Child DevelopmentParental Advice

The importance of positive discipline

By Dan Brennan
7/12/2020 - 4 min read
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Positive discipline is a way of teaching children that is based on the concept “there are no bad children, just bad behaviours”. It treats children as an actor with the ability to use their personal power to influence the world around them and shapes them to do so with respect and empathy.

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My daughter was a bum shuffler. For parents who don’t know what that is, it’s a child who doesn’t crawl, instead they slide around on their bums using their arms to pull themselves forward. It’s incredibly cute and gives your child the upper body strength of a wrestler when they do finally walk. I found this was problematic though, when, at a play area, my daughter decided a younger girl was in her way on a slide and tossed her aside with one hand as opposed to waiting her turn.

Discipline is important but how is the best way to discipline?

Positive discipline is a way of teaching children that is based on the concept “there are no bad children, just bad behaviours”. It’s is an approach that I’ve always used with my daughter as it treats children as an actor with the ability to use their personal power to influence the world around them and shapes them to do so with respect and empathy. Sounds wonderful, right, but what exactly does that mean and how do you apply this concept to a rambunctious 3-year-old? Also, how do you ensure that others e.g nannies and other carers are assisting you in this process? The following article will hopefully help you incorporate these strategies and ensure nannies and other carers assist with them.

Autonomy and discipline - achieving a balance

According to Erikson's stages of development, a child will start understanding their autonomy at around 18-36 months. This is generally why the terrible twos happen; the child is learning they have an impact on the world around them and learning that those big people they live with will pretty much do whatever they want. Like all humans, they’ll test this hypothesis and it’s ok to let them; for a little while. Introduce boundaries gradually. Start critical boundaries, like keeping them away from danger and work up to ones that are more about empathy for the world around them e.g mummy can’t come to you any time you feel like it and you need to sleep when we tell you to. The goal here is to teach your children that the world does not revolve around them. Be warned, I was astounded at how effectively a 2-3-year-old can manipulate situations and understand what would get attention. Bedtime was a great example. Our daughter learnt quickly that “I’m hungry” was a request we couldn’t ignore at bedtime. She used this skilfully to stall but I found a counter by telling her that I’ll be back in 20 minutes with crackers if she was still hungry. She never managed to stay awake for the whole 20 minutes.

Positive reinforcement

Often parenting seems like you’re always putting out fires (hopefully just figurative ones) so we tend to point out bad behaviours and ignore good ones. Even when that good behaviour is the result of addressing a bad behaviour a simple “very good” should be given when the desirable behaviour is demonstrated. When desirable behaviours are demonstrated by your child autonomously, reward them and tell them how proud you are. Children are craving your attention and approval so make sure they associate good behaviour with what they’re seeking.

Actions and consequences

As children grow there will be bad behaviour which needs to have consequences. This part is tricky because every child is different. Timeouts might work on some kids but not on others. You might also be tempted to incorporate positive actions, such as reading, into the timeout but you need to be careful here because you don’t want a child to associate reading with punishment. Taking the child out of the situation that is causing the bad situation is probably the most effective e.g if your child is being mean to other children in a play area, its best to take them away from that area. As they get older you can explain why what they’re doing is wrong. It’s different for every child and its important to keep an eye on them so you can quickly recognise and correct bad behaviour. Most importantly, you need to follow through on punishments. No one likes punishing their children but as soon as a child realises a threat is empty, you’ve lost the battle.

Nannies and other carers

Childcare centres usually have strict guidelines and already incorporate these methods but how would you ensure a nanny is incorporating all the strategies you’ve worked on with your child? We believe it comes down to how you hire and we suggest using the Big 5 personality test as part of your hiring process. It’s worth learning more about all the traits but what you need to ensure a nanny is an extension of your strategy is moderately high agreeableness and low openness. These two traits will ensure they’ll follow instructions closely.

So how did I solve my “monster in the playground problem”? My first step was to tell her that this was not acceptable and she had to wait her turn; then, minutes later she did it again. At this point, I was forced to pick her up and take her away for the play area. She cried and screamed but it did the trick. She never did that again. Sure every now and then she’d get excited and a little pushy but I just had to gently remind her to wait her turn.

As she got older I would talk to her about the concept of bully’s and tell her she can’t use your strength to just get what you want. As a result, my little girl is gentle and just, but strong and fierce when she needs to be.

Raising children is a challenge but positive discipline can make it easier. Just remember to reward good behaviour as diligently as you discourage bad and as children get older explain to them why a behaviour is good or bad. You’ll find what works for your child through trial and error but it’s important that other carers are following your lead. After all, no one knows your child as you do.