Positive discipline

September 18

Promoting positive discipline

The words that we use when we talk to children are critical in getting them to listen and respond positively. Compare these responses to two young children who have both just broken open large family sized packets of crisps and spilled them all over the floor.  

Toby’s mum says:

“Oh Toby! Not again! How many times have I told you not to touch the crisps? Why do you always make such a mess? Move out of the way while I clear it up”.  

Contrast that with Florence’s mum who responds:

“OK Flo, it looks like there’s a right mess on this floor. You know where we keep the dustpan and brush. Please let me know when you have finished sweeping it up”.  

You will notice that in these situations, both mothers acknowledge the spilled crisps. However, only Florence’s mother offers a positive solution in which Flo can take a leading role. Instead of scolding her child she simply describes what she sees and directs Florence towards a way of sorting it out for herself.

This way of managing children’s behaviour is known as positive discipline and is the approach that teaches self-discipline most effectively. Positive discipline means that we give children clear guidance about what they should do, instead of focusing on what they shouldn’t do. We notice and praise what they do right, instead of emphasising and punishing mistakes. It’s probably not going to be possible to always avoid using `don’t’ or `no’ commands but the following suggestions will help to change the balance:

  • Practice using `do’ commands by calmly stating what you want your child to do rather than what you don’t want 
  • Instead of saying “No, we haven’t got time to go to the park today” give your child a positive alternative – “Going to the park sounds great – would you rather go on Saturday morning or on Sunday afternoon?”
  • Rather than saying “We’re not going out until your room is tidy” try “Yes, when your room is tidy we’ll go to the shopping centre”.

Positive discipline nurtures self-esteem and leads to healthy social and emotional growth because it helps children to feel trusted, successful and loved by the people who are most important to them.

Dr Ruth MacConville






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