Parents are responsible for the well-being of their children on a variety of levels. This includes teaching them how to properly observe rules that keep them safe, support strong communities, and help them grow into productive adults who can work with others to achieve common goals. When a child misbehaves or chooses to ignore these rules, parents need to institute punitive measures to correct the behavior.
There is an endless list of parenting philosophies that claim to show parents how to discipline their children in the most effective way. Methods range from emotional coaching techniques that encourage children to recognize and logically analyze their feelings to old-fashioned corporeal punishments like spankings. In 2012, the Brookings Institute found that over 70% of American households believed that spankings were a necessary way to correct unwanted behaviors in children.
Today, many parents are turning away from the old styles of disciplining their children. Instead, they are choosing gentler methods of improving their children’s behaviors. Positive reinforcement is one technique that consistently produces results without damaging the child’s long-term development. Parents are using these techniques to improve their child’s behavior and bring their entire family closer.
Discipline-Based on Negative Consequences
A consequence-based discipline is a reactionary approach to childrearing. When a child does something that is not in line with the established expectations, the parent reacts by punishing the child for their actions. The basis of these types of punishments is simply to discourage unwanted behaviors.
In the past, spankings were the standard method parents used to convince their children to exhibit desired behaviors. Physical discipline may temporarily coerce children into doing what the parent asks; however, current research supports the idea that spankings and other physical punishments do much more harm than good. A 2017 study found that children punished with spankings bore increased risks of poor physical health, social problems, and delayed mental and emotional development.
Recognizing the drawbacks and barbaric nature of corporal punishment, some parents have adapted a less physical approach to consequence-based discipline. Some of these methods include:
- Time-outs put children in a safe place for a specified period of time.
- Restrictions and groundings take away the child’s ability to enjoy their favorite toys, activities, or other items.
- Isolation tactics exclude the child from the family or other activities.
- Withdrawal of attention involves the parent ignoring attention-seeking behaviors.
Consequences are a fact of life. When applied mindfully and lovingly, these techniques can be an effective way of teaching children that their actions have an effect on those around them.
Positive Discipline Techniques
Positive reinforcement takes another view of unwanted behaviors. Rather than simply discouraging disruptive behaviors, positive discipline techniques teach children to understand why their actions are wrong. Parents can then work with their children to replace those behaviors with more positive mechanisms.
There are several schools of positive discipline available to parents, each with its own unique methods and goals.
- Gentle discipline seeks to short-circuit unwanted behaviors via redirection.
- Boundary-based methods use explicit rules, clear consequences, and reasonable choices to bring children’s behaviors into alignment with expectations.
- Emotional coaching increases the child’s capacity for emotional intelligence through conscious work, conversation, and loving connections with caregivers.
To support positive parenting, caregivers use a variety of tools to engage and motivate young ones, such as:
- Positive attention. This can be as simple as a friendly conversation and acknowledgment of a job well done.
- Praise. Letting children know when they do something right is the best way to encourage them to do it again.
- Rewards. Some parents use a rewards chart or similar visual device that allows children to earn special treats for their good deeds.
Positive discipline itself is an umbrella term that encompasses all of these methods and more. However, the basis for positive discipline is praise and encouragement. Rather than focusing on what the child did wrong, positive parents choose to point out what the child could do right instead. In the process, children learn how to solve problems and respect boundaries.
Negative vs Positive Discipline
Despite their labels, both negative and positive discipline techniques can be used in a successful parenting plan. While physical violence is never effective or suggested, negative consequence-based discipline can be helpful in illuminating and correcting unwanted behaviors.
- During time-outs and other isolation-based disciplines, children are given the opportunity to calm down and regain control of big emotions. Once the time period is complete, parents can then use more positive interventions like conversation and emotional coaching to prevent future transgressions.
- When behaviors threaten the safety of the child or another person, negative discipline provides the emotional shock younger children sometimes need to see the potential error of their actions.
- Stressed-out parents can use negative techniques to give themselves some space. This can help them avoid emotional outbursts that can lead to hasty decisions like hitting, yelling, or other harmful actions that are based on anger.
Negative consequences are useful. However, when used in a state of anger or as the only discipline method, these techniques often result in feelings of shame or inadequacy for the child. Positive parenting techniques are a more viable long-term solution to shaping the desired behaviors in children.
There is always a reason for what we see as unwanted behaviors. Many children lack the verbal skills and emotional control to effectively express or even recognize those reasons. Consistent positive parenting gives children the tools to communicate their needs in more effective ways, which eliminates the need to act out of frustration or desperation. There are some marked differences between using positive parenting as the main source of family discipline. Children who grow up in positivity-based households display more:
Positive parenting is rooted in emotional maturity. Rather than simply avoiding “bad” behaviors, parents actively seek to show their children how to live their best lives.
Positive Parenting Techniques for Real Families
Positive parenting is a long-term model that requires consistency and routine. Through heartfelt and connective conversation, mutual respect, and clear communication, parents can reduce the use of reactionary and potentially harmful negative discipline techniques.
Anthony Cupo is a Trained Mindfulness Facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC and has been meditating for over 30 years. Our article is also published in ParentingOC’s Magazine!