As parents, one of our most important jobs is to teach our children how to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. This involves discipline—guiding them to follow rules, have self-control, and make responsible choices. But how we apply discipline makes all the difference in nurturing positive behaviours versus simply forcing obedience.
Punishment versus Positive Discipline
Many associate discipline with punishment—making a child experience something unpleasant to deter negative behaviour. This could mean yelling, taking away privileges, humiliating them, using physical discipline, etc. The idea is that children will avoid these punishments by changing their behaviour.
However, this traditional view of discipline focuses on forcing children to obey rather than teaching them. Punishment might stop unwanted behaviours temporarily, but it doesn’t address the underlying reasons behind them. Children may follow rules when threats loom over them, but they aren’t internalising positive values.
Positive discipline takes a different approach—one that focuses on mutually respectful communication and natural consequences to teach appropriate behaviours. The emphasis is on building a strong relationship between parent and child, not making children obey out of fear of punishment.
Benefits of Positive Discipline
Compared to more traditional punitive methods, positive discipline offers many advantages:
Stronger Parent-Child Relationship: Open, respectful communication fosters trust and understanding between parents and children. Children feel heard and valued, making them more receptive to guidance.
Improved Self-Regulation: Rather than forcing obedience, positive discipline teaches self-control. Children learn to reflect on their actions and manage their own behaviour.
Long-Term Benefits: While punishment may briefly change behaviour, positive discipline promotes actual growth and learning. Children develop life-long skills.
Emotional Support: Positive discipline addresses the reasons behind a child’s behaviour rather than just stopping the behaviour itself. Children get help understanding and regulating their feelings.
Problem-Solving Ability: By exploring choices and consequences, children learn critical thinking and decision-making, enabling them to solve issues independently.
Ready to embrace a more constructive approach to discipline? Here are five positive strategies to use with your children:
Set Clear Expectations: First, make sure your child understands what behaviour you expect from them—for example, listening when parents speak, being gentle with younger siblings, and finishing homework before playtime. Establish simple, age-appropriate rules and explain your reasoning to them. Clear, consistent expectations prevent confusion and defiance.
Offer Choices: Given positive options for action, children feel empowered rather than restricted. For example, “Would you like to tidy your toys before or after your bath?” They practice decision-making, and you still direct behaviour.
Use Positive Reinforcement: When children exhibit the desired behaviour, offer praise and small rewards to reinforce it. Say, “High five for helping mom clean up!” Tangible reinforcement cements positive associations.
Apply Natural Consequences: Allow children to learn from the natural outcomes of their choices rather than from forced punishments. For example, if they forget their lunchbox, let them experience hunger pangs. They associate their choice with the logical result.
Promote Communication: Don’t react punitively to unwanted behaviours right away. First, have a conversation to understand where the child is coming from. Compassionately exploring their viewpoint makes children more receptive to guidance.
Real-Life Examples of Positive Discipline
To better understand these principles, let’s walk through some real-life scenarios:
Your four-year-old refuses to share their new toy with a sibling... Rather than snatching the toy away (punishment), have them take a five-minute breather to calm down. Then explain how sharing makes playtime more fun for everyone (using communication to change understanding of consequences). Finally, reinforce with praise when they share toys in the future.
Your child throws a tantrum when you set bedtime... Remind them of the calming bedtime routine you established (clear expectations). Then, give options like reading or singing before lights out (providing positive choices). If they’re still defiant, let natural tiredness be the "punishment.” They'll learn they simply feel awful when staying up too late.
Your daughter leaves her dirty dishes on the counter... Rather than lecturing, use natural consequences. Say, “The dishes need to soak now, so it will take longer to wash them. Next time, placing them right in the sink will make clean-up easier for both of us!” No overflowing emotion, just logical results.
The Power of Teaching Through Guidance
Positive discipline focuses on teaching rather than forcing obedience. Instead of causing a child pain in hopes they’ll change, you explain reasons for rules, offer choices, use reinforcement, and help children see logical consequences for themselves. The emphasis is on communication, mutual understanding, and emotional support.
This compassionate guidance fosters the development of self-discipline, sound judgement, and personal responsibility. Children raised with positive discipline grow into competent, confident individuals able to make wise choices independently. They don’t simply obey to avoid punishment; they self-regulate because they genuinely understand right from wrong.
So be patient, be present, and nurture your child through the process of learning. With positive discipline, your sons and daughters will blossom into the positive, enlightened adults we hope they become.
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