Discipline stems from the word “disciple” and means “to guide with love.” In the truest sense of the word, discipline does not mean punishment nor does it refer to a battle of wills. Rather, an adult seeks to guide behavior through teaching and learning.
I know how that sounds: A wailing three-year-old will automatically cease the temper tantrum in the middle of a very public place with a firm, yet gentle “no,” and peace, love, and happiness will descend from the heavens? Not in the real world, I agree. But certain disciplinary strategies are more effective than others.
One of the big buzzwords in both education and parenting is “positive discipline.” It sounds like a weak attempt made by a naïve, timid, or overly optimistic parent, but research shows that with a little self-control on the parent’s or teacher’s end it is a rather logical technique. In fact, many schools utilize positive discipline as described by Jane Nelson in her book Positive Discipline. Many variations of positive discipline can be used, but the overarching theme is to maintain a kind and firm parenting style to guide behavior. Skeptical? Consider the following, which is one technique of positive discipline:
A warm, sunny day. Perfect playground weather. Life is grand until a barrage of pea gravel pours onto your head again and again.
Your urge is to say, “Stop throwing rocks!”
Positive discipline suggests that instead we grab the child’s hand (gently), help him place the rocks back on the ground, and say firmly, “Rocks stay on the ground.”
Here’s why: Children’s developing brains are selective in that they only pick up on certain words or phrases. So when you say, “Don’t throw rocks,” the child is going to remember, “Throw rocks.” The behavior won’t change and may get worse. Telling children what to do with the rocks sends a new message to the brain, creating an opportunity for them to improve their behavior in a positive way. And while this kind of discipline takes a little while to get used to and to work, consistent use will reap rewards.
Can it be used for everything? Yes. Is it easy to use? Yes and no. Initially, it takes quite a bit of thought on the parent’s part to reword the redirections in a positive way. With practice, though, it starts to come easily. Here are some examples:
Instead of… Say…
“Don’t hit.” … “Keep your hands at your side/to yourself.”
“Don’t wet your pants.” … “Stop and use the potty when you need to.”
“Don’t run.” … “Walk beside me.”
“Quit yelling.” … “Use a quiet voice.”
“Don’t be mean.” … “We say nice things to our friends.”
“Don’t talk back.” … “I’d like you to say that in a different way.”
“Don’t go into the street.” … “Stay behind the sidewalk.”
Children may be so used to hearing what they shouldn’t do that it may surprise them when you tell them what they should do. Be consistent, be firm, and know that you are trying to guide with love. You may be surprised at the results.