Sometimes I tell my kids, “Punishing you hurts me more than you.” I hate nagging them about rules, hearing them cry or stomp away in disappointment. I hate being the Bad Cop who spoils their fun and reminds them about homework, bedtime, and eating their vegetables. Honestly, it would be so much easier for me to say “yes” to everything, but I have to deal with their tantrums and put on that Strict Mom Face because it’s for their own good.
But discipline doesn’t have to be about nagging or screaming – and it shouldn’t ruin our relationship with our kids. Discipline can be loving and even strengthen trust and communication. That’s the heart of Positive Discipline.
What is Positive Discipline?
Positive discipline sees rules as part of the big picture of empowering and encouraging the child. We’re not saying “No!” because we want our kids to be afraid of us, or to force them to be quiet or behave in a convenient way. Instead, we’re giving them age-appropriate guidance so they can learn how to make good choices – all with the goal of increasing their independence and confidence as they prove that they can handle it.
It’s like teaching them to learn how to bike. If we just plop our toddler on a racing bike and push it down a hill, he’ll end up seriously hurting himself and other people. That’s why we pick a small bike with training wheels, then teach them how to pedal in a safe area like a garage. Eventually, we take off the wheels and bring them outdoors. Only when we know how to bike (and other realities like looking out for cars) do we let them ride freely around the neighborhood.
However, we have to pay attention to how we teach them. What if we scream at them when they fall off a bike, compare them to the other bikers, or threaten to give up when they fall off? Your child may learn how to bike, but he’ll probably hate it (and you).
Positive Discipline is still discipline. You need to set and enforce rules and routines, but the way you do it should be nurturing to the child’s self-esteem. It also becomes an integral part of the parent-child bond. He knows and feels your unconditional love, and he may not like the rules, but he understands why you’re doing it.
Here are some practical tips on Positive Discipline:
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Positive Discipline relies a lot on communication. You can’t just say “No!” or “Because I said so.” Help explain why the rule is helpful, in an age-appropriate way. Young children need very concrete examples and simple words. Some examples: “You need to take a nap, or you’ll be too tired and cranky to have fun at the playground later.” “You have to drink your milk, so you have more energy and stronger muscles! Then you can become even better at basketball!”
Also pay attention to your voice and facial expressions, because children understand body language more than words. Keep your voice firm but calm, and if needed, kneel so that you maintain eye contact with your child. This works better than shouting or saying things over and over again.
Understand age-appropriate behavior
Positive Discipline recognizes that a child is a work-in-progress, and we have to take into account their age and maturity when we demand certain behaviors. For example, preschoolers have shorter attention spans and are easily overstimulated, so it’s “normal” for them to get fussy in the middle of a long movie or act up in a noisy mall. If they throw a tantrum, they’re not being bad – they’re telling you that they’re tired, hungry, or have a headache.
In situations like this, preparation is key. Anticipate when a child can misbehave, and either avoid it or manage it. For example, limit your mall trips to a few hours and avoid “rush hours” when the stores are very crowded. Bring a few books or art supplies that will entertain him at the restaurant.
“My kids whine and get malikot when they’re bored, so I try to get them involved. At the supermarket, I give them a shopping list so they can help me look for things – it helps improve their reading skills too! I also have pillows in the car so they can sleep during traffic, and I pack crackers and other snacks so they don’t get ‘hangry’ (or hungry and angry) while waiting,” says Lala, mom of two.
Inconsistency confuses the child. You can’t be strict about gadget time, but then give in when he cries. Other adults also need to agree with your rule – and follow it, too! “Why can’t I use the iPad when Daddy looks at his phone at dinner?” “Lola lets me play games anytime, why are you getting mad at me?”
That’s why it’s important to talk about rules with the other caregivers, from your partner to the yayas. Discipline isn’t just the job of the Mom. It’s a family decision about the kind of habits and values you want your child to have.
Praise good behavior
We often notice bad behavior, but the best way to reinforce a rule is to pay equal attention to when your child follows it!
The key is to describe the specific behavior and give a concrete benefit, and not just say “Good boy!” or “Good girl!” Vague praise makes them associate behaving with being accepted – plus, they won’t really know what you mean by “good.”
Some examples: “You put away your toys without any reminding! Now your room looks very neat and you can find everything right away.” “You were so patient while Mommy was buying groceries. Thank you! See, we even finished faster. We have time to play when we get home.”
Give them words to describe their feelings
Children cry, hit, and kick because they don’t know how else to express themselves. We can avoid a lot of “tantrums” if we give them specific words for what they feel: “I am angry. I am disappointed. I am sad. I am frustrated.”
Also teach them better ways of dealing with their emotions. “I know you’re angry, but you can’t shout at me or throw your toys. Take deep breaths until you feel better.” “I understand you’re frustrated. You want to play outside but it’s raining. Let’s look for something else we can do together.”
They won’t automatically calm down, but this slowly teaches them how to deal with stress and conflict – a skill they will need throughout their lives!
Manage your own feelings
Let’s be honest: sometimes we overreact to misbehavior because we’re tired, stressed or burnt out. Then we blow up, and our child doesn’t understand what he did wrong – he just becomes scared or worried by our facial expression or voice.
That’s why self-care is a huge part of Positive Parenting. We can’t take care of our kids if we don’t take care of ourselves, or be able to listen to needs without respecting our own. Even “Supermoms” need little breaks when we can do what we love or simply zone out or get enough sleep!
And don’t feel guilty about it, either! If you feel good, then it will show up in your voice, your face, and how you react to your child’s behavior. A happy mom is a calm mom, and a calm mom is always in control.
About The Writer
Dedet Reyes-Panabi was editor-in-chief of a parenting magazine for over 10 years, but has been writing for newspapers and magazines much longer than that (hint: back then, people still used film for photo shoots!). Today, she is a content marketing consultant for both local and international companies. She is full-time mom to two kids, three cats, and a stubborn French bulldog.