All parents want the best for their children, but sometimes we don’t have the knowledge to act properly. Educating is not an easy task. For this reason, it is essential to have resources to help us act out of understanding and kindness. Positive discipline is that tool for educating children through cooperation and mutual respect between parents and children.
What is positive discipline?
Positive discipline was developed by psychotherapist Alfred Alder and his apprentice Rudolf Dreikurs. Later, Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott (founders of the American Association of Positive Discipline) regulated its principles and techniques.
Many times, when we hear the word “discipline” we associate it with negative factors, but the true meaning of this word is “disciple”. We could see our children as disciples who need our help during their development, in order to be free, happy and independent in the future.
Firm & Kind
Several studies have shown that children need to create significant relationships with the people closest to them, such as their parents, friends or teachers. The children who maintain these strong bonds generally behave better. Positive discipline is based on the premise “Firm & Kind” and reinforces these bonds through respect, understanding, self-esteem, communication.
Basic principles of positive discipline
- Communication and understanding
- Mutual respect between parents and children
- Kindness and firmness
- Strengthening bonds
- Children’s active participation
- Emotional and independent development
Positive discipline and why children misbehave
Children are children and sometimes they can make us despair when they don’t do what we expect. Perhaps that is the first mistake: “to expect something from them”. First, we shouldn’t expect their behavior to be one way or the other. We must understand that they don’t communicate like adults communicate, therefore we must the message they are trying to get across.
Rudolf Dreikurs mentioned: “When children don’t behave well, they are trying to say something in a different way than an adult would and therefore, we perceive it as the wrong way, without stopping to think that maybe it is the only way they can/know how to express themselves”. The reasons can be several; to claim our attention, boredom, hunger, etc. This is why important to empathize with our children to know the real reason their behaviors.
Positive discipline is not the same as being permissive
Positive discipline does not mean of it or of permissiveness. Nor does it resemble punitive discipline (based on punishment), since it makes children learn by feeling bad and by feeling afraid. With positive discipline, we are looking for long-term results. The objective is for children to understand why certain things are wrong and why they shouldn’t do them. We don’t impose punishments without knowing if children have really understood why they shouldn’t act in certain ways.
23 positive discipline techniques
Many parents lose a lot of energy trying to control their children, but the only behavior we can really control is our own. It’s up to us to adopt an attitude that benefits our mental health and not let difficult situations overwhelm us. We can redirect our children’s behavior and/or tell them what they can do, instead of focusing our attention on what they shouldn’t do. Transmitting safety and calmness will benefit the relationship with our little ones.
It’s the basis of every relationship. We must try to look for moments to connect with our children. For example, going for a snack after school, having breakfast together every morning before going to school, or even holding family gatherings. Keeping in touch with our children and up to date on possible problems they may have at school, after-school activities, etc., will help us understand their behavior.
- Showing interest
Ask about our children’s interests, hobbies, and preferences. Making children feel valued strengthens their self-esteem and well-being. Avoid asking “Have you done your homework?” questions. If you know he hasn’t done his homework. We can replace it with phrases like: “I realize you haven’t done your homework”. That way we’ll prevent children from feeling trapped by our questions.
No matter how small they may be, they have their own feelings and emotions, listening to what they tell us will help us understand their behaviors. Through them, we have the opportunity to turn the world in a new and surprising way, like when we were children.
Try to understand what is behind a bad behavior; it can be fatigue from school, after-school activities, being hungry, having a bad day, or being uncomfortable with something in particular. Finding out what is really happening to them will help us adopt effective solutions.
- Firm & Kind
Be firm in your decisions but kind at the same time. Show understanding for them but do not give in. For example, the child wants to play video games when they get home but has homework to do. A “Firm & Kind” attitude would be: “I know you want to play video games, but first you have to do your homework and then you can play”.
- Be an example
Children have many ways of learning, one of the best known is by imitation. If we try to keep our children from behaving in certain ways, we should be an example to them and make our words coincide with our actions. That is to say, we can’t tell them not to use their phones when we are eating but then use it ourselves. Being an example is fundamental for them to develop principles and positive values, so it is also important to constantly ask ourselves what mistakes we’re making and try to improve every day.
- Pay attention to effort rather than success
It is very common to focus on success rather than on the efforts made. We all want our children to be the best in school and other activities, but this requires time and effort that must be valued even more than success. Imagine our child fails an exam. We agree that it is not a very high grade, but we must bear in mind that the child has improved, so we have to focus our attention on that.
- Seek solutions that involve children
Let us imagine that our child is playing in the room. When we are going to call them to sit at the table for dinner, we notice that they have painted the wall with colored pencils. One solution that involves the child would be to tell them to clean the wall, or to clean it together.
- Taking Responsibility
Teach them to take responsibility for their own actions. In this way, they learn to relate actions with consequences. We can try phrases like: “As you have done all your homework now we can go to the park”.
- Redirect actions
Redirect actions that are not appropriate in a gentle and subtle way. Imagine that you are in the park and have been swinging for a long time and other children want to get on the swing. We can kindly invite our child to leave the swing and take them to the slide.
Limits are necessary to protect our children from danger and help them adapt to the world around us. It is important that children participate in these if they are 4 years and over. The decision should not be unilateral, as in this way we promote power and this can sometimes result in rebellion. For example, decide together when to go to bed or curfew hours.
- Natural consequences
They are those that occur without the intervention of an adult. For example, the child does not want to eat the food and if they don’t eat it later they will be hungry (natural consequence). It is a matter of the child learning them by themselves. Avoid phrases such as “I told you so” or “I warned you”. These kinds of phrases can make a child feel humiliated. Do not forget that the main objective is that children learn and do not repeat the same mistakes, not that they realize that adults know everything.
- Logical Consequences
Logical consequences require adult follow-up. For example: “If you go to bed late, I won’t have time to read you the story. Therefore, we decide a consequence for their actions directly related to unwanted behavior.
When we apply logical consequences, we must keep them constant. If we deem it appropriate, we can give them a new opportunity to fulfill them later.
- Avoiding rewards and punishments
Prizes and punishments are arbitrary. The consequence is not directly related to the cause and promote authority and power, without regard to mutual respect. Try to replace them by applying logical consequences, as they are based on choice and understanding.
- Error = opportunity
The word crisis in Chinese is composed of two characters, the first means danger and the second opportunity. A mistake is an opportunity to learn. We can let children make mistakes and learn for themselves. When they make mistakes, we will not give them the solution immediately. We can brainstorm and discuss the pros and cons together.
- Never use physical violence
It is not advisable to use physical violence when children misbehave, as this teaches them that violence is okay. When we are very angry, we need to try to calm down and then adopt logical consequences from serenity. We must remember that no one is perfect and that we have all made mistakes.
Devoting exclusive time to our children is fundamental. This will help to avoid tantrums, focusing too much on electronic devices or even waking up at night in search of our attention. It is advisable to quality invest with them, read them a story before going to bed or take advantage of meals and dinners to share with them.
- Tone of voice
It is beneficial to address them in a friendly and loving tone, that will make it easier for them to pay attention and really listen to what we want to say to them. Perceiving the “sermon tone” will make them want to disconnect and not pay attention to our words. It is important to educate without shouting.
Choosing the right words accompanied by the right tone of voice is essential for communication between parents and children to reflect respect and affection.
Although we sometimes have the instinct to protect them, it is not advisable to do so if we want them to grow up safely and independently. Children should be allowed to experience consequences based on their own actions and/or decisions (using common sense, of course). We should not do things that they can already do for themselves, so we will help them to be more autonomous.
Accumulated fatigue, stress, or self-demanding can easily cause us to lose patience. We are human and it is normal that sometimes we feel overwhelmed and lose patience with our children. We should not blame ourselves for this, we can look for activities that make us disconnect like sports or simply dedicate time to ourselves.
Psicóloga en formación, especializada en la investigación de la psicología positiva y la educación. Su objetivo es contribuir al bienestar social y personal mediante recursos al alcance de todos los públicos.