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Positive Discipline

When you hear the word “discipline”, do you immediately think of “punishment”? Actually, the word “discipline” comes from the Latin word “disciplina”, which means “instruction and training”. With this in mind, let us evaluate a common discipline approach - spanking, to see if it achieves its goals. Why do parents choose spanking? Simply because it is a quick fix. By inflicting pain, you stop your children from doing whatever it is that you don’t want them to do. However, what are they learning? That violence is permissible? So, can the child hit her younger sister if she “misbehaves”? An alternative to this approach is positive discipline.



Dr Jane Nelsen, author of “Positive Discipline”, says her work is based on the basic concept of Alfred Adler, that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The core principle of positive discipline is that there are no bad kids, just bad behaviour. Here are the five key criteria of Positive Discipline:

(1)   Being kind and firm at the same time

(2)   Helping children feel a sense of belonging and significance

(3)   Is effective long term

(4)   Teaching children valuable social and life skills for good character

(5)   Inviting children to discover how capable they are and using their personal power in constructive ways.

We choose to develop “good” behaviour rather than punishing “bad” behaviour.


Effective discipline should teach appropriate new skills. It is way better to teach your children how to negotiate with their siblings than punishing them for fighting. Authoritarian parents have very high expectations of their children, but yet provide very little feedback or nurturance and this shuts down the possibility of any discussion or input from the child. This style of parenting deprives a child of the opportunity to internalize self-discipline and responsibility, and cannot be sustained as a child grows into adolescence.



Unlike younger children, adolescents are less likely to be oblivious to the flaws in their parents. This change of perspective often leads to rebellion against authority figures, including parents. In contrast, positive discipline has been shown to lead to greater trust between parents and children, improved communication, and lower instances of childhood depression than harsher discipline styles. It can work throughout the development of the child, and actually gets stronger and evolves with each family the more it is used.



  • Get Real! Parent the child you have, not the one you wish you had. Set realistic expectations. It is more helpful than wallowing in frustration/dismay about your child’s behavior. Think of how you would train for a marathon: you start off with a sustainable pace for a sustainable distance, then train from stage to stage before embarking on the full distance. If you are teaching child responsibility, start with small achievable tasks. Keep your instruction short and sweet, for example: dirty clothes on the floor don’t get washed.

  • Foster Connections

  • Timing is Everything

  • Hold family meetings

  • Focus on solutions


Make the Change

Are you tired of yelling at your children? It scares your kids and makes you feel terrible. If all that you have been doing is making matters worse, give Positive Discipline a shot. You have the power to end the struggles today!


by Esther Lai


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