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What is Positive Discipline? What's the link between that and Positive Parenting?

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

The terms 'Positive Parenting' and 'Positive Discipline' are often used interchangeably. But when I talk about Positive Discipline - I'm referring to something specific. This article should help you to understand a bit more about Positive Parenting in 2023!

Positive Discipline - with Capital Letters!

Pictures of Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott

Positive Discipline is an educational approach that is both kind AND firm, and that uses encouragement to bring about long-term change - helping us to develop into autonomous, respectful individuals. When I refer to Positive Discipline, I'm referring to the approach developed by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott. They met in the 1970s, and co-created experiential parenting workshops, based on Adlerian Psychology. Since then, their books and approach has been expanded to teachers, early childhood educators, sports coaches, the workplace, you name it!

So when I run Positive Parenting workshops, they are usually based on my training as a Positive Discipline Educator. You may well find a few extra pearls of wisdom/research thrown in from my own reading on the topics around parenting too.

But that term - Positive Discipline - what does it actually mean?

What do we mean by discipline?

Discipline makes us think of punishment. Yet the word comes from the Latin disciplina - to instruct, from discipulus - the learner/apprentice (literally - one who takes). So our responsibility is to model the behaviour that we are expecting. Our child's responsibility is to observe and imitate our behaviour.

What do we mean by positive?

Positive because we know from neuroscience that where we focus our attention, we strengthen neural pathways. When we focus on what our child CAN do, then we reinforce their beliefs in their own capabilities.

Three Words:

Kind, Firm, Encouragement

Encouraging Parents Logo - a multi-coloured heart

Positive Discipline is both Kind AND firm, at the same time. Like two train tracks, running in parallel, we need to have our feet firmly anchored in both, all the time, to keep going in a straight line with our parenting. We, as the adult, are responsible for setting the framework, and within that framework, we give choices and responsibilities that are age-appropriate. We use encouragement (encourage, spot that French word 'cœur' ) to bring about change, to help children develop their competencies and qualities.

What does Positive Discipline look like in practice?

So, that's all very well for the theory, but what about in practice?

Let's take a typical school morning, in a typical house.. Can you take a deep breath, and imagine that you are Fred - 5 years old.

"Fred - it's time to wake-up

  • Hurry up and get your clothes on.

  • Go pee and brush your teeth.

  • Come eat breakfast quickly, we're running late.

  • Can you PLEASE put your bowl in the dishwasher when you're done with eating.

  • Put your toys away.

  • It's time to put on your coat.

  • We're running late

  • Shoes

  • Shoes

  • SHOES!"

Did you manage to put yourself in Fred's shoes?!

How are you feeling? I wonder if you're feeling irritated? Annoyed? What do you want to do? Do you feel like doing the things I've asked you to do, do you want to rebel? Or maybe stomp your feet and shout NO!

What might the solution be?

Of course, we need to get to school, we need to leave the house at a certain time. There are restrictions on our lives - as parents and as children. That's the 'firm' bit. And within this 'firm' framework, we can

Limited Choices

Limited Choices would be - do you want to brush your teeth with the red or blue toothbrush today - you choose? Are we going to get dressed or have breakfast first?

Curiosity Questions

Curiosity Questions are more...

"We're leaving for school in fifteen minutes and I see you're still in your pyjamas. What do you need to get ready on time?"

Finding Age-appropriate Solutions

With young children, we'll need to give two choices, ensuring that both options we offer are acceptable to us as parents. (So don't ask a child if they want to wear sneakers or sandals if you're not okay with sandals in winter!!)

With older children, try asking more open-ended questions, with a real spirit of curiosity (Yes, believe me that your children will know if you are not really interested in their answer, if it was just a rhetorical question.

It might look like: "what was our agreement about screens and homework?", "when do you plan to do your homework this weekend?"

When you ask questions, your child has to go looking in their brain to find the answer. They learn to make choices.

Next Steps

If you're interested in finding out more about positive parenting, and how I use Positive Discipline both in my workshops and in tailored, family coaching, then here are your options for next steps:


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