When you hear the word “discipline” you likey think of punishment and consequences.
However, the original meaning comes from the Latin disciplina, which means “instruction” and derives from discere, which means “to learn.”
Here we will take a look at positive discipline tools that enable you to teach and guide children back to the right behaviour rather than using punishment when they do something wrong. “Positive Discipline” is becoming a well-established approach in many nurseries, childcare settings and parental coaches.
By focusing on teaching rather than punishing, children gain freedom and choice within the boundaries of healthy and firm limits. This, in turn, reduces resentful and defiant behaviour and encourages cooperation and emotional regulation.
Sounds good to us!
So what do we actually have to do to implement positive discpline techniques that work?
Well, it’s not always easy transitioning from a “punish” mentality to a “teaching” one, however, the payoff is definitely worth the effort. Plus you benefit from working on your triggers and becoming less reactive when patience levels are being tested.
By taking one day at a time you can shift your perspective on what it means to “discipline”. So here are a few points to get you started on your positive discipline journey…
1) Positive Discipline Language
Instead of pointing out what the child did wrong, tell the child how they can put things right.
In the heat of the moment when a child misbehaves it’s very easy to jump in with “no hitting” or “stop screaming.” However, this does not describe the behaviour you do want to see. By shifting language to “gentle hands” or “remember to use your gentle voice inside, loud voice is for the park” you will teach your child appropriate behaviour rather than simply telling them off.
Constantly hearing the word “No” will inhibit a child’s natural instinct for exploration and dilute your authority.
So by using positive discipline, you can create a “Yes” environment by only using “No” when you absolutely have to, which will make it far more effective.
How do you create a “yes” environment? Well, you can start by babyproofing your home, placing breakables out of reach of toddlers and setting firm limits for older children. This will create a ‘can-do’ mentality within loving limits and boundaries.
- Shift your language to the behaviour you want to see e.g. ‘be gentle’, ‘gentle voice’ instead of ‘no hitting’ or ‘no shouting’ etc.
- Say ‘No’ sparingly: ‘Yes you can have a biscuit, lets put it on a plate ready for snack time’, ‘Yes you can start driving, we’ll need to have an agreement in place and there’ll be consequences if you violate it.’
2) Avoid power struggles
Being faced with a defiant child is frustrating, especially when you’re trying to rush out the door. It is so easy to get locked into power struggles. However knowing how to limit the defiance can dramatically alter the family dynamic, making life so much smoother.
It’s worth considering how little control children have in their day-to-day lives. Slowing down and giving children some space to assert themselves will help them feel more in control of the decision-making.
This can sometimes be all it takes to shift a ‘No’ to a ‘Yes’ and is a positive discipline tool.
- If your child says no, wait 1 min then ask again. They often want to get their ‘no’ out there before cooperating
- Provide more opportunities for decision-making in the child’s day-to-day life so they can assert themselves more freely and be more open to your requests
3) Focus on Behaviour, not the Child
“There are no bad children, just bad behaviour” is a Postive Discipline mantra and one that is firmly backed by science. Every behaviour has a root cause with a valid reason behind it. It may be as simple as being hungry or tired, or it could be more complex such as sibling rivalry, picking up on family stress, feeling misunderstood or ignored, finding nursery difficult and a multitude of other reasons.
The problem is children can’t articulate with words how they are feeling unless they are taught to do so. And even when they have been taught, they need to be old enough to identify and calmly articulate their feelings before frustration kicks in. This can be difficult for adults to do, let alone children!
So when a child plays up and misbehaves, keep in mind that the child’s needs are not being met somewhere.
Respond to the child by commenting on the behaviour, rather than labelling the child “naughty.” For instance, if they lash out at their sister, instead of jumping in with “why did you hit your sister, you’re very mean and naughty sometimes”, you could say “that wasn’t the best behaviour, we don’t hit.”
By planting the seed that the child is not a bad person, just their behaviour is, you’re far more able to use the other techniques here to re-connect and then educate and guide the child towards better behaviour.
- Instead of “why did you hit your sister”, try “that wasn’t the best behaviour, we don’t hit”
- Re-connect with your child and use the opportunity to identify the prominent emotion and name it for them e.g. “I can see you are angry”
4) Give Choices
Another great positive discipline tool is to provide choices, which really is so effective in hechildren respondespond positively to our requests.
Choice helps children feel more in control and therefore more likely to cooperate when we need them to. The idea is that they get given as much choice as possible with the little things so when it comes to the big stuff we aren’t met with a huge wall of defiance.
However, it needs to be done the right way. So be careful not to offer too many or open-ended choices e.g. “what would you like for breakfast?” would be better phrased “would you like toast or cereal?”
It’s also a parents job to make sure teeth are brushed, children are bathed etc so these are non-negotiable (although a playful approach can be used if you’re met with defiance, see next point).
If a child declines your two/three choices then take one choice away, stand your ground and be prepared to follow through e.g. “wear a coat or we don’t go to the park, your choice.”
This way the child experiences positive discipline through logical restrictions as a consequence of their behaviour, rather than a consequence of a reactive, stressed parent locked in a power struggle e.g. “That’s it, I’ve had enough, we’re not going to the park anymore.”
- Keep it simple and give two choices
- If they continue to say no, take away a choice: “You can wear a jumper or your coat, your choice”
- If the child declines then “you can wear the coat or we stay inside, your choice”
- Stand your ground so the child knows where the boundaries are and you’re not going to give in
- Be prepared to stay inside!
- Often the child will choose a third option that you’ve not provided but is, in fact, a suitable choice
- Avoid broad choices such as “What do you want to wear today?” as these feel big and stressful for young children to decide under pressure unless of course it’s playtime/dressing up time and you’re not time pressured
5) Be Playful
Playfulness undoubtedly diffuses tension and diverts away from unwanted behaviour.
Diffusing defiance using play will actually feel a lot less emotionally draining than engaging in power struggles, although quickly switching into play mode in the heat of the moment can be challenging.
It can help to have a go-to silly game that doesn’t take much effort but will shift the energy from tense to funny in under 10 seconds e.g. pretending to trip over, balancing an object on your head, galloping around the room like a horse (you have to be prepared to look ridiculous, but this is the point!)
- Saying the opposite of what you need ‘Whatever you do you must NOT put your jumper on right now’
- Galloping up the stairs as horses/zooming up as motorbikes to start bathtime/brush teeth
- Having races to see who can do something first
- Balancing something on your head and acting surprised when it falls off
- Becoming a tickle monster: ‘Right that’s it, the tickle monster has arrived.’
So take a couple of the positive discipline techniques listed above and try them out today. You may have to persist for a week or so to see a significant change and you may need to do further reading to really grasp different techniques that work for you.
But they do work and can really transform the family dynamics if you’re committed to changing how you react in certain situations.