Steps of Positive Discipline Defined

The steps of positive discipline are designed to give parents a framework for moving through a discipline exchange. The idea is to learn each and be flexible in the moment.

I messages label your or another person’s emotions and explains why you are feeling this way. This avoids you messages which blame the child. Rather, blame the behavior or the situation. This blame can be global (“no one is listening”) or passive (“this is a mess”).  Rule: When you are the angriest person in the room or laying blame.

Empathy labels your child’s emotions and validates why they feel that way. This can also be given through wants or wishes (“you wanted to win the game”) or storytelling (“I remember when I was little and that happened to me…”). Rule: When your kids are bent out of shape and need a bit of help to calm.

Positive intent is giving those you love the benefit of the doubt. This means thinking of them as tired not lazy and needing to learn social skills not rude. This is more a shift in thinking than it is a shift in language. Rule: At least think it every time.

Choices are two positives for the child that meet your goal as a parent. Rule: Choices (challenges or contribution) before consequences as best you can.

  • Challenges are making it a game or a race, making it fun.
  • Contribution means giving the child a job to gain the behavior or keep them on track.

Natural consequences are what just might happen in life if the child chooses or continues a given behavior. These start to make more sense around three-and-a-half or four years old. Rule: State and allow the child to experience. Avoid rescuing.

Logical consequences should match the child’s behavior in time (as soon as possible and immediate under three years old), intensity (at the same level) and content (on topic with the behavior).

  • Logical positive consequences are the good related outcome to the positive behavior. Rule: Works a lot like choices.
  • Logical negative consequences are the bad related outcome to the negative behavior. Rule: Meant as an endpoint, and only allowed for starters with aggressive behavior.

*You have asked your child to clean up his toys, he just stands there looking at you.

  • I messages: “I’m frustrated, no one is listening.”
  • Empathy: “I know you don’t like cleaning.”
  • Positive intent: “It is so much fun to play.”
  • Choices: “Do you want to start with blocks or balls?”
  • Challenges: Can he clean up the blocks before you clean up the cars?
  • Contribution: Make him the Clean-up Supervisor with a check list for jobs.
  • Natural: “If you leave your toys out, they might get lost or broken.”
  • Logical positive: “If you clean them up now, we can have five more minutes to play.”
  • Logical negative: “If you leave them out, I will put them on the shelf for two days.”

*One child is yelling at another over taking turns with a toy.

  • I messages: “He is upset, he doesn’t like being yelled at.”
  • Empathy: “I know you are angry, it is hard to wait.”
  • Positive intent: “You really want a turn.”
  • Choices: “Do you want to try again with a whisper or your regular voice?”
  • Challenges: Can he list three other things he can do while waiting for his turn?
  • Contribution: Show the child 10 minutes on the clock, and put them in charge of letting you know when the time is up (but not a second earlier).
  • Natural: “If you are yelling, she might not play with you.”
  • Logical positive: “If you can speak nicely, you can stay together.”
  • Logical negative: “If you are yelling, you will have to play in another room.”

Rewards v. Positive Logical Consequences

In general, I suggest parents steer clear of using rewards in everyday parenting. The main reason is rewards tend to introduce extrinsic motivation for behavior which decreases intrinsic motivation. In other words, you decrease the behavior you were trying to increase. Rewards tend to work against you.

If you find yourself setting up a reward or starting to bribe a child for behavior, you are on better ground offering the child a positive logical consequence. Positive logical consequences are things related to the behavior itself. Rewards tend to be unrelated.

Let’s say I am a second grade teacher, and I say to my children, “for every book you read this week, you get a sticker. The class with the most stickers gets pizza on Friday.” I am directly decreasing the interest in reading. I am increasing the interest in stickers and pizza. Books are now the obstacle in the way of stickers and pizza. I will read the shortest fastest books I can, I might even lie about the books I read because I want stickers and pizza. If I am in the class that realizes on Wednesday we aren’t getting pizza, we are done reading.

To keep intrinsic motivation for reading the idea is to offer positive logical consequences or things related to reading. This might be, “for every book you read, you can check out an extra book. The class with the most books gets double library time on Friday, or gets to watch the movie that goes with the book on Friday.” Positive logical consequences stay on topic with the behavior, reading for reading builds intrinsic motivation for reading.

If you start to pay your child to practice piano, you are directly decreasing their interest in piano playing and increasing their interest in money. To keep intrinsic motivation for piano, you might offer that for every week they practice piano, you will sit for a recital, or they can download more sheet music.

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