May 3, 2024

What is Positive Discipline? (and how can it help?)

You might be wondering how to raise polite and co-operative children without resorting to threats or punishments? Many of the people I work with had strict upbringings with parents or teachers who used shaming and blaming tactics to control behaviour. Unfortunately strict parenting leaves scars. Often clients are afraid of repeating their parents behaviour but have found that their home life has become chaotic: They find themselves shouting and feeling horrible about it.

What can you do instead?

Role model the behaviour you would like

Often our worst parenting moments happen when we are feeling low or stressed. Think about the last time you shouted at your child, were you:

  • Allowing your boundaries to overstepped
  • Feeling overworked 
  • Feeling unsupported
  • Neglecting your needs
  • Hungry
  • Tired
  • Feeling fearful about the future consequences of your child’s behaviour
  • Judging your child’s behaviour

Next time you notice yourself starting to get angry pause and notice any thoughts and feelings you might be having. Take steps to calm down, such as taking some deep breaths or communicating that you are struggling. If necessary leave the room before you shout. Doing these things to avoid losing your cool means that you are role modelling positive behaviours for your child.

Children learn a lot by observing our behaviour, as a parent you set the tone for your family’s culture.

Also, look at the bigger picture. What are you doing to stay well emotionally? Self care is not a luxury, it is the foundation of good enough parenting (remember you don’t have to be perfect!). Part of this might be understanding and sticking to your boundaries, read more about this here.

What is Positive Discipline and how can it help? Mother and Daughter spending time together outdoors.

Connect then request

Having a positive relationship with your child is essential. If there is warmth and love between you, your child is more likely to want to behave in kind and respectful ways. According to John Gottman we should aim for five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Spending at least twenty minutes a day having high quality, focused time with your child is a fantastic investment in your relationship with them. Listen to them with care and be curious about their way of seeing the world.

Practise listening to understand rather than listening to instruct or correct.

Each time we ask our child for something, ideally we should take a moment to connect with them first. 

With younger children this means getting low and slow. Get down to their level and take an interest in what they are doing before making a request. With younger children you could make it part of a game. When my son was small and it was time to tidy up we would pretend to be “the helpful elves”. A bit of imagination can go a long way with young children.

The same applies with older children, instead of shouting from another room that it is “time to go”, try engaging warmly, then letting them know it is time to leave.

Set clear expectations

It is important to remind children of what we would like using positive language, letting them know in clear language what is expected of them. Make sure they understand and agree with you. Here are some examples:

Teach your child to regulate their emotions

Supporting your child to reflect on their feelings can help them learn a skill called metacognition. Over time this will support them to regulate their emotions more effectively. John Gottman’s Emotion Coaching is a brilliant tool, read more about it here.

Try time in rather than time out

Sending a child away by giving them a time out can create a sense of shame. Often behaviour which we find difficult is your child’s best attempt to meet a need or communicate something. For example: 

  • Hungry
  • Tired
  • Bored
  • Uncomfortable
  • Scared
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Wanting connection
  • Feeling misunderstood

If your child is struggling in a certain situation, for example, they are having a meltdown or tantrum, they might need your support to calm down. Sometimes taking them away from the situation to a quiet space can help. Children are wired to pick up subtle signs of safety or danger from us. Try to calm your own state and extend a feeling of compassion towards them. It is surprising how often this helps. Support them to understand and communicate what they are feeling and if necessary make amends for their behaviour.

Older children may choose to take some time for themselves in order to calm down.

Praise effort rather than results

Try to avoid labelling your child, using words like naughty can give the child a negative impression of themselves which can be hard to change. Surprisingly positive labels can also be unhelpful, for example, saying that a child is clever can make them afraid to try new things in case they fail and lose this epitaph.

Research by Carol Dweck suggests that praising a child for trying hard helps them to develop a growth mindset. It allows them to understand that who they are is not fixed but able to change over time.


I would like to end by offering a message of hope. Even if you didn’t have an ideal upbringing yourself you can still have a wonderful relationship with your child. Parenting is a skill which you can learn and cultivate. Learning and growing alongside your child. If you would like some extra support please reach out, I am always happy to talk;


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