A few months ago, I gave a talk on Positive Discipline at Kyle’s school, MindChamps International School. When I was informed about the topic to be discussed, I did some research on it. I soon realized that I was already using this form of parenting with Kyle, without knowing what it was called. As parents, we have one similar goals when we discipline our kids, but we have different ways. The common way most parents instill discipline is by punishing children for misbehaving. With positive discipline, instead of punishment, you correct the child’s behavior by helping them understand the reasons why they’re wrong. Underneath the practice is the principle that there are no bad kids, just bad behavior.
I was once asked whether I ever spank Kyle. Some people think that it’s okay to resort to spanking for discipline, but with Kyle, I don’t use punishment. I just let him understand by explaining to him what could possibly happen when he misbehaves. For example, if he plays with the hot water dispenser, he will get hurt and it’s going to be very painful. Then I follow up with questions like – do you want to get hurt? Through this, he not only understands why I’m stopping him, but I’m also preventing future recurrence because he would imagine what could happen. Because I already set expectations, Kyle follows what I say even without the threat of punishment.
I shared with fellow parents that there are three important P’s they need to have to be effective in Positive Discipline – Patience, Patience, Patience. They all gave me different looks after uttering the 3 P’s, but I’m pretty sure they all agree. We often lose our patience, then we snap at our kids and call them bad kids. It’s understandable, because kids often misbehave outside the home, and there’s a lot of pressure when we are in public areas. But one thing I shared with my co-parents is that when this happens, you can take the pressure off by not minding other people. You don’t need to snap and mind other people watching how you will treat your child. There are a lot of environmental factors that can cause kids to act improperly and throwing tantrums is their only way to release their feelings. Parents normally snap when their kids misbehave out of public pressure, but that action alone won’t help anything. Snapping at your kids will only add to your child’s unexpressed emotions. To properly handle these emotions is where positive discipline comes in.
So what is Positive Discipline? According to the official website –
Positive Discipline is a program designed to teach young people to become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of their communities. Based on the best selling Positive Discipline books by Dr. Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, Cheryl Erwin and others, it teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults (including parents, teachers, childcare providers, youth workers, and others).
Here, I’m sharing the 5 Criteria for Positive Discipline according to Dr. Jane Nielson, author of Positive Discipline –
- Be kind and firm, but respectful and encouraging at the same time. If you’re not firm and only kind, you’re being permissive. When you set rules, you need to be firm. That’s the only way the kids will believe you when you say something. Once I warned Kyle that if he continues to disobey, I’ll take away his toys. Sometimes Kyle would test me and challenge me, just to see if I’ll do what I say. He saw that I really took away his toys, and even when he cried, I stood firm. So now, Kyle knows that when I say something, I mean it. There was one instance when I wanted Kyle to brush his teeth but he didn’t want to. Kyle was still insisting on playing, and I was insisting that he brush his teeth after playing. I became a controlling mom because i was starting to get impatient. I threatened to give his toys away to other kids, and that made Kyle really mad. I was actually surprised that he threw a tantrum and stomped his way into his room, while making faces at me. I can tell and it was my first time to actually see that he was really upset. I realized that I shouldn’t have said that, because Paul my husband mentioned to me that kids are really possessive of their toys and taking it away from them is something that could really hurt them bad. I automatically realised my mistake and then explained to him why he needs to brush his teeth. To make up for what I said earlier, I told Kyle that I’m giving him another chance and I won’t give away his toys if he listens. Kyle already knows that I’ll do whatever I say, and so this was my way of taking back what I said. And he gave me that relieved look (like mommy isn’t gonna take away my toys anymore). So I explained that after brushing, I will let him continue to play – and so we had a deal.
- Give children a sense of belonging and significance. Kids usually seek more attention if you don’t make them feel significant. It can be as simple as asking them to clean up and take responsibility for their toys. When Kyle plays, I ask him to fix his toys afterward. This helps him understand that if he doesn’t want to clean up a lot after playing, then he shouldn’t make a big mess. We also let Kyle choose certain things, but they will always BE guided choices. This makes him feel like he had say. Also, after he makes a decision, and certain things happen, we would remind him that it was his choice. That helps Kyle become more responsible. Also, during our Kyle Shares events, we ask Kyle to hand out the gifts or the toys, so that he feels like he’s part of the activity.
- Positive discipline is effective long-term. Punishment is effective short-term, but it has negative long-term effects. Positive discipline teaches kids how to think and decide in the future. This is the same approach I used when teaching Kyle about safety. I haven’t punished Kyle so far, because I lean towards taking precautions rather than giving punishment. This means that I let him understand why he’s not allowed to touch this or eat too much of this. I don’t just simply say “No, you cannot” or wait for things to happen then punish or scold him. Everyday conversations are helpful. I have to say that I’m very patient with this, teaching Kyle and letting him understand the implications of certain situations. I remember when Kyle was younger, maybe two years old, I would wonder if I’m doing the right thing – does he even understand what I’m saying, maybe I’m being too strict. But now, I’m seeing results and I’m getting positive feedback from other parents and from his teachers. These days, Kyle would be the one to remind us about safety. When he sees me with scissors, he would say, “Mommy, be careful.” Or even when it comes to food, Kyle would sometimes be the one to remind me that too much ice cream is bad – it can ruin our teeth, it can make our cough worse. What kid wouldn’t want ice cream, right? But Kyle knows that if he has too much, it’s not good for him. We never get into repeated arguments because Kyle understands the effects of the things that we ask him to avoid. The change in behaviour is long-term.
- Teach valuable social and life skills for good character, like respect and concern for others, accountability, cooperation. Respect is the number one value I teach Kyle ever since he was young. That’s the one thing I always take with me – I treat everyone I meet with respect, regardless of their position, because everyone is valuable. At work or at home, if Kyle does something bad, I make sure that Kyle says sorry. Just because he’s the son of the boss doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to say sorry. When it comes to food, Kyle used to always ask permission from me. Now, I ask him to ask his yaya, so he understands that he also has to respect his yaya and ask her permission for some things. I gave yaya some authority, so Kyle will also listen to her and respect her. We always remember to use what we call his magic words like “please, thank you, and I’m sorry” because we wanted to instill it as a habit. Now he is actually growing up to be very compassionate and empathetic to the feelings of others, which I am so proud of.
- Invite children to discover how capable they are. The best example of this is Kyle and football. I enrolled Kyle in football classes, and he wasn’t that interested because he didn’t want to share the ball – and I saw it when he was on the field. That was a big challenge for me, and I tried to explain teamwork to him. He didn’t quite understand, and he still didn’t really like football, but I enrolled Kyle in football classes anyway. One time, on our way to class, I suddenly thought of asking Kyle to teach his dad how to play. I told Paul, “You should ask Kyle to teach you how to play football.” Kyle just looked at me and I told him, “You know, daddy doesn’t know how to play football. You should teach him.” Paul has actually played, but he just went along with it. I told Paul how good Kyle was at football, and that he can learn from Kyle. That day, I saw Kyle suddenly get excited about football. He asked, “Daddy, do you want me to show you how to kick the ball?” and Paul said, “Yes, please.” I just gave signals to Paul to encourage Kyle. At the game, we saw how Kyle was really into it. Afterwards, Kyle came over to us and asked, “Daddy, did you see me? Next time I can teach you!” Our strategy worked! So never give up on your kids, always have more and more patience to encourage them.
Before I closed my talk, I also shared some techniques in enforcing positive discipline. I’ll share those tips in a later post – stay tuned!