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Home > Child, Youth & Family Development > Parenting > Positive Parenting Tips


Discipline Techniques

Positive Discipline

Effective Discipline:
  • is proactive;
  • promotes positive behavior and self-control;
  • encourages self-responsibility;
  • responds to unacceptable behavior and a lack of self-control;
  • protects and strengthens the child's self-esteem;
  • strengthens the parent-child relationship; and
  • advances development.

A Summary of Some Practical Discipline Techniques

No one technique of discipline can be relied upon for all situations. The wise parent develops a functional set of skills suited to different situations. Remember that the best discipline is prevention and there is "no one size fits all" when it comes to promoting positive behavior and self-responsibility and responding to unacceptable behaviors.
Role modeling: Children learn more about behavior by watching adults than in any other way.

Encouragement: Encouragement is a means to promote positive behavior and some argue that it is more effective than praise or reward. It implies reasonable expectations (one step at a time), and that we accept the child's mistakes, as well the successes.

Attention-ignore: Catch children being good! Children repeat behaviors that get attention; they give up behaviors that get no attention.

Charts and Rewards: If not overused, the handy chart posted on the refrigerator (or elsewhere) can help establish good behavior patterns.

Setting limits: Children need to know where the limits are and that these limits stay the same all the time. They feel secure when they know where the boundaries are. They test them frequently to find out.

Consequences: Consequences can be of two types: those that happen if you do nothing and those that you arrange. For example, if a child willfully or carelessly breaks a toy, the child no longer has that toy to play with. If the child hits another with a toy, you may take that toy away. Both are consequences of the child's actions.

Time out: Sometimes children need time to calm down and collect themselves. (Adults do to!) Used sparingly, with consistency and repetition, it must be viewed as teaching the child, not punishing.

Rules: Indeed rules are useful for providing predictability, consistency, and stability. They can be used for a variety of reasons that range from preventing problems from happening to responding to them when they do occur.

Modifying the environment: This refers to steps the parent takes to change or structure the child's environment in a way that helps the child to succeed at tasks and remain safe. Be creative in how you organize, enhance, sooth, redirect and childproof the environment to help promote the child's self-control.

"I-Message": It is more helpful to try to make children aware of how we feel, but leave responsibility for behavioral change with the child. A proper "I-message" identifies: the behavior; how it makes you feel; and a concrete impact this has on your life. For example, "When the music is on that loud I get upset because I can't hear the person I'm talking to on the phone."

Knowledge, Skills, & Personal Qualities Essential for Instilling Effective Discipline

Parents need the following skills to be effective:
  1. Patience;
  2. Determination;
  3. Confidence;
  4. Genuineness and concern;
  5. Openness;
  6. Separateness;
  7. Friendly firmness;
  8. An understanding of development & the factors that affect development;
  9. Effective communication;
  10. An understanding of the goals of effective discipline; and
  11. An understanding of the meaning of behavior.

Factors Affecting the Choice of the Disciplinary Method

When considering what disciplinary method to use, parents need to think about the following factors:
  1. The behavior itself;
  2. Our feelings about the behavior;
  3. The child;
  4. The purpose we assign to the behavior;
  5. Where the behavior is occurring;
  6. Who is present in the setting;
  7. Factors affecting our ability & willingness to respond effectively; and
  8. Our relationship with the child.


  1. Focus on internal evaluation, not external.

    You must be very proud of yourself.
    How do you think you are doing?


    I'm so proud of you.

  2. Focus on contributions and appreciation, not judgments.

    I appreciate the help you gave me.
    Your hard work sure did help the family


    What a good job you did!

  3. Focus on effort and improvement, not winning or competition.

    I can see the progress you've made.
    You have really been practicing hard.


    I'm so proud of you for winning!

Ground Rules for Ignoring

Many parents don't realize that even scolding and yelling are forms of attention. Children would rather have unpleasant attention than no attention at all. Therefore, when you get angry and punish children you may actually be teaching them to do the exact things you don't want them to do.

Ignoring behavior is simply pretending that the behavior is not occurring. The parent does not look at, talk to, or respond to the child until the inappropriate behavior ends.

There are three basic guidelines for ignoring:
  • Give the child no recognition when exhibiting unacceptable behavior. Don't have eye contact, physical contact, or in any way acknowledge the child.

  • Be consistent with your approach. Ignoring once, and paying attention the next time, will likely increase the intensity of the behavior. The child will think he or she must escalate the behavior in order for you to respond. Expect the intensity of the behavior to increase before it decreases.

  • Recognize the child as soon as the unacceptable behavior stops. Ignoring must always be combined with supporting and encouraging positive behaviors.

Points to remember:

  • There are situations where ignoring would NOT be appropriate (behaviors that could harm the child, others or property, and those that re not motivated by the desire to create a reaction).

  • Ignoring is difficult.

  • Ignoring does not always render immediate results.

  • Other adults and children in the family (and community) may continue to recognize the behavior, jeopardizing the success of the technique.

Using Charts

Some parents like to use charts to instill good habits in their children. You could, for example, use a chart for brushing teeth. Even the child too young to read understands a star. Rewards can be given for the achievement of a certain number of stars.

Suggestions for using charts include:
  • Keep them small and simple.

  • Don't overdo charts.

  • Use them for one behavior at a time.

  • Determine ahead how to end their use. For example, a child needs to learn how to brush her teeth without a reward.

The Use of Rewards as a Discipline Technique

Rewards do not have to be part of a behavior modification technique. Rewards can be used to express approval for certain behaviors or actions. Rewards are positive responses to positive behaviors and they don't have to be tangible or concrete actions. Like praise, some parents may not think about rewards as a discipline technique.

Some examples of rewards include, but are not limited to:
  • Tangible rewards may be what comes to mind when we hear the term reward. A tangible reward may be money or a toy. Rewards need to be small. They are "gestures" of approval. Children should not get expensive gifts, or large sums of money as a reward. Nor should children always get tangible rewards. You do not want to promote the sense that a child needs to be good in order to receive gifts. In fact, most tangible rewards have their greatest value in the praise that accompanies them.

  • Privileges are rewards that allow a child to experience greater freedom or opportunity. Privileges might involve extending bedtime, giving extra play time, or allowing a child to borrow or sue a valued object. They are most effective when they are connected to the behavior being recognized.

  • Increasing responsibility is similar to granting privileges. To reward children for keeping their room picked up, you may increasingly give them total responsibility for the care and cleaning of their room. While this involves work for them, it also says, "You are able to do this on your own. You do not need me coming in your room."

  • Supporting interests and talents acknowledges the child's efforts in pursing interests. It is important that you reward the child for interest, desire, ad effort. Be clear that the behavior you are rewarding is the child's interest, participation, and efforts, not the child's performance, talent, or ability.


Sometimes the best form of discipline is to let the child experience the consequences of his or her action. What happens if you fail to put gas in your car? Are you likely to forget to put gas in again? Experience really is the best teacher.

Natural and logical consequences are effective ways to intervene while maintaining respect for the child's ability to make decisions. Consequences rely to some degree on the natural order of life itself to teach lessons about the world. In some instances you might have to arrange for a consequence to happen.

Natural consequences are things that happen in response to a behavior. No one has to make these things happen. They are often the result of the "rules of nature". For example when a child does not eat his dinner, he will get very hungry before he goes to bed. Sometimes a natural consequence is the result of human nature. The child who hits his friends will lose playmates.

A disadvantage of relying on natural consequences is that sometimes they take a long time to work. Also, young children may have difficulty understanding them. Some natural consequences are not desirable.

Logical consequences require that the parent impose a consequence for a given behavior. The consequence connects to the behavior that is not acceptable. For example, If the child leaves the bike out, the parent restricts bike riding the next day.

In order for consequences to be effective you must use them correctly.
  • Be sure to provide choices and allow the child to make the decision. For example, you may turn down the volume of your radio, or listen to it in your room without disturbing others."

  • Be calm and firm in your efforts.

  • Make sure the consequence holds meaning for the child.

  • Be patient and don't jump in and "save" the child. It may be hard for you to watch the child experience the consequences. But this is necessary for the child to develop good self-control.

Time Out as a Behavior Management Technique

Time out involves physically removing a child from a situation that is dangerous and/or a situation where the child is exhibiting behavior that is not acceptable. The purpose of time out is to allow the child to reestablish self-control, to end unacceptable behavior, and to provide an opportunity to think about behavior and its impact.

Time out is not punishment. It is simply providing the child an opportunity to regain control of his or her behavior. You are helping in that process by removing the child from the situation or the stimulation that brought about the loss of control. If you are angry or yelling, it is doubtful that the time out will be effective. Some basic guidelines for using time out include:
  1. Take time to gain your composure and self-control.

  2. Give the child an opportunity to change the behavior.

  3. If this effort fails, tell the child where to go for a time out.

  4. Select a quiet and safe time out area away form other stimuli.

  5. Tell the child how long the time out will be, but explain that you will only begin timing when the child becomes quiet.

  6. Ignore the child's behavior while in time out.

  7. Focus the child on a positive activity after the time out.

Rules About Rules

There are many ways and opportunities to convey our expectations to children. Talking to children and clearly conveying expectations involves communication skills. Modeling the type of behavior you expect is also important. Rules can be used as a means to convey expectations.

Rules can be used to:
  • prevent problems from happening;
  • respond to problems that happen repeatedly;
  • replace ineffective ways of dealing with situations;
  • help make the world feel safe and predictable; and
  • eliminate a lot of discussion and decision-making about ordinary life events.
The following are guidelines to consider in using rules:
  • Prioritize and establish a few rules that are most important to the well-being and safety of the family.

  • Involve family members in setting rules.

  • Make sure children understand the reasons or rationale for the rule.

  • Make sure the rule addresses the issue it is intended to address.

  • Make rules clear.

  • Make sure children understand the exceptions to the rule.

  • Make rules positive and action oriented. Save "don't" for specific safety situations.

  • Make sure rules "grow" with the child.

  • Make only those rules that you are confident you can enforce over time.

  • Be consistent.

Modifying the Environment

Modifying the environment can be a very useful tool in helping children develop self-control. It is precautionary in that it attempts to prevent difficulties from arising. It is reactive in that it can be done in response to a problem.

The following list includes techniques for building success into the child's environment. Think of some concrete examples or ideas for every category that you may use. You can be creative in how you wish to modify the environment to help promote the child's self-control.
  • ORGANIZING helps children learn how to sort, pick up, and find their own things. Organizing increases the child's ability to accomplish self-care tasks.

  • ENHANCING the environment involves those activities that make the child's world full of age-appropriate and interesting items. Posters, books, wall hangings, and toys enhance the child's environment. This helps children learn how to spend time alone, occupy themselves, develop hobbies, focus, and concentrate.

  • SOOTHING is a technique used most often with babies, particularly babies who are born cocaine-affected. Essentially sources of stimulation are removed from the environment. These may include light, noise, activity, bright colors, etc.

  • REDIRECTING does not restrict activities, but rather structures them to occur in a different way. Establishing certain rooms for certain activities is one way to redirect. Exchanging a safe item for an unsafe one is another way.

  • CHILDPROOFING is something you probably do and don't even think about it. This is critical in terms of making the child's world safe. If you are concerned about the child breaking something, it is best to put it away. It is the job of the toddler to grab and explore. Help the child do that job well. Don't be concerned that the toddler will be unable to learn not to touch or break things. It would be impossible for you to control the child's entire environment to the extent that the child would never be exposed to forbidden items.
Do time outs in a firm, matter-of-fact way. As with other forms of discipline, consistency and repetition are crucial. If you find yourself using time out very often, you need to reexamine your expectations. Maybe they are unrealistic for a child that age. Time out should be used sparingly or it will cease to be effective. If you decide to use it, select a single behavior and use it for that behavior.

Time out can be an effective tool for anyone feeling overwhelmed or angry. But, we know it will not be an effective tool with a child if it is used in anger. There will always be situations where you find yourself overwhelmed with feelings. It may be helpful to you to think about whether you need to give a time out to the child, or take a time out for yourself.

Some Reasons Children Lie

  1. To achieve power;
  2. To test the limits;
  3. To challenge authority;
  4. To get something which couldn't be gotten otherwise;
  5. To fulfill wishes;
  6. To avoid punishment;
  7. To protect privacy;
  8. To protect oneself from harm;
  9. To deny painful feelings and/or memories;
  10. To avoid feeling trapped, embarrassed and/or threatened;
  11. To avoid creating an awkward situation;
  12. To experience fun/excitement;
  13. To belong;
  14. To protect friends from trouble;
  15. To increase one's status;
  16. To conceal an unintended mistake;
  17. To appear more important, glamorous and exciting to others;
  18. To fulfill someone's expectations;
  19. To avoid rejection;
  20. To compensate for not having the factual information;

Managing Lying: What To Do And What To Say

  1. Responding to Lying

    1. Ask yourself the following questions:

      1. What might be the reason for lying?
      2. What need(s) might the child be attempting to meet?
      3. Are there certain situations in which this behavior seems to occur?
      4. Are my feelings/responses a clue to why the child might behave this way?
      5. Should I gather more information about the situation before I react?
      6. Are my actions encouraging the child to lie?
        • Am I overprotective?
        • Are the rules too strict?
        • Am I invading the child's privacy?
        • Do I tell lies in front of the child?

    2. In response to the reason for lying, consider doing one or more of the following:

      1. Explain how lying affects trust and how hard it is for people who live together to get along without trust.

      2. Use reflective listening to show your understanding of the child's underlying needs.

      3. Assist the child in meeting underlying needs without addressing the lie (e.g., by exploring alternatives, problem-solving, etc.).

      4. Ignore the lie and show appreciation when the child does not lie to meet a specific need.

      5. Use an I-message to share your feelings about his or her behavior and to describe the effects of it on you and others.

      6. Give the child accurate information so the child won't have to rely on imagination to fill in any gaps.

      7. Set rules and be consistent in enforcing them if the child is testing your response to certain behaviors.

      8. Don't overreact to the behavior by calling the child a liar.

      9. Focus on solutions to problems instead of blame.

      10. Respect children's privacy when they don't want to share it with you.

      11. Help children to understand that mistakes are opportunities to learn so that they won't believe they are bad and need to conceal their mistakes.

      12. Use consequences related to the original wrongdoing.

  2. Planning Ahead to Prevent /Reduce Future Problems

    1. Don't ask set-up questions that invite lying.

    2. Remember that who the child is now is not who he or she will be forever. Don't overreact and expect that the child will lead a life filled with antisocial behavior. Remember that children will behave as they are expected to.

    3. Set an example in telling the truth. Talk about times when it may have been difficult for you to tell the truth, but you decided it was more important to deal with the consequences and to maintain your self-respect.

    4. Let children know they are unconditionally loved.

    5. Show appreciation when the child tells the truth. For example, "Thanks for telling me the truth. I know it must be hard. I like the courage you show in being willing to face the consequences. I know you can handle them and learn form them too."

    6. Focus on building closeness, openness and trust in your relationships instead of on the problem behaviors.

    7. Look at lying as a developmental phenomenon.

    8. Be certain the child understands that you do not accept lying and the reasons why.

    9. Distinguish between what you would like to know about the child's behavior and what you have to know.

    10. Rather than focusing on trapping the child in a lie, develop a trusting relationship by focusing on the reason for the lie.

    11. Model honesty.

    12. Build and help maintain the conditions for positive self-esteem.

    13. Establish and clearly communicate expectations, limits and rules and make sure you enforce them.
©2000 Child Welfare League of America. Do not reprint or distribute without requesting permission

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