The phrase positive discipline may sound a bit like an oxymoron. By nature we think of discipline as a child having done something wrong, so how can disciplining your child be a positive experience? 

It’s easy to get stuck in the pattern of using the words “no/no thank you,” “stop,” and “don’t.”  These words are usually filled with the good intention of keeping children safe and teaching them what they can’t or shouldn’t do. However, it can lead to frustration and self doubt on the child’s part. Instead, let’s flip the coin and think about how we can teach children what they CAN do in order to try new things or stay safe.

Redirection is Key With Positive Discipline

In place of using negative phrases, try giving choices or asking questions.  Here are a few examples of how to use positive discipline in action:

  • Giving Choices: If a child is rooting around in the snack cabinet you could try saying, “I see that you are looking for something to eat. Would you rather have a piece of fruit or should we think about having lunch early?” This phrasing gives the child control over what comes next, while still only providing a positive outcome.  
  • Asking Questions: If a child is climbing onto the table, it might be tempting to yell, “Stop climbing!” or, “Get down!” Instead you could try saying, “I see that you are trying to climb! What could we climb on that might be a safer choice?” Let the child come up with ideas and of course, offer suggestions if they need help landing on an appropriate choice. Maybe climbing outside on a swing set, or building a pillow pile that has a soft landing space would be a safer option.
  • What Can They Do? It’s helpful to tell children what is an appropriate decision as a learning opportunity; and especially for nonverbal children. If a child throws his toy tractor you could say, “The tractor is for driving. Balls are for throwing. Would you like to go outside and throw a ball or play beanbag toss?”

Explanations Are Important

If you do need to redirect a child away from an unsafe or inappropriate activity, it’s important to explain why the change was made. Asking children their opinion gives them the confidence to recognize that they are capable of coming up with new ideas.  For example asking, “Why do you think we are having fruit rather than potato chips for a snack?” develops critical thinking skills.

If the child isn’t able to come up with an explanation, or is too young to provide one, gently explaining why he or she is being redirected is important for them to begin understanding more mature reasoning.  Rather than just removing a toddler from an unsafe situation, try to say, “Playing near the top of the stairs isn’t safe because you could fall. Let’s try playing in your bedroom instead!”

Praise Positive Behavior

Don’t wait until you have to correct behavior to praise a child. Although, once they make a better choice it is important to praise them! Any time you see a child doing something without being asked, following a rule, or making a good choice, take that as an opportunity to praise them and point it out! So often, children only receive negative feedback, and like adults, they need that positive feedback to encourage their self-esteem. Being told you’re doing a great job with something will likely motivate children to do it again on their own.

Rewarding Good Behavior Vs. Bribing 

There is definitely a difference between a child who voluntarily cleans her room and an adult telling the child that if she cleans her room you’ll go out for ice cream. Bribing a child to complete a task, cooperate, or behave in a certain way might get you the end result you are looking for, but it sends a message that will ultimately create more problems.

The child isn’t learning the value of good behavior, but instead that she should expect to be rewarded for it. In life, we’re not rewarded every time we empty the dishwasher or have an appropriate interaction with a neighbor. A child that is cooperative under the assumption that she will be given something, will only end up expecting that result constantly and become quickly disappointed when it isn’t the case.  

Give Specific Praise to the Behavior Itself

Take the moments to reward good behavior when a child clears the table without being asked or everyone puts on their shoes the first time they are asked. Instead of just saying,“Great job!” be specific about what behavior you like and positive result it has. For example, “You were so cooperative when getting your shoes on; thank you! Because everyone listened the first time I asked we have some extra time to play outside before school.” This method rewards the positive behavior after the child has already exhibited it for the right reasons and they will be much more likely to do it again!

Try these positive discipline techniques for a happier household. Would you like to learn how to teach your children to be more mindful and self-aware of their actions? Sign up for our online class, Mindfulness: Raising Self-Aware Children to take the next steps for your family.

About The Author

Sarah PSarah Proctor has worked with young children for over 25 years as a teacher, childcare director, nanny, and mom of two girls. She has her Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education and Administration from UMass Amherst. In addition, Sarah has her Director 2 certification from the Department of Early Education and Care.