Meaningful discipline is achieved by using positive discipline techniques. This means that you’re disciplining children in a way that focuses on the good as opposed to the bad.
Why positive discipline practices are so important
Aside form the many social and emotional benefits of positive discipline, there’s reason to believe children may not even have the neurological hardware to make effective use of negative feedback. Brain imagine studies have shown that areas of the brain involved in learning and cognitive control become highly active after negative feedback in adults, but active only after positive feedback in 8- and 9-year-old children. It’s believed that the brain centers responsive to negative feedback come online during adolescence and start to resemble that of an adult. (Wright, 2011)
This means that negative-leaning discipline techniques are flat out ineffective. They don’t accomplish much of anything at all; they simply waste a parent’s energy and make a child feel bad in the process. As Rudolf Dreikurs and Vicki Soltz remark, “Our emphasis on mistakes is disastrous. When we pay constant attention to mistakes, we discourage «Hour children. We cannot build on weakness – only on strength.” (1964, pp. 106-107)
What is positive discipline?
So what exactly are positive discipline practices? In a nutshell . . .
Positive discipline is forward leaning – It focuses on the future and not the past. Normally when parents discipline, they are looking to the past: A child did this or failed to do that. In positive discipline, the past is irrelevant, and it certainly isn’t used as something to hang over a child’s head. The focus is on encouraging better behavior in the future and getting a child’s mind focused on the future.
Remembering that children follow our beliefs about them, positive discipline treats kids not as they are but how they could be. It corrects them in ways that show them a better path and expresses faith that they can get there.
Positive discipline focuses on reparations and making amends. It doesn’t waste time trying to make children feel bad, it shows them how to do the work that will correct the situation. As Steven Vannoy argues, “You can either hurt your child when he spills his drink by reminding him of what a clumsy oaf he is, or empower him by letting him learn to clean up the results of his action.” (1994, p. 73)
How to be a more positive parent when you discipline your kids
We’ve all heard the phrase, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” We all know it to be intuitively true–after all, you yourself probably know you respond better to positive feedback than negative feedback. Yet when we’re actually in the trenches with our children, it’s easy to find ourselves quickly abandoning this principle. Here are some simple tips to help keep your discipline trending towards the positive.
Watch your ration. Discipline should always include more guidance than punishment. If kids are spending an hour a day under some type of punishment but getting only 5 minutes of guidance, that’s a problem. This ratio needs to be pushed in the other direction.
Try to get in the habit of mentioning at least 1 positive whenever you discipline or punish your kids. Children need to be given a small glimmer of hope and encouragement so that they can feel “If this much is good (instead of hopeless) maybe I can do more.” (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1964, p. 45) So don’t just tell children what they do wrong, tell them what they do well and what you want to see more of.
Get in the habit of asking “What can we do about this?” or “What needs to happen how?” When you discipline. It’s a way to keep the focus forward-leaning and directed towards reconciliation at the same time.
State what you need form your kids, and then ask how each of you might compromise in order to accomplish this. You may be amazed at how quickly problems dissolve when you work together.
“Remember that children thrive on responsibility.
They want you to recognize their growing maturity.”
– Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D. (1996, p. 142)