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Positive Discipline

The word “discipline” has gotten a bad rap and can give off an air of negativity. However, discipline has a positive meaning.  It comes from the Latin root “disciplinare” and means “to teach.”  Jane Nelson describes positive discipline as “the understanding that discipline must be taught and that discipline teaches…young people to become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of their communities” (1996).  Positive discipline is an invaluable tool when teaching child(ren) lifelong lessons.  In fact, by implementing this philosophy on a daily basis, parenting becomes a seamless, enjoyable experience.

Positive discipline includes several techniques:  redirection, choices, reminders, warnings, consequences, and problem-solving.  Redirection is a simple method that is easy to use.  All children have an innate drive to test their boundaries and limits.  For example, if your child begins to break a house rule, such as opening a kitchen cabinet, instead, direct him towards a safe cabinet that he is allowed to use.  Another example, as your child becomes frustrated during an activity and begins to lose his temper, suggest a break.  Explain to your child that he can come back to his project in a while, once he is refreshed. 

Giving choices to your child creates not only mutual respect between you, but also enables your child to be independent.  When your child is making bad choices, give him at least two equally good choices.  To further clarify, if your child is throwing a ball in the house; tell him that he can either play outside, play in an acceptable room, or choose an inside ball.  Another example might include when your child is biting, tell him that he can bite either a teething ring or a stuffed animal.

Many times, you can use reminders and warnings to resolve a problem at-hand.  These techniques are simple and straightforward.  Children are going to make mistakes, and it is our job as parents “to teach” or “to discipline” them.  As a result, we are teaching them a plethora of moral lessons that they will use for a lifetime.  For instance, if your child runs in the house or leaves a puzzle on the floor, give him a gentle reminder.  If that reminder does not do the trick, give him a warning.  Case in point, “Johnny, I have asked you to pick up your favorite Thomas the Train several times.  This is your final warning.  If you don’t put your train away, I will help you put it away.  And then you won’t be allowed to play with it for the rest of the day.”  You can also utilize the “1, 2, 3 system,” when you count to three to encourage your child to make a choice.  If he does not make a choice on his own, you can tell him that you will make the choice for him.  However, after two warnings and the “1, 2, 3 system,” then a consequence must be implemented. 

After reminders and warnings, consequences are the next step in positive discipline.  And it is absolutely crucial that you mean what you say and say what you mean.  In other words, you must follow through with your consequences.  If you have asked your child to put away his bike, and he has not yet complied, you must implement a consequence.  Consequences can include, but are not limited to, putting your child in a safe room for a short period of time, taking away his favorite toy, having him write an apology note, or turning off cartoons.  When considering consequences, you must ensure that the consequence is age/developmentally appropriate.

Giving your child the tools to problem-solve during conflict is a vital component to positive disciplining.  We can use “teachable moments” to help children problem solve during discord.  Teachable moments happen during every day routines when you are at the grocery store, on a play date, or at the park.  During these moments, you can help your child problem solve by giving him language to use during a disagreement, modeling the appropriate way to behave, reflecting on a situation that occurred during the day, or using puppets/action figures to act out proper reactions.  For example, your child and another child want to swing at the same time.  First, describe the problem at-hand to the children, “You both want a turn on the swing.”  Second, express noticeable feelings, “Johnny, I can tell you are sad by your tears.”  Third, give your child language, “Johnny, ask your friend if you may have a turn when he is finished.”  Most times, when a parent illustrates the problem at-hand, describes the feelings involved, provides simple language, and models appropriate behavior; the child will learn valuable lifelong lessons. 

Finally, as a parent, pick and choose your battles.  You cannot control everything.  Sometimes you have to JUST LET GO!  For instance, it is inevitable if a water puddle is around, your child will jump in the puddle.  But clothes and shoes will dry!  It is okay to laugh…it is okay to have fun…it is okay if they go to the mall with a mismatched outfit…it is OK!!!  Letting go of some things will free you and make your life easier.  However, when a teaching moment is necessary, use the positive discipline techniques mentioned above.  Not only will these practices make your life easier, you are also providing your child with a solid, moral foundation.