or iPad all day or eat lots of junk food, stay up way past their bedtime, etc. Maybe we don’t know how to get them to behave without being forceful. Or we’re just too tired or busy. Or we’re afraid our kids won’t like us if we try to tell them what to do.
So our kids basically do what they want and become the ones in charge.
As a permissive parent, we’re trying to be kind to our kids by giving them no limits. The kids have freedom without order. We don’t really enforce any rules. The kids have unlimited choices because they’re the ones in charge.
The permissive parent is essentially telling the child, “You can do anything you want.”
Now we’re ready to talk more about the third approach to parenting: Positive Discipline. I would say that the Positive Discipline method is a form of Authoritative Parenting. Authoritative parents have high expectations for their children while still being kind and responsive.
Positive Discipline takes the best parts of the Strict and Permissive approaches by being firm and kind.
There are limits, but you give your child choices within those limits. The Positive Discipline Parent is telling the child, “You can choose within limits that show respect for all.”
Positive Discipline in Action:
Dressing for the Weather: For young children, you can ask, “Do you want to wear your jacket, or carry it?” They must have a jacket, but they can choose whether or not to wear it.
For older kids & teens: They’re old enough to understand what it feels like to get cold. You can say, “The car is leaving in 5 minutes. It’s 50 degrees out, so you might want to think about bringing a jacket to school.”
The Positive Discipline Parent and child decide on rules together.
Of course, a parent needs to put rules in place for a child’s safety, such as wearing their seatbelt. But some rules can be decided together, even as a family.
Positive Discipline in Action:
Decide on Rules Together
Coming to the Dinner Table: In our family, we had an issue about everyone coming to the dinner table when it was time to eat. We all agreed that when I rang the dinner bell, everyone had 75 seconds (the number of seconds was hugely debated) to get into the kitchen.
The agreed-upon consequence for not coming to the kitchen on time was an extra chore. (Consequences are a very small part of Positive Discipline, only used when necessary).
Because the kids got to give their input, and everyone agreed on the rule, they come to the kitchen without complaint and accept an extra chore without complaint if they’re late. When kids take ownership of the rules, they’re much more likely to follow those rules.
But here’s the key, the important element that completely changed my parenting mindset:
Focus on SOLUTIONS, not punishments
This is what makes the Positive Discipline method stand out from all the other parenting methods I’ve used.
Let me give you an example of this important principle. If one of my kids brings home a bad grade, my natural reaction is to say, “You won’t be allowed to use screens until you bring your grades up!”
But with the Positive Discipline way, you would sit down with your child, empathize, and ask curiosity questions to figure out what the underlying issue is. Then you work together to find a solution.
Positive Discipline in Action:
4 Steps for Winning Cooperation
Your Child Brings Home a Bad Grade: First, wait until you and your child are both calm.
Then, follow the 4 Steps for Winning Cooperation (Positive Discipline p. 29):
1. Ask curiosity questions (be careful not to sound accusatory) to try to understand your child’s perspective and the reason behind the bad grade. Could it be that the child didn’t understand the material? Or was it because he forgot to double check his answers?
2. Show empathy by sharing a time when you got a bad grade because of a similar reason.
3. Share your feelings and point of view. Now you can tell your child your thoughts about grades and their importance (without lecturing or making your child feel bad). Because you showed empathy first, your child will be more open to listening.
4. Ask your child if he has any ideas on how to improve his grades, or avoid making the same mistakes again. If he needs help, give him some ideas until together you come up with an action plan. Make sure you focus on solutions, not consequences or punishments. For example, maybe the reason he got a bad grade was because he didn’t understand the material. The plan might be to go in early for tutoring twice a week so he can ask his teacher for help.
Positive Discipline has been a lifesaver for my family, and it can do the same for you and your family! You can get excited again about your amazing, life-changing role as a parent.
If you want to learn more about Positive Discipline and Positive Parenting, subscribe to my weekly newsletter, The Adventures of Kate and Family (COMING SOON). I’ll be introducing a concept or tool each week, along with specific examples from my own family, so you can become a positive & successful parent.