Positive discipline

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Positive Discipline (or PD) is a discipline model used by schools, and in parenting, that focuses on the positive points of behaviour, based on the idea that there are no bad children, just good and bad behaviors. You can teach and reinforce the good behaviors while weaning the bad behaviors without hurting the child verbally or physically. People engaging in positive discipline are not ignoring problems. Rather, they are actively involved in helping their child learn how to handle situations more appropriately while remaining calm, friendly and respectful to the children themselves. Positive discipline includes a number of different techniques that, used in combination, can lead to a more effective way for parents to manage their kids behaviour, or for teachers to manage groups of students. Some of these are listed below.

Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is a structured, open-ended model that many parents and schools follow. It promotes positive decision making, teaching expectations to children early, and encouraging positive behaviors.[1]

Positive discipline contrasts with negative discipline. Negative discipline may involve angry, destructive, or violent responses to inappropriate behavior. In the terms used by psychology research, positive discipline uses the full range of reinforcement and punishment options:

However, unlike negative discipline, it does all of these things in a kind, encouraging, and firm manner. The focus of positive discipline is to establish reasonable limits and guide children to take responsibility to stay within these limits, or learn how to remedy the situation when they don't.


The Positive Discipline[2] Parenting and Classroom Management Model is based on the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs. Dr. Adler first introduced the idea of parenting education to United States audiences in the 1920s. He advocated treating children respectfully, but also argued that spoiling and pampering children was not encouraging to them and resulted in social and behavioral problems. The classroom techniques, which were initially introduced in Vienna in the early 1920s, were brought to the United States by Dr. Dreikurs in the late 1930s. Dreikurs and Adler refer to the kind and firm approach to teaching and parenting as "democratic."[3]

Many other authors have carried on the parenting and classroom work of Alfred Adler. Jane Nelsen wrote and self-published Positive Discipline in 1981. In 1987 Positive Discipline was picked up by Ballantine, now a subsidiary of Random House. The latest edition was published by Ballantine in 2006, which includes 4 of the 5 criteria for Positive Discipline listed below. Nelsen has since added the 5th criteria. Nelsen also co-authored a series of Positive Discipline books with Lynn Lott: Positive Discipline for Teenagers, Positive Discipline A-Z and Positive Discipline in the Classroom (with H. Stephen Glenn). Positive Discipline the First Three Years and Positive Discipline for Preschoolers were co-authored by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Duffy. Cheryl Erwin co-authored with Jane Nelsen Positive Discipline for Single Parents and Positive Discipline for Stepfamilies.

The term positive discipline has become very popular. Many parenting books and programs that claim to be positive discipline are based on the philosophy of "behaviorism," which is very different from the original Adlerian-based positive discipline: Behaviorism promotes "external" locus of control. Positive discipline promotes "internal" locus of control, as indicated in the Five Criteria for Positive Discipline.

Parenting style[edit]

Nelsen describes four basic parenting styles modified from Diana Baumrind's parenting style.

Short-term Parenting Long-term parenting
  • Controlling/Punitive/Rewarding
  • Permissive/Overprotective/Rescuing
  • Neglectful/Giving up on being a parent
  • Kind and Firm

Positive discipline is used to teach long-term parenting—the kind and firm parenting style.[4]

Five criteria[edit]

There are 5 criteria for effective positive discipline:

  1. Helps children feel a sense of connection. (Belonging and significance)
  2. Is mutually respectful and encouraging. (Kind and firm at the same time.)
  3. Is effective long-term. (Considers what the children are thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about themselves and their world – and what to do in the future to survive or to thrive.)
  4. Teaches important social and life skills. (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, and cooperation as well as the skills to contribute to the home, school or larger community.)
  5. Invites children to discover how capable they are. (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy.)[5]

Positive Discipline is distinct from positive behavior support (PBS) which is a form of child discipline often used by schools and community agencies to promote successful behavior, as PBS includes some behavioristic elements such as positive reinforcement. PBS focuses on "measuring" behaviors, replacement behaviors, a reduction of crisis intervention, and teaching strategies for self-control.

Main techniques[edit]

Creating rules[edit]

In her book titled Positive Discipline, which is the main source for this type of behavior management, Jane Nelsen emphasizes the importance of not only creating clear rules, but of making them fair. Any rule should be followed by the parent or teacher (as much as possible), as well as by the child. An example she gave was that of having a "black hole box" where any items left out of place around the house would be deposited for the length of one week. This applied to the belongings of the children as well as of the parents. Furthermore, the rules should be devised by the children with some direction from the authority figure, and be agreed upon in a group meeting situation where everyone has equal power and input. This makes the children responsible for following the rules which they themselves created. When consequences are necessary, they should be delivered in a kind but firm manner, preserving the trust and mutual respect between the adult and the child.[6]

Inspiring intrinsic motivation[edit]

The idea of doing away with both positive and negative reinforcement as much as possible is suggested as a way to inspire intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the motivation drawn from internal sources, out of a sense of ethics or a desire to feel good about oneself. This is in contrast with extrinsic motivation, wherein motivation stems from a desire to avoid punishment or attain a reward. This is what Positive Discipline seeks to avoid, so that children learn to act correctly even when there will be no external reward or punishment for behavior.[7][8]

Recognizing needs[edit]

In Positive Discipline theory, it is posited that when children misbehave they are displaying that a need of theirs is not being met. Children have different developmental abilities depending on their age - see Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In dealing with the misbehavior, it is suggested that focusing on the unmet need rather than the behavior itself will have better results.[9]

Understand the meaning[edit]

Naomi Aldort, author of "Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves" explains that inappropriate behaviour can be a child's way of getting attention, they do not act out without a valid reason as they try to do the best that they can. Once there is an understanding behind the behaviour, the cause can be removed and no further emotional outbursts will come from the child [10]

Redirect negative behaviour[edit]

A child who hears the word "No" all the time will eventually start to ignore its meaning. Dr. Katharine C. Kersey, the author of "The 101s: A Guide to Positive Discipline," recommends encouraging positive behaviour to replace misbehaviour. Parents should be encouraged to redirect the child's behaviour into something positive, for example, if a child is acting out in a supermarket, the child should be redirected into something creative or helpful such as picking out a typeof fruit to buy instead of acting out.[10]

Conscious discipline[edit]

Conscious discipline targets the brain to help children know exactly what the authoritative figure wants. This includes talking to the children with phrases such as “how does that make you feel?” and “I noticed you looked upset, what happened?” These phrases help the children understand that their parent/caretaker respect them and care about what they have to say. When a parent/caretaker accuses the child of doing something without knowing exactly what happened, this may cause a bad reaction within the emotional state of the child. Getting the children to do what the parent/caretaker wants is a bit difficult being the children usually have minds of their own and are in their own little worlds. If a child is doing an unsafe act, the parent/caretaker should tell the child that said activity is unsafe, and instead they should try an alternative activity that is safe and just about the same thing. For example, if the child is standing on a chair, the parent/caretaker should tell the child “standing on the chair is unsafe, instead, why don’t you sit on the chair or stand on the floor.” This will tell the child exactly what the parent/caretaker wants.[citation needed][original research?]

Preventive measures[edit]

Part of using positive discipline is preventing situations in which negative behaviors can arise. There are different techniques that teachers can use to prevent bad behaviors:

Students who "misbehave" are actually demonstrating "mistaken" behavior. There are many reasons why a student may exhibit mistaken behavior, i.e. lack of knowing appropriate behavior to feeling unwanted or unaccepted. For students who simply do not know what appropriate behavior they should be exhibiting, the teacher can teach the appropriate behavior. For example, a child who is fighting over a toy in a dramatic way should be approached by a teacher who should try and create a fair solution by encouraging the child's input and talking about their problems to avoid another argument.[11] For students who are feeling unwanted or unaccepted, a positive relationship needs to develop between the teacher and student before ANY form of discipline will work.

Sanctions would be less needed if students have a strong connection with the adult in charge and knew that the teacher respected them. Teachers need to know how to build these relationships. Simply telling them to demonstrate respect and connection with students is not enough for some of them, because they may also lack knowledge on how to do this.[citation needed][original research?]

Teachers need to view each child as an account; they must deposit positive experiences in the student before they make a withdraw from the child when discipline takes place. Teachers can make deposits through praise, special activities, fun classroom jobs, smiles and appropriate pats on the backs. Some children have never experienced positive attention. Children long for attention; if they are not receiving positive attention they will exhibit behavior that will elicit negative attention.[citation needed][original research?]

Teachers can recognize groups of students who would not work well together (because they are friends or do not get along well) and have them separated from the start prevent situations which will result in negative behaviour. Some teachers employ the "boy-girl-boy-girl" method of lining or circling up (which may be sexist or effective, depending on your perspective) in order to keep friend groups separate and to encourage the students to make new friends. The physical arrangement of the classroom can affect classroom discipline and the effectiveness of instruction.[12]

Another technique would be to be explicit with the rules, and consequences for breaking those rules, from the start. If students have a clear understanding of the rules, they will be more compliant when there are consequences for their behaviors later on. A series of 3 warnings is sometimes used before a harsher consequence is used (detention, time-out, etc.), especially for smaller annoyances (for example, a student can get warnings for calling out, rather than getting an immediate detention, because a warning is usually effective enough). Harsher consequences should come without warnings for more egregious behaviors (hitting another student, cursing, deliberately disobeying a warning, etc.). Teachers can feel justified that they have not "pulled a fast one" on students.

Students are more likely to follow the rules and expectations when they are clearly defined and defined early. Many students need to know and understand what the negative behaviors are before they end up doing one by accident.[1]

Involving the students when making the rules and discipline plans may help prevent some students from acting out. It teaches the students responsibility and creates an awareness of what good versus bad behaviors are. It also makes the student feel obligated and motivated to follow the rules because they were involved while they were created.[13]

Using gerunds[edit]

Gerunds are words ending in "ing". It is believed that using gerunds can help reinforce the positive behavior another would like to see rather than attacking a bad behavior. For example, a teacher might see students running down the hall and calmly say "walking" rather than yell "stop running" in an agitated voice. He might say "gently" (an adverb) instead of insisting "calm down!"[citation needed][original research?]

Positive recognition[edit]

(This addition is an example of "Behaviorism" and is not part of the original Positive Discipline that does not advocate punishment or rewards.) Positive discipline includes rewarding good behavior as much as curtailing negative behaviors. Some "rewards" can be verbal. Some are actual gifts.

Instead of yelling at a student displaying negative behaviors, a teacher/leader might recognize a student behaving well with a "thank you Billy for joining the line", or "I like the way you helped Billy find his notebook." Recognizing a positive behavior can bring a group's focus away from the students displaying negative behavior, who might just be "acting out" for attention. Seeing this, students seeking attention might try displaying good behaviors to get the recognition of the leader.

One persons submits this as a reward method: Students are given stamps in their planner if they do well in a lesson. When they receive enough stamps from the same subject (usually 3 or 5) the student has a credit. When 50, 100, 150, 200 and 250 credits have been awarded to a particular student, that student receives a certificate. If a student meets certain behavioural criteria, they are rewarded with a trip at the end of term.[citation needed][original research?]

Other rewards:

  • A special chain or necklace students pass from one to another for doing good deeds.
  • High fives and positive words.
  • Awards/achievements on the wall of the classroom or cafeteria.

Other techniques[edit]

If a student is causing a distraction during class, a teacher might do something to gain the attention of the student without losing momentum of the lecture. One technique is quietly placing a hand on the shoulder of the student while continuing to speak. The student becomes aware that the teacher would like them to focus. Another technique is to non-chalantly stand in-between two students talking to each other. This causes a physical barrier to the conversation and alerts the students to the teacher's needs. A third technique for a standing group is to gently move the student next to the teacher.[citation needed][original research?]

A funny technique that requires a skilled PD practitioner is "the grocery list look". A gentler version of "the evil eye" this look is not happy or mad, but focused. The teacher looks at the student, places her tongue on the tip of her mouth, and thinks about a list of things to do (not to the child!). This focused look, along with silence, makes a student just uncomfortable enough to change behaviors, not enough to make them feel embarrassed or scared as an evil eye might.[citation needed][original research?]


Studies of implementation of Positive Discipline techniques have shown that Positive Discipline tools do produce significant results. Research has proven that schools with a high suspension rate do not have a successful academic outcome.[14] A study of school-wide implementation of classroom meetings in a lower-income Sacramento, CA elementary school over a four-year period showed that suspensions decreased (from 64 annually to 4 annually), vandalism decreased (from 24 episodes to 2) and teachers reported improvement in classroom atmosphere, behavior, attitudes and academic performance. (Platt, 1979) A study of parent and teacher education programs directed at parents and teachers of students with "maladaptive" behavior that implemented Positive Discipline tools showed a statistically significant improvement in the behavior of students in the program schools when compared to control schools. (Nelsen, 1979) Smaller studies examining the effects of specific Positive Discipline tools have also shown positive results. (Browning, 2000; Potter, 1999; Esquivel) Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that a student’s perception of being part of the school community (being "connected" to school) decreases the incidence of socially risky behavior (such as emotional distress and suicidal thoughts / attempts, cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use; violent behavior) and increases academic performance. (Resnick et al., 1997; Battistich, 1999; Goodenow, 1993) There is also significant evidence that teaching younger students social skills has a protective effect that lasts into adolescence. Students that have been taught social skills are more likely to succeed in school and less likely to engage in problem behaviors. (Kellam et al., 1998; Battistich, 1999)

Programs similar to Positive Discipline have been studied and shown to be effective in changing parent behavior. In a study of Adlerian parent education classes for parents of teens, Stanley (1978) found that parents did more problem solving with their teens and were less autocratic in decision making. Positive Discipline teaches parents the skills to be both kind and firm at the same time. Numerous studies show that teens who perceive their parents as both kind (responsive) and firm (demanding) are at lower risk for smoking, use of marijuana, use of alcohol, or being violent, and have a later onset of sexual activity. (Aquilino, 2001; Baumrind, 1991; Jackson et al., 1998; Simons, Morton et al., 2001) Other studies have correlated the teen’s perception of parenting style (kind and firm versus autocratic or permissive) with improved academic performance. (Cohen, 1997; Deslandes, 1997; Dornbusch et al., 1987; Lam, 1997)Template:Full citations needed

Studies have shown that through the use of positive intervention programs "designed specifically to address the personal and social factors that place some high school students at risk of drug abuse, schools can reduce these young people's drug use and other unhealthy behaviors" (Eggert, 1995; Nicholas, 2995; Owen, 1995).[citation needed] Use of such programs has shown improvement in academics and a decline in drug use across the board.


Studies have shown "that kids who are at high risk of dropping out of school and abusing drugs are more isolated and depressed and have more problems with anger", says Dr. Leona Eggert of the University of Washington in Seattle. "They are disconnected from school and family and are loosely connected with negative peers" (Eggert, 1995; Nicholas, 1995; Owen, 1995).

Overall implementing positive programs to deal with Positive Discipline will better the decision making process of teens and parents, according to some researchers.[15]


Better student-teacher relations. Less teacher wasted energy/frustration. Students recognize desirable positive behaviors, rather than feel attacked.

Statistics show that each year, close to one third of eighteen-year-olds do not finish high school (Bridgeland, 2006; Dilulio, 2006; Morison, 2006). Minority and low-income areas show even higher numbers. 75 percent of crimes committed in the United States are done by high school drop-outs. In order to know how to intervene Civic Enterprises interviewed dropouts and asked them what they suggest be done to increase high school completion numbers. Here is what they came up with: 81% said there should be more opportunities for "real-world" learning, 81% said "better" teachers, 75% said smaller class numbers, 70% said "increasing supervision in schools", 70% said greater opportunities for summer school and after-school programs, 62% said "more classroom discipline, and 41% said to have someone available to talk about personal problems with (Bridgeland, 2006; Dilulio, 2006; Morison, 2006). Through use of Positive Discipline, efforts are being made to prevent occurrences such as dropping out of school.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Madison Metropolitan School District Student Conduct and Discipline Plan" (PDF). Retrieved 14 January 2016. 
  2. ^ Positive Discipline
  3. ^ Rudolf Dreikurs and Vicki Soltz, Children: The Challenge, Plume, 1964
  4. ^ Nelsen J and Lott L. Positive Discipline for Teenagers, rev 2nd ed. Prima Publishing, 2000, p. 54. ISBN 0-7615-2181-X
  5. ^ Nelsen, Jane (2006). Positive Discipline. ISBN 978-0-345-48767-4. 
  6. ^ Nelsen, Jane (2006). Positive Discipline. ISBN 978-0-345-48767-4. 
  7. ^ Cherry, Kendra. "What Is Intrinsic Motivation?". About.com. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  8. ^ API. "Practice Positive Discipline". Attachment Parenting International. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  9. ^ Morin, Amy. "The Difference Between Punishment and Discipline". About.com. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  10. ^ a b "Seven Tips for Practicing Positive Discipline . Talking With Kids . PBS Parents | PBS". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 2016-05-10. 
  11. ^ "Misbehavior or mistaken behavior". 2013-02-06. 
  12. ^ "Do Seating Arrangements and Assignments = Classroom Management?". 
  13. ^ "Creating Behavior Plans". 
  14. ^ Denti, Lou (01.05.2014). "Positive Discipline". Leadership. 42 (5): 26.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  15. ^ Eggert, L.L.; Nicholas, L.J.; Owen, L.M (1995). Reconnecting Youth: A peer group approach to building life skills. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.
  16. ^ Bridgeland, John; Dilulio, John; Morison, Karen (2006). The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts. Washington, D.C: Civic Enterprises, LLC.

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