Positive Discipline is a manner of discipline that is essentially “kind and firm” discipline. As a therapist and parent, I am a fan of this style of discipline because it starts with the end in mind: raising confident, empowered, and capable adults. With positive discipline, connection is key. As parents, we connect with our own experience and that of our child. Through connection, we have the opportunity to strengthen trust, win cooperation, and teach important life skills. This is long-term parenting. It’s not always easy, but it can bring joy back into our parenting journey.
When we use positive discipline, we approach our children as whole people, recognizing their feelings and point of view as valid, and provide firm boundaries with compassion and respect. This approach allows parents to accomplish several child-rearing tasks: provide healthy boundaries, teach healthy coping skills for strong emotions, demonstrate empathy, and allow children to internalize limits which will result in capable, confident adults.
Punitive discipline methods (spanking, yelling, negative consequences given in anger, etc.) shame children, deny their honest feelings, and leave them without parental support to learn how to regulate their big emotions and accept limits. Children disciplined in this way feel that their parents do not understand them and are unfair. Instead of learning to accept limits, children focus on learning how to get around limits through manipulation and dishonesty. They are also less likely to feel safe talking to their parents if they are in trouble or make a mistake for fear of how their parents will react. Punitive discipline can be satisfying to the frustrated parent, and can result in the desired behavior in the short-term, but it undermines the development of healthy long-term life skills.
Quick Tips for Positive Parenting:
1. Strengthen self-awareness: What are you feeling and why? What’s happening right now to which you may be reacting instead of acting with intention?
2. Strengthen child-awareness: What is your child feeling and why? What is their perspective/belief about what is happening?
3. Acknowledge and validate: recognize your own feelings and let your child know that you recognize hers. Both are valid. Let your child know that you accept her feelings.
4. State the boundary/limit with compassion: Let your child know that you understand their feelings and be clear and calm stating the boundary.
5. Create space for feelings of anger/disappointment: accept feelings of anger/frustration/sadness about the limit. When possible, help your child get through the emotion “storm” before enforcing the limit.
Your daughter wants an expensive clothing item. She is begging you/demanding you to take her to the mall and purchase this item for her. You want to buy her some new clothes, but you do not want to buy this expensive item for her. You are about to tell her that she cannot have it and that she is being materialistic and spoiled for expecting something so trivial and expensive. Instead, you take advantage of her insistence on listening to headphones in the car on the way to the mall as a chance to reflect and check in with yourself (self-awareness).
You remember that you also wanted an expensive item as a teen and you and your mom had a big fight about it. Now, you understand why she refused to get it for you, but you remember at the time it felt really important because having that item would have bought you some social currency with your friends and there was a boy you wanted to impress. You had been feeling left out by your friends and you thought this would bring their attention back to you. You were really hurt by your mom’s refusal and lack of understanding and you remember saying unkind things about your mom to your father.
Today, you recognize that you are afraid of your daughter being spoiled and expecting things to be handed to her. You also know that she often loses things and you would be angry if she lost something so expensive. You feel angry that she would even ask for something like this. You want her to appreciate what she has and what you are willing to buy for her.
You realize that in this small moment, you have a lot more feelings than you realized. You decide that you are comfortable with a compromise where she pays for half of the item. This will allow her to appreciate the value and learn from the mistake if she loses the item. You remember that you want to put relationship first, so you decide to connect first.
Mom: “Lisa, getting this __________ seems really important to you. Do you know why it is so important? I’d like to understand better.” (Strengthen child-awareness)
Lisa: “I don’t know! Because I want it to wear to Jennie’s party on Friday!”
Mom: “You’ve been talking about that party. That’s really important to you, too. You want to look really good when you go. Yes?” (Validate)
Mom: “Ok, I get that and that make sense to me that you want to look really great and stand out. Tell me about your idea for your look.” (Validate)
Lisa: “Well, I want to wear my black jeans and the shoes I got last month and this _______________ will go really great with that. Plus, Kaylie is going shopping this weekend and her mom always buys her a whole new wardrobe and she looks perfect and I want to look perfect for once.”
Mom: “Oh, so it feels like Kaylie gets to stand out and look good all the time and you want to get to feel that way, too.” (Validate)
Lisa: “Yeah, I guess.”
Mom: “I get that. Ok, I think I understand and it make sense that you would feel that way. And I can see why you would want ________________. The outfit you described sounds really cool. It’s also really expensive and I’m not comfortable buying _______________ for you. I’m not saying you can’t have _______________, but I’d like for you to pay for half of it yourself today and I’ll help you with the other half.” (State boundary)
Lisa: “Um, well, ok. That’s a lot of money.”
Mom: “Yes! It is. How about if we go in and walk around and let’s talk some more about Kaylie and see if there is another way to do this.” (Create space for feelings of disappointment and problem-solving)
Positive discipline is not permissive discipline. It is about connecting with our child and creating an opportunity for real learning for both the parent and child!
Karen J. Helfrich, LCSW-C
As a therapist, mother, daughter, partner, and seeker, I am always on the journey toward a more peaceful, authentic life. I hope to share knowledge, insights, and the ongoing unknowns I find along the path...