The 12 Steps of Positive Discipline

What is discipline? Discipline is guidance and teaching a child self control. If you view children's misbehavior as a mistake in judgment, it may be easier to think of ways to teach a more acceptable alternative. By setting clear limits and disciplining in a positive, loving way, you can help a child begin to learn how to control her own behavior and how to set her own limits.

Discipline is not punishment. Punishment may stop a particular behavior for a moment but ultimately interferes with the long-term goal of promoting a child's self control. Punishment comes in many forms: it can be physical (spanking), verbal (calling names) or emotional (shaming). It is criticizing, discouraging, creating obstacles and barriers, blaming, using sarcastic or cruel humor. All punishment is harmful to a child's self-esteem. An adult might occasionally lose control and do any of these things. But doing any of them more than once in a long while means that a negative approach to discipline has become a habit and urgently needs to be altered before a child's lowered self-esteem becomes part of her personality. The goal of positive discipline is to teach self-control, to help a child learn to take responsibility for his or her behavior, and maintain a warm relationship with the caregiver.

  1. Understanding child development
    It is crucial to understand what is developmentally appropriate behavior for a child before taking disciplinary action. For example, the job of a toddler is to taste, touch, smell, squeeze, tote, poke, pour, sort, explore, and test. At times toddlers are greedy, at times grandiose. They do not share well; they need time to experience ownership before they are expected to share. They need to assert themselves and they need to separate to a degree from their parents, to individuate. One way they do this is to say no and not to do what is asked. If adults understand children in this age range, they will create circumstances and develop attitudes that permit and promote development - through guidance not punishment. It's a team effort, not toddler vs. adult.

  2. Consistency
    If routines are clear, there will be less conflict. Keep household rules few, firm and fair. Then, let the children know exactly what you expect. Instead of general orders like, "Be good,", say instead, "I need quiet while I am driving. Please use a quiet voice."

  3. Promoting self-worth
    Respect a child's emotions. Teach her that its okay to have negative emotions like anger and help her learn how to channel those emotions productively.

    "You want to play with the truck, but Jamie is using it right now."
    "You want me to stay with you, but right now I need to go and clean up the play room"

    Then, offer a solution:

    "You will be able to play with the truck again in 1 minute."
    "I will be back in one minute or you can come with me to help."
  4. One-year-olds can begin to understand "just a minute" and will wait patiently if you follow through 60 seconds later. 2-3 year olds can learn to understand "I'll tell you when its your turn," if you follow through within 2-3 minutes. This helps children learn how to delay gratification but does not thwart their short-term understanding of time. This method validates the legitimacy of the child's desires. By validating the child's feelings, it is less an order and more an explanation. This also teaches the child that others have needs, too. It teaches perspective and may lead the child to develop the ability to put himself in other people's shoes.
  5. Positive Approach
    Always follow what the child CAN'T do with what the child CAN do instead "We don't hit the cat. Pat her gently on her back like this."
    "Puzzle pieces are not for throwing. Lets put them in their place together." This set firm limits, yet helps the child know what to do and that you are there to teach him.

  6. Distraction and redirection
    About the only truly appropriate disciplinary tool for infants and toddlers is the art of redirection. Use this frequently, it is appropriate for a variety of situations: If the child wants to touch something unsafe, say: "Uh-oh, not for baby, let's come over here and you can play with your blocks;" if there looms an impending tantrum: "Oh WOW! Look at all of those rocks over there! Shall we walk over that way so you can pick one up before we leave the park?"

  7. Separating the child from the behavior
    Never tell the child he is bad or you don't like him. Point out that it is the behavior or action you don't like. Use phrases like "I get frustrated when…." instead of "You are so stubborn…"

  8. Alternatives to NO
    The goal is not to eliminate the word "no" from your vocabulary altogether, but to reserve it for those circumstances which really require it, so that it will have more impact.

    • For babies and toddlers try, "Stop, hot! Not for Lucy."
    • Try saying YES. "Of course you can play outside . . .as soon as we've finished lunch".
    • Finally, for every no, offer 2 acceptable choices. "No Carla, you cannot bite Sarah. You can bite this rubber duck or this crunchy cracker." "Jackie, this book is for your mommy. You can read this book or that book"
  9. Choosing your battles
    It can be very frustrating when the child says or does something that isn't what you want. But you do not want to act like a personal policeman over every thing the child does. When you are heading for a conflict, think first: Is this really important? If he refuses to take off his superhero T-shirt, for example, it may be OK to let him sleep in it. Don't try to change all his behaviors at once. Give some time for the child to feel successful.

  10. Choices
    The more choices you can offer a child whose independence is blossoming, the better he will tolerate the situations he has no control over. Offer food choices, clothing choices, now or later choices, toy and activity choices, etc. Just make sure that you would be happy with either of the options you are giving.

  • Planning ahead
    Prevent misbehavior by eliminating situations that spell trouble. For example, do not take kids shopping if they are hungry and tired.

  • Natural consequences
    If a child won't eat, she will be hungry. If a child won't wear his coat, then playtime outside might be shortened because it is cold. If a child makes a mess, he needs to clean it up, therefore shortening the time for a story afterwards. Natural consequences are used when the situation is not life-threatening.

  • Catching your child being good!
    Everyone learns more from being praised than from being criticized. Letting him know when he's done something right is one of the best ways to help him understand what kind of behavior you expect.

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    Republished by with permission from KidCareAtHome.