Disciplining Toddlers: Positive Parenting

Suzanne Murray
toddler art

Photo by Liansmommie

Congratulations, you've survived the baby years! Now comes the easy, fun, interesting part: disciplining your toddler. Sure, you can wing it.

On the other hand, "Parenting is the most important job we'll ever have," says Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions. "But it comes with virtually no training. Most parents attend a 6- or 8-week birthing class to prepare for a one day event. Being a good parent is putting our egos aside and realizing that it's okay to seek training."

Yet there are so many ways of parenting -- passionate parenting, positive discipline, connection parenting, working with, time outs, rewards and punishment, yelling and screaming, spanking (the latter two not recommended by most experts) -- that it's hard to sift through them all.

Good research is what it takes to find out which approach you feel most comfortable with. We're here to help make it a little easier on you by giving you a primer on different parenting approaches.

Today, Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, explains the positive discipline approach.

How would you describe positive discipline?

The positive discipline approach recognizes children have a hard-wired need for emotional connection and personal power, that is, having some control over their world. The goal of positive discipline is to help parents understand the motivations behind their children's misbehavior and the role the parent plays to escalate the misbehavior.  Positive discipline focuses on solutions, not punishment, with the ultimate goal of raising capable, confident, resilient children. 

Positive discipline is not an overly permissive, kids 'rule the roost' approach. Parents are still in charge and they establish a framework of clearly defined limits with age-appropriate opportunities for positive power.

At what age is it appropriate to start disciplining a child?

Parents can begin incorporating positive discipline principles when their children are infants. One of the foundation tools is providing plenty of one-on-one positive attention to meet the child's hard-wired need for emotional connection. Newborn infants need positive attention and emotional connection, as do teenagers! As the child becomes more independent, parents begin using other tools that foster their toddler's hard-wired need for personal power and they learn specific strategies to handle typical toddler misbehavior -- whining, tantrums, helplessness, clinging.


What's the positive discipline view of consequences?

Consequences are encouraged as a way to hold children accountable for their behavior with dignity and respect. The litmus test for a fair and effective consequence is:

1.  The child learns to make a better choice in the future.

2.  Mom and Dad aren't the bad guys. 

If the child isn't listening, the parent usually resorts to reminding, coaxing, repeating. This process leaves the parent feeling frustrated, stressed, and owning the problem.  The parent has made it her job to make sure that the child does as he's been told. Fair and effective consequences place ownership for the problem squarely on the toddler's shoulders.


What kind of consequences are appropriate for toddlers?

Consequences are appropriate for children over the age of two and a half. They must have a basic understanding of cause and effect.

Scenario 1: Your child won't pick up his toys

Say to your toddler:  'It's your job to clean up your toys then you're done with them. If you choose not to put your toys away when you're done playing, I'll pick them up, but they'll go into a box in the closet and you won't be able to play with them this week.'  

The result: The responsibility for picking up the toys is on the child's shoulders and she'll decide if she gets to keep her toys or not.

Scenario 2: Your child throws food

Say to your toddler:  'When you (throw your food/get down out of your chair), I'll assume you're done with dinner and remove your plate.' Then the parent has to remain firm and remove the plate without reminders.  Kids learn best from our actions -- not our words!

 The result: This scenario may happen one or two times, but very quickly, the toddler will learn that when she (throws food/climbs down from her chair), dinner is over and the food goes away.  If your toddler throws a tantrum -- just ignore it. I t's only for your benefit! ( Don't rescue the child by providing a snack at bedtime unless it's a regular part of your routine.)

Scenario 3: Your child won't brush his teeth

Say to your toddler: 'If you won't brush your teeth, then there will be no sweets or crackers that can turn to sugar on your teeth. You decide.'

The result: A parent can't force the child to brush -- at least not without a power struggle.  However, the parents can control which privileges are available or not available based on the choice the child makes. 

What's the positive discipline view of time outs?

"When I ask parents how time outs are working for them, I get one of two responses: 'They don't,' or 'They're great! We use them almost every day.' However, if parents are using the same strategies every day, then they're probably not working!

Although many parents and pediatricians hail Time Out as the go-to strategy for correcting behavior, we don't recommend the use of Time Out because it invites power struggles. When parents try to 'control a child' by forcing him to stay in Time Out, the toddler will instinctively fight back by refusing to stay in Time Out or throwing a tantrum to prove that 'you're not the boss of me!' Then it becomes the parent's job to keep the child in time out.

Children who aren't quite as headstrong may comply and remain in Time Out for the prescribed time, but it begs the question: What are they learning from this punishment? Most likely, they're not thinking about their misbehavior and how they can make a better choice next time! 

  For children under the age of two and a half: It is appropriate to remove the child from the situation.  This isn't a Time Out (forcing the child to stay in the Time Out spot for a period of time); it is a 'remove and redirect' strategy: Remove the object, Remove the child from the environment, Redirect the child's attention, Redirect the child's activity."


What's the positive discipline view of rewards?

There is a perception among many parents and even pediatricians than we can encourage 'desirable' behaviors or motivate performance with the use of rewards. However, research indicates that the opposite is true -- interest in the desired behavior actually decreases when rewards are used.

Other negative outcomes of using rewards include fostering a 'what's in it for me?' attitude.  By rewarding desirable behaviors, we run the risk that kids won't feel inspired to help out or go the extra mile unless there's a payoff for them.  Eventually, interest in the reward wanes and parents have to 'up the ante.'  The research also indicates that kids who are raised on rewards tend to be more motivated by external factors later in life -- peers, praise, recognition and money.

Positive discipline empowers parents with strategies to encourage more of the behaviors they want to see -- cooperation, independence, responsibility, hard work at school -- without the use of rewards. 


Is positive discipline about behavior modification or does it go deeper?

 By only addressing the 'misbehavior,' parents are just treating the symptom -- not the underlying reason for behavior the first place. For example, if parents only learn how to deal with toddler tantrums in the moment, but don't address his underlying need for personal power, they won't be successful in correcting the tantrums permanently.  A tantrum-throwing toddler will eventually become a defiant teen if the underlying need for positive power isn't met. 


Should parents ever re-assess their definition of what constitutes "misbehavior"?  For example, suppose a kid is doing something that isn't really ethically or morally wrong and won't hurt them, but the parent's gut reaction is to make the kid stop because they don't like it.

Yes! I always tell parents, 'You don't have to do something about everything!' Sometimes the best response is to let it go. Instead of trying to 'make' the child stop the behavior, it may be best to remove yourself from the situation and walk away.

Why does positive discipline work for parents?

Parents will understand why a child is misbehaving in the first place, recognize how they contribute to the misbehavior and what they can do instead, learn to foster independence, capability, self-sufficiency and responsibility in their children, enjoy positive and open communication with their kids lasting into the teenage years and beyond.


Why does positive discipline work for kids?

Kids love the positive discipline approach because it's based on dignity and respect.  All kids misbehave from time to time.  With positive discipline, kids know that when they mess up, they won't be humiliated or exposed to blame, shame and pain.  They learn from the experience and know they'll be held accountable for their behavior in the future -- but in a way that keeps their dignity intact.


If you would like more information on positive discipline visit Positive Parenting Solutions. If you like what you see, they even offer an online parenting course.

Have you decided what approach to discipline you'll take with your toddler? What do you think of positive discipline?






Read More