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Positive Discipline May Be the Key to Getting Your Kids to Behave, Experts Say

© franckreporter - Getty Images Research shows that this method of discipline, in which parents use both firmness and kindness, leads to better outcomes for kids. It's a method based on encouragement, empowerment, and mutual respect.

By Marisa LaScala, Good Housekeeping

  • Positive Discipline is a method where parents clearly communicate what behaviors are appropriate, which ones are inappropriate, and what the rewards for good behavior and the consequences for bad behavior are.
  • It was developed by Dr. Jane Nelsen, a licensed marriage, family and child counselor and author of Positive Discipline.
  • It it an authoritative method focused on encouragement and problem-solving. Positive Discipline does not use yelling, spanking, or severe punishment.
  • Experts find that it is motivating and effective for kids.

If you asked 1,000 parents to name their least favorite part of parenting, discipline is probably near or at the top of the list. And yet a good foundation for discipline is incredibly important to keep parents from feeling burned out. "So many parents I work with, who use traditional discipline and punishment methods, often share how terrible, exhausted, and guilty they feel at the end of the day for all the yelling, nagging, and lecturing," says Debbie Zeichner, LCSW. "They share how disconnected they feel from their children and themselves. They want to do something different." Enter Positive Discipline.

What is Positive Discipline and what techniques do you use to employ it?

According to Dr. Nelson, there are five principles of Positive Discipline:

1.It is Kind and Firm at the same time.

2.It helps children feel a sense of belonging and significance.

3.It is effective long-term.

4.It teaches valuable social and life skills for good character.

5.It invites children to discover how capable they are and to use their personal power in constructive ways.

"It's a parenting philosophy based on encouragement, empowerment, and mutual respect," Zeichner says. "It supports parents in finding solutions to misbehavior rather than using or relying on punishment. Discipline is all about guiding children, being neither permissive nor punitive."

This method relies on a high level of communication. "The parent explains everything to the child," says Samantha Rodman, Ph.D. "They'll go over what behaviors they're working on, why, and what the consequences are. The parent maintains a warm and firm tone, and encourages the child to make choices that make sense."

The techniques involve encouraging the behavior you'd like to see continue, and discouraging the behaviors you'd like to see stop. For example, if you're potty training, "Give your child a sticker for every time they go to the potty, and let them earn a prize after five stickers," says Dr. Rodman. Conversely, "for hitting, remove a privilege, like TV watching," she says. But no matter what, you have to keep your cool - no blowing your top when things get frustrating. "Whether you're trying to increase or decrease the likelihood of a behavior, you maintain a positive, respectful relationship with your child while disciplining them," she says.

That's easier said than done, but Zeichner says it helps to give kids a choice, or help them work through their feelings. “You can say something like, 'I know you want to keep playing and it’s bath time. Would you like to leave your toy here or bring it up to the bath? It’s up to you to decide,'” she says. “Or you can say, 'It’s okay to feel frustrated, but it’s never okay to hit/kick/throw things/bite. What words can you use to tell me what you need?'” That way, kids feel more empowered, and you teach them to make better choices in the long-term.

Is there such a thing as Negative Discipline?

In the parenting-philosophy sense, no, no one really subscribes purposefully to a system of Negative Discipline. But there are discipline methods that are overwhelmingly negative. "Yelling, spanking, guilt tripping, or the silent treatment are all examples of what I would consider 'negative discipline,' or discipline that may work short-term but has bad consequences for children's development long-term," Dr. Rodman says.

"When a parent uses these methods, the child is often much more focused on the parent's anger or what has been taken away than the lesson the parent is trying to teach," Zeichner says. "In addition, it’s hard to learn how to manage emotions effectively and respectfully when such emotional regulation isn’t being modeled. Children raised with negative discipline tend to be more anxious, depressed, and aggressive. They also struggle socially and academically. Punishment focuses on what not to do, while positive discipline teaches children what to do in a kind, respectful, and empowering way." In that way, Positive Discipline as a better way to find behavioral solutions, rather than temporarily stop problems.

The good news is that Positive Discipline is effective.

This is especially true over the long-term. "Early research has shown that children do better when they perceive both firmness and kindness from their parents," Zeichner says. "Children who rate their parents as both responsive to their needs and feelings while having high - yet realistic - expectations are much less likely to engage in socially risky behaviors and have more success socially and academically.

"They find it easier to work toward concrete goals and are motivated to succeed when parents are loving and firm," Dr. Rodman says.

But it does take a lot of time and practice.

This is especially true of parents who were raised by authoritarian or permissive parents, since the style involves a lot of communication. And you also have to make sure you're offering the right kinds of rewards. "Positive Discipline encourages the use of verbal rewards as well as goods and services, like gifts or privileges," says Dr. Kyle Pruett, M.D., Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and member of the Educational Advisory Board at the Goddard School. "Non-verbal awards can unintentionally slip into bribery, which we know doesn’t work over time to build an internal sense of responsibility and self-awareness. Positive Discipline requires frequent check-ins regarding how parents are sticking to - or not sticking to - the program. It's in many children’s nature to seek out the cracks in the dike."

How to Get Started With Positive Discipline

There is such a thing as Certified Positive Discipline Trainers, and they do hold classes and workshops across the country. You can see a schedule here.

Take stock of how your family deals with feelings. "I recommend listening much more than you talk," Zeichner says. "When a child feels a sense of belonging and significance, he or she is much less likely to misbehave and much more likely to listen and cooperate. It's also helpful to know that our children learn how to manage and regulate their emotions by how we manage and regulate ours, so modeling the very behavior we want to see is important."

Talk to the teachers in your lives. Positive Discipline is often used in the classroom as a way of managing class behavior. "This happens when teachers are warm and firm, give students clear expectations for what needs to be accomplished, offer clear guidelines for what behaviors are unacceptable, work with students to create solutions to their problems, and reward positive behaviors or discourage negative behaviors in a very clear and transparent," Dr. Rodman says. If teachers can do it for a classroom of dozens of kids, you can certainly do it at home.

Choose a goal as a family, and discuss a plan for how to achieve it. Get that first sticker chart ready!

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U.S. Daily News: Positive Discipline May Be the Key to Getting Your Kids to Behave, Experts Say
Positive Discipline May Be the Key to Getting Your Kids to Behave, Experts Say
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