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Positive Discipline: Kind and firm with mutual respect

Updated 31 December 2016
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© Save the Children Sweden

Positive Discipline is a non-punitive parenting and classroom-management approach that:

  • shows parents and teachers how to be kind and firm at the same time.
  • is about building an encouraging relationship based on mutual respect for the needs of the adults and the child.
  • emphasizes helping children feel a sense of belonging and significance.
  • relies on clear communication.
  • seeks long-term effectiveness and solutions through understanding of the problem leading up to the misbehavior, rather than merely attempting to change behavior.
  • has no use for punishment, which is regarded as having only short-term effectiveness with adverse long-term results.
  • aspires to teach valuable social and life skills for good character (e.g., respect, courtesy, empathy, concern for others, problem-solving, accountability, contribution, cooperation).
  • invites children to discover how capable they are and to use their personal power in constructive ways.

Why don’t children behave the way they used to in the good old days?

In the first chapter of Jane Nelsen’s book, Positive Discipline, she described several changes in our society that might help answer that question. One important change is that we adults don’t model submissiveness or obedience for children anymore. In the good old days, dad’s decisions were final, and mom obediently did what dad said (or at least gave the impression that she did). There were many other models of submissiveness and obedience. Dad obeyed the boss, minority groups accepted submissive roles, people who were non-traditional kept that in the closet, etc. People are not willing to accept an inferior, submissive role anymore, and they are demanding dignity and respect. Why would we expect children to be any different (than the examples we give them)? Certainly, children should not get the same rights as adults, but they deserve dignity and respect as they learn life skills through kindness and firmness (instead of blame, shame, and pain). Don’t misunderstand. Positive Discipline is not about permissiveness, letting kids do whatever they want; it’s about finding long-term solutions that help children develop their own self-discipline over time.

Who is Positive Discipline for?

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© Save the Children Suède

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© Save the Children Suecia

Positive Discipline can be helpful for any family to varying degrees. It often meets the needs of families, but some children have unique challenges and needs that are not typical for their age, such as attention difficulties, disruptive behavior, the autism spectrum, etc. Children with unique challenges need support from a mental health professional who tailors interventions to fit with their particular difficulties, and Positive Discipline could possibly be a component of that treatment. Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS), formerly known as Collaborative Problem Solving, is another non-punitive approach. A large body of research supports using CPS to help children with unique challenges, and they might be supported better by CPS than Positive Discipline (see my article on CPS). Nonetheless, Positive Discipline is an approach that parents of typically-developing children often find natural, effective, and easy enough to implement. Positive Discipline resources are available in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Dutch.

Introductory Videos by Joan Durrant