Teaching your child appropriate behavior is part of being a parent, and discipline is a large chunk of that.

Positive discipline is a kind-but-firm approach that has its roots in the teachings of Alfred Adler, a psychologist who believed that cooperation is the result of mutual respect and encouragement.

But what does that look like and how does it work? Here’s a list of tips for practicing positive discipline at home.

Accentuate the Positive

Your child craves your attention. If they don’t feel they’re getting it, they’ll do whatever it takes to recover your focus, sometimes resorting to negative behaviors they know you won’t be able to ignore.

It’s important that your child knows that you see them following the rules, not just breaking them. Let them know how much you appreciate how patiently they waited at the doctor’s office or that they wiped their shoes on the doormat before entering the house. Praise doesn’t have to be verbal. A gentle, loving hand on the back or shoulder is just as effective.

As long as they’re not posing a risk to themselves or anyone else, try not to pay attention when your child resorts to less-than-desirable behavior. When the negative behavior stops, reward your child with positive attention. This can be as simple as saying, “You’re calm and quiet now, it looks like you’re ready to play.”

Your child will quickly learn that positive behavior is the best way to get your attention.

Offer Choices

Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the purple shirt? Should we read this story before bed or that one?

“People are always happier with choices because they have some feeling of control,” says Jim Fay, founder of the Love and Logic Institute.

Think about your reaction to someone telling you what to do and how to do it. You might become angry or indignant. Maybe even ignore the person or do the exact opposite out of spite. Children are no different.

Forced choices encourage independence and promote decision-making skills while still maintaining clear limits and expectations. You’re not letting your child call the shots, you’re simply letting them decide how to accomplish the task, making them more likely to comply.

Yes Means Yes, No Means No

Rules aren’t just for establishing order and balance. They also keep children safe and help prepare them for life in the real world.

Your child should know, in no uncertain terms, what the rules are and the consequences for breaking them. Depending on your child’s age and maturity, they can even contribute to the rule-making process. Children tend to feel more invested in rules they helped create and are more likely to stick to them.

Once those limits have been set, be consistent in enforcing them. “Kids who argue with their parents about the limits and try to change them never feel the need to listen to their parents, as they don’t have any respect for them,” says Fay.

Make it clear that yes means yes and no means no, every time. If your child attempts to argue or negotiate, Fay suggests responding with the question: “What did I say?”

Make the Consequences Make Sense

You’ve asked your child repeatedly to clean their room, but you still can’t set foot inside without risking impalement by Legos. Do you…

  1. Revoke your child’s television privileges for a week, or
  2. Stuff everything in trash bags and inform your child that they’ll need to recover and put away anything they plan to keep before you take out the trash?

Banning television, which has nothing to do with the slovenly state of your child’s room, pulls the focus away from the misdemeanor and how they can rectify it. Instead, they’ll resent you for taking away their precious TV time, making you the bad guy.

On the other hand, breaking out the trash bags sends the message that if your child won’t clean up after themselves, you will. And they won’t be happy with the way you do it.

Consequences should be non-negotiable and, preferably, related to the offense. However, they don’t have to be acted upon immediately. “It’s just as powerful to say, ‘That was a bad decision. I’m going to have to do something about that, but not right now. I’ll figure it out and get back to you,’” Fay says. This gives you and your child the chance to calm down and reflect before any punishment is doled out.

Set the Example

Humans learn through imitation. We see how the important people in our lives conduct themselves and try to emulate that. So the best way to teach your child a certain behavior is to exhibit that behavior yourself.

If you want to teach your child gratitude, let them witness you generously thanking others and discussing what you’re grateful for. Sharing? Show them how you share your time, attention, love, money, and possessions with others. Honesty? Practice being truthful to the people in your life and be transparent about the times you considered lying but opted for honesty instead. Point out to your child when other grown-ups are doing these things as well.

Set a good example and your child is sure to follow.

The Takeaway

Positive discipline is using everyday instances to teach and guide your child as they discover how they fit into the world around them. It’s about encouragement, respect, consequences, and unconditional love, not lectures, threats, rewards, and punishment.

“We want to set limits and to be able to enforce those limits in a loving way,” says Fay.

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