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Making Discipline Positive
Authors: Rajeswari Natrajan with Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D., CFLE

     • You’re being really bad today!
     • Don’t you ever do that again!
     • You ought to be ashamed of yourself!
     • You better stop that noise or else!
     • You’re driving me crazy!

How many times have you heard yourself or a parent say these words to a child? How many times did you hear these words when you were a child? As you know, the way you and the parents behave with the children affects the children’s behavior. It sometimes seems like discipline is about yelling and negative things. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

The word “discipline” often brings thoughts of punishment and scolding. The original Latin word related to discipline, though, means to “educate,” especially in matters of conduct. Childcare providers and parents are children’s first teachers. This means that discipline is a basic skill in childcare and parenting.

The type of discipline also changes the way children feel about themselves. Sometimes people think that the purpose of discipline is to get children to do the right thing right now. Sometimes that is important. In the long run, though, the purpose of discipline is to raise responsible, confident children. Adults want children to grow up to think for themselves. They want children to learn acceptable behaviors. They also want them to make wise decisions when they deal with problems.

To reach these goals, a child needs to learn. He does not need to be afraid or feel pain. Studies have shown that physical punishment, such as hitting or slapping, and verbal abuse, does not work well. Children might learn what they should not do. But they won’t always learn what they should do instead. Children need help learning good behavior. This basic idea is central to effective childrearing. As childcare providers, you can share this idea with parents. How do you know if a discipline method has worked? One way to judge is by how well a child has learned. If a child is doing more of the right things and fewer of the wrong things, it is working!

When to Talk to Parents About Discipline

     • The parents complain that their child is out of control.
     • You see the parents and children struggling with each other.
     • You or the parents threaten the child all the time, but it does not work.
     • You feel that the child does not listen to you or to his/her parents.
     • You feel that the child continually gets his or her own way.

Positive Ways of Guiding Children

There are several ways to use positive discipline. Several of those are described in this section.
     • One is to understand children and what to expect.
     • Another is to try to prevent the behavior you do not want.
     • A third is to show the children the right behavior by doing it yourself.
     • Using rewards with children is also a positive discipline method.
     • Another is looking for the cause of the misbehavior and trying to solve the problem.
     • Finally, if it is necessary to take action so that the child learns to stop doing something,
       natural and logical consequences can be very effective.

Understanding What to Expect of Children

Research says that “sensitive” parenting is possible only when parents know what their children can do and what they are learning. So it is important for you to know and provide parents with information about child development and what to expect of their children. Know what is normal. This will help parents to provide for their children’s needs. It also could help to prevent abuse. For example, it is important to know that preschoolers (3 to 5 years old) like to get attention. They may try to do this by shocking you by using bad words. This is normal for children at that age. Try to find positive ways to give them attention instead. And teach them other words to use. Another example relates to children and quiet. It is not realistic to expect a young child to sit quietly for long periods of time. They need to be active and explore. Expect them to sit still for only short times.


Most of the time it is better to stop a problem before it starts than to fix it later. Make it easier for the children to do the right thing than the wrong thing. Parents can do that by arranging their day to meet their children’s needs and their own needs. They can also arrange their house to help the children behave. Have the parents think about the setup of their house. Share information with parents about childproofing their homes. Are important, dangerous, or breakable things in reach? Are there things that the child may play with? Are there enough toys for the children? Are there good places to store toys and hang up coats? Parents can make the home a friendly place for children.


Have you heard a parent say, “Do as I say, not as I do”? Many adults say that, but children are more likely to do what adults do, not what they say. Children learn a lot by watching how adults behave. So it is important to watch yourself and what you do. If the adults do not eat vegetables, it will be hard to get the children to eat them. If the adults smoke, the children might try to smoke. If the adults throw things when they are angry, the children will learn to act that way. Discuss with parents how they wish their children to behave. Share with them how to model appropriate behavior and encourage them to act the way they want their children to act.


Another thing that parents and caregivers can do to help children do the right thing is to give them rewards. We talk about “catching the child being bad.” But parents can “catch them being good” too. Children need to know when they doing the right thing. Parents can say something nice, like “I like the way you did that” or “I am proud of you”. Parents can also spend special time with their child, give a hug or a smile or praise their child in front of others to reward him. A reward does not need to be a present.

Many parents are afraid of using rewards. They think it is the same as bribes. It is important for parents to learn the difference between rewards and bribes. A bribe is something bigger than it should be. It is promised before the behavior is completed. It is not something that the child would usually get. A reward does not need to be a present. It is something that fits the behavior. It is given after the behavior and often without the child knowing that it is coming. It can be a hug, a gold star on a chart, a time alone with a parent, or a compliment. Share information about ways to reward children and the difference between rewards and bribes with parents.

Find the Cause of Misbehavior

Sometimes it is hard to know why children do what they do. Sometimes it seems like they want to be bad. That is not true most of the time, though. Understanding why children misbehave is important. This will help you and the parents to respond more effectively to them and their behavior. There may be several reasons why a child is misbehaving. For example, he might not be feeling well, he might be trying to get attention, he might be curious or upset. It is not bad to be sick, to want attention, or to be curious. It is not good to hurt others or to do something dangerous, though. You can help parents figure out the reason for their child’s misbehavior by asking them to look for patterns in their child’s behavior. They can talk to their children about the children‘s feelings. They could also suggest solutions and see if they sound good to the child. Discipline is more effective when it matches the needs of the child.

Logical and Natural Consequences

Sometimes parents cannot prevent wrong behavior. Sometimes they need to do something to teach the child what is wrong and what is right. It helps if they teach their children the connection between their actions and the results of their misbehavior. They can use logical and natural consequences to do that.

Natural consequences are results that naturally happen after a child’s behavior. The adult does not need to do anything. The situation will take care of itself. For example, if a child does not eat at mealtime, she will get hungry later. If she does not play carefully with a toy, she may break it. Natural consequences work well if the child will care about the consequence and if the child is not in danger.

Logical consequences are things that the adult manages, but they are related to the behavior. For example, if the child uses a toy to hit another child, the adult takes away that toy or makes the child sit on a chair instead of playing. If the child leaves her bicycle in the driveway, the adult puts the bike away for a day.

Try some positive methods of discipline. It can make both the adult and the child feel better. Read more about general strategies for positive discipline with young children, difference between negative and positive guidance, and positive methods and language to use with children. Share these strategies with parents.


  Childproofing your house
  Modeling appropriate behavior
   What to expect from children
   Positive reinforcement and rewards    
   Natural and logical consequences
   Finding the causes of misbehavior
   Setting limits

For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

Please feel free to link to, print off, redistribute, or reprint
  any of these materials as long as the original credits remain intact.

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