Discipline is a word synonymous with punishment. It’s often used interchangeably by parents when they discuss their parenting styles. Over the years, psychologists have established that punishment can do more harm, especially the physical form of punishment which can leave long term trauma and PTSD in children.
If you’ve never felt comfortable with traditional punishments for your child, then positive discipline might be the type of discipline you want to try.
Let’s look at some of the positive discipline techniques.
1. Positive Attention
Children need attention. Very early on, they discover how to press your buttons so to speak. We as parents, however, react more to negative behavior. Positive attention means that you should try to focus on something nice they do. Catch them at it and appreciate them for that action. In contrast to focusing on good behavior, ignore minor misbehavior, little behavior like tipping the toys out of the box, that’s a minor thing, if you scold your child, he or she will most likely repeat it to get attention next time. If your child knows they didn’t get any reaction the last time, they probably won’t attempt the same to get attention in the future.
Let’s use the toy box example:
The child throws toys on the floor. Rather than reacting to it negatively, get to the child’s eye level and says, “We have a problem because the toys are not in the toy box where they’re supposed to be. But I think you can solve this. What do you think you should do?” When the children are given the responsibility and autonomy to make decisions rather than being told what to do, it ingrains positive behavior in them not just for the present moment, but for the future as well.
Once your child agrees that toys do belong in the box, appreciate their choice and offer praise.
One important factor here is to be conscious of labeling children for example when you see your child pick up the toys, don’t just say good boy or good girl. Rather, be specific and say I like how you cleaned up after yourself.
2. Treat the cause and not the symptom
If a child is acting up, throwing tantrums, and unexplained mood swings, try and look for what is causing that behavior. This might take a few weeks. As it happens, young children go through stages where they require comfort and prefer being close to their parents or caregivers.
A mother shared an incident that happened to her. Her toddler suddenly became too clingy and difficult. Mom kept shrugging it aside thinking it’s just the terrible two’s but with time the behavior got worse. Mealtimes and bedtime turned into a nightmare. That’s when she started to observe and see what was causing it. Turns out the mother has been working from home and wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with her toddler as she did before she took the job. The little child was missing quality time with mummy.
The mother reflected that she had spent a lot of time with her firstborn child and when the second came, the responsibilities and work grew enormously thus the child ended up being neglected. So she decided to add one on one time with her baby and almost instantly the tantrums reduced and the child became a fantastic, cooperative kid who spent time playing with her toys peacefully.
Children need nurturing and a lot of love and care, but they cannot express what they feel and sometimes that attention-seeking behavior looks like an unexplained tantrum.
3. Delayed gratification
Children love knowing good behavior pays off. Not only do they get all the praise but sometimes it can have incentives too. A reward could be a golden star, positive points or a wish list.
For example Parent to child: if you tidy up your toys, you will get a gold star for good tidying or you can use a chore chart to give rewards and points. It may mean a lot to the child to get that gratification
4. Remove shame from making mistakes
Every household has a set of rules and boundaries. Parents who instill firm boundaries and stay consistent and affirm that children adapt to those rules and follow them as they grow older. However sometimes, there can be tricky situations like sharing favorite toys. It can happen between siblings as well.
However, one must be sensitive to the facts, that children get attached to their toys and they take their time to get accustomed to rules like sharing their favorite toys.
Snatching is not good, and must not be ignored. If a child refuses to share his or her favorite toy, remove it for the time being. Speak to the child alone at a later time and explain that if they don’t want to share a particular toy, that toy can stay in the bedroom.
Be firm and assertive. Yet, be aware of your child’s feelings and preferences as well.
5. Strong boundaries
There are times when the use of positive language is so important. Children don’t take the no’s and the don’ts too well. The use of positive language can get you the desired result with ease and compassion.
For instance: if you want your child to take their shoes off before entering the living room, rather than saying “Don’t walk into the living room with your”, simply rephrase and say “please take your shoes off before entering the living room”
Just by changing the simple language, you can change the behavior.
7. Give yourself a break
Positive discipline is very hard; you are training your brain to do something difficult. Trying to be reasonable, gentle, loving caring can make you feel exhausted, depleted.
You know it’s worth it and it pays off, but it is tiring and you need to give yourself a break.
After the whole day of being a gentle and positive parent, take time out, alone or with other, exercise, relax your body, relax your mind, spend time with friends, rest and rejuvenate yourself for another day of great parenting ahead.
There are no bad children. There is good and bad behavior. Positive discipline focuses on the positive points of behavior.
Don’t use the word naughty, don’t brand the child, teach boundaries without the need for punishment, respect for child’s feelings, consistency is key & stay motivated.
Books to read on positive discipline
– Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelson, Ed.D.
– Kids Are Worth It!, by Barbara Coloroso