5 Positive Discipline Techniques to Try

Father reading book with daughter during "time-in"
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If you’ve never felt comfortable punishing your child, then positive discipline is worth a try. By using positive discipline techniques like redirection, praise, and selective ignoring, you can often nip bad behavior in the bud without resorting to threats, bribes, yelling, or physical punishment.

Proponents claim that this discipline method can help strengthen bonds and increase trust between parents and children. When you respond to provocation with these five tried-and-true examples of positive discipline instead of anger, you also teach a child that it is possible to respond to frustrating moments without conflict.

1. Redirection

Little ones have a short attention span, so it’s not too difficult to redirect them to another activity when they’re acting out. If your toddler is playing with an object that could be dangerous, introduce another toy that will grab their attention. If that doesn’t work, take them to another room or go outside to divert their attention.

Tell an older child what they can do, rather than what they can’t. So rather than tell your child that they can’t watch YouTube anymore, tell them they can go outside to play or work on a new puzzle they have yet to tackle. Staying focused on the positive can reduce a lot of arguments and defiant behavior.

2. Positive Reinforcement

Take every opportunity to praise good behavior. Research shows that when kids are praised for something they're doing right, whether it's following a rule or sharing a toy, they are more likely to behave in that desired way again.

When using positive reinforcement, it's more effective to praise the specific act of good behavior rather than the child's character or personality. If your child shows concern for someone who might be hurt or seem sad, for example, point out what they did right (like asking if their friend was OK). Be sure to emphasize how the recipient of their kindness appreciated their gesture.

Even more effective than praise are natural rewards for good behavior. For instance, if a child asks nicely to jump on the trampoline for five more minutes rather than throwing a fit at the prospect of playtime ending, consider granting the extra time to motivate similar polite requests in the future.

3. Time-In

Time-out can be an effective consequence, but it can be hard to get right. Research shows that 85% of parents do things when attempting to use this disciplinary technique that are proven to backfire, like talking with kids or letting them play with toys during time-outs. (To be most effective, time-outs should be solitary and boring.)

If your instinct is to interact and not banish your child when they've done something wrong, you might try a time-in. After a bout of bad behavior, sit down with your child to read a book together rather than sending them to time-out alone. When your child has calmed down, discuss better choices for next time, and encourage them to apologize for their behavior. Time-ins are helpful in and of themselves at promoting good behavior but are actually most effective when paired with occasional, well-executed time-outs.

4. Use Single-Word Reminders

Rather than making complex demands of your child, try saying one impactful word to get your message across in the moment. Instead of telling them to go upstairs and brush their teeth and clean up the sink afterwards, just say "teeth." Don't remind your child to use their manners when asking for something and explain at length why it's important; prompt them with a simple "please." Kids respond best to simple, direct instructions in the moment; you can always explain your reasoning later.

If your child doesn't comply right away, it will be tempting to repeat yourself. Take a beat before doing so. If you habitually remind kids of something you just said, they will learn to wait for the follow-up directive before acting.

You’ll exhaust yourself (and your child) if you’re constantly redirecting them or telling them to do something else.

5. Selective Ignoring

When it's a minor problem, turning a blind eye to the behavior can work well. With selective ignoring, you don't respond to attention-seeking behaviors, like when your child purposely spills milk on the floor or interrupts repeatedly when you're having a conversation with another grown-up. When a child fails to elicit a reaction from you, positive or negative, they're less likely to act out in that way again.

Of course, use selective ignoring judiciously. You should stop dangerous, destructive, or hurtful actions immediately, and consider a consequence like a time-out if the behavior continues.

However, giving a pass to annoying, but not punishment-worthy antics reduces the number of times you're sending the message to a child that they're "bad." After all, the main tenet of positive discipline is that there are no bad children—just bad behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I discipline my child in a positive way?

To discipline your child in a positive way, replace punishments that frighten, shame, or belittle them with strategies that encourage better behavior, like redirecting them, praising them, and spending quality time together.

How can I use positive discipline to motivate a teen?

Teens respond to positive disciplinary strategies that involve them in the solution to behavioral issues. This approach might include mutually respectful dialogue about a problem and soliciting their ideas for solving it; holding regular family meetings; and encouraging their efforts.

What is the difference between positive and negative discipline?

Whereas negative discipline tends to involve punishments and admonishing language in an attempt to dissuade kids from behaving badly, positive discipline motivates children to make better choices by redirecting them toward more productive activities and praising them when they behave in appropriate ways.

What are some positive methods of discipline and guidance?

The most effective positive discipline strategies are redirection, positive reinforcement, "time-in" (carving out quality moments with your child), single-word reminders, and selective ignoring of objectionable behavior.

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