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Positive Discipline

Appropriate Guidance for Your Child

Every parent and caregiver struggles at one time or another with how to set limits on children’s behavior. The goal of positive discipline is to teach children to develop safe, socially responsible behavior that promotes self-respect and respect for the feelings and property of others.

Discipline and punishment are not the same. Discipline is guidance and teaching that promotes positive behavior. Punishment is a penalty imposed in reaction to unacceptable behavior.

Today we’re talking about positive discipline, which is more effective than punishment because desirable behaviors that last a lifetime must come from within the child rather than be imposed by external force.

Let’s start with some helpful guidelines for setting limits for your children and their behavior.

  • To begin with, always make sure your child understands that they are accepted and loved, but their behavior is not. Humiliating children, scolding them in front of others, or telling them that they are bad will only cause them to feel badly about themselves and do little to promote good behavior. Try teaching them how to correct the mistake, for example, say, “Hitting me is not ok, use your words instead,” rather than, “You are a bad girl for hitting me.”
  • Keep rules simple and specific. When a rule is broken, state the rule and direct the child toward correcting the mistake. For example, “Sand is not for throwing; keep it in the sandbox, please.”
  • Don’t confuse children by offering choices when the choice should be yours. For example, say, “It’s nap time,” instead of “Do you want to take a nap?” which offers the chance to refuse.
  • Avoid overusing the word “no.” Instead, save it for when you really need it. For example, if a child asks for a cookie too close to lunch time, say, “Yes, you may have a cookie right after we finish lunch.”
  • Use a warning first, such as “The next time you throw sand, you will have to leave the sandbox,” then follow through if the child disobeys. Try redirecting the child toward acceptable activities.

Natural consequences can be a powerful teaching tool. Help children understand that behaviors and choices have consequences, which will help limit their behavior. For example, if you break your toy, you have no toy.

When natural consequences are not appropriate or safe, set a logical consequence related to the behavior. For example, if a child does not stay in the yard to play, the natural consequence may be that he gets hurt, but parents and caregivers can’t allow that consequence to happen. So a logical consequence of leaving the yard would be having to play inside the house instead.

You could say: “When you leave the yard I’m afraid you could get hurt, so I need you to stay inside the fence. If you leave the yard again you will have to play inside today.” Make sure the consequence is respectful of the child and is reasonable for him to follow.

You can also encourage desirable behavior with some of the following positive technique, keeping in mind that we all prefer and respond better to positive attention rather than negative attention:

  • Make sure your expectations for your child are developmentally appropriate for her age.
  • Model desirable behavior. Your children will learn from your example.
  • Be consistent. Children need to know what the rules are, and that they can trust the rules not to change.
  • A child-proof and appropriate environment can reduce behavior problems.
  • Provide age-appropriate materials and a safe place where children can use them.
  • Maintain a balance between quiet and active play.
  • Empower children by providing choices and decision-making opportunities whenever possible.

All of these techniques we’ve discussed will help you to set the stage for success with your child. For a printable version of our Positive Discipline Brochure, as well as access to additional podcasts and brochures on important parenting topics, please visit Children’s Home Society of California’s website at www.chs-ca.org. 

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