Tips on the Steps of Positive Discipline

When you come into a discipline situation, there is a well recognized, often written about series of positive discipline techniques available to help you manage. These steps work together to provide a framework for addressing emotions, offering alternatives and curbing behaviors. The only trick is you have to learn them, practice them and use them in effective ways.

These steps include I messages and empathy to manage emotions, positive intent to better view behaviors, choices to teach and consequences when all else fails. I messages, empathy and positive intent are foundation skills to think about as you enter in. They are ways to open communication, to validate the child and encourage them to listen to the rest of the process. Choices are ways to gain compliance without the use of consequences, these work because they share power. Consequences include natural – what just might happen, logical negative – if the bad behavior it’s the bad outcome, and logical positive – if the good behavior it’s the good outcome.

I messages – I messages label your emotions and blame the behavior, not the child. For example, “I am angry, my lamp is broken,” rather than, “I am angry with you, you broke my lamp.” “I am frustrated, no one is listening,” rather than, “I am frustrated, you never listen.”

Empathy – Empathy validates the child’s emotions even if you disagree. This sounds like, “wow! You are angry. You really wanted to win that game,” or, “I know you are sad, it is hard to be left out.”

Positive Intent – Positive intent assumes good reasons even behind bad behaviors. Let’s say you call children for snack, and they are hustling to get ahead of each other coming up the stairs, then someone gets knocked over and falls down. Negative intent might be, “you all are so careless, look you hurt her.” Positive intent might be, “I know you were excited about snack,” you can follow this with a limit, “the stairs are dangerous, come up carefully,” choices, “do you want to hold hands or come up one at a time slowly,” or a consequence, “since that happened, snack is later.”

Choices – Choices offer two positives for the child about how, when, or where to do a behavior. Getting homework done might sounds like, “do you want to start with reading or math,” or, “do you want to do it before snack or after,” or, “do you want to work at your bedroom desk or the kitchen table?”

Consequences – Consequences can be natural, “if you don’t wear a sweatshirt, you might be cold,” logical positive, “if you get the sweatshirt on quickly, we can have more time to play,” or logical negaitve, “the longer it takes, the less time we’ll have to play.”

You can join me online at to view a three hour workshop on these steps or listen to a two hour review session. You can also join me for my Positive Discipline workshops in Falls Church or Alexandira by visiting:

Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

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