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Discipline should impart life skills and be respectful


Dear Ms. Davis,

My husband and I have two children, ages 5 and 2. I feel like we don’t have any ‘method’ or clear idea of what we are doing when discipline is needed. I think we sometimes let our kids get away with things, just because we don’t know what to do. Other times I think we punish too harshly, and tend to do what our parents did, which in some situations is definitely NOT what we want to repeat – but we can’t seem to stop ourselves. Can you help?

Confused Parent

Dear Confused Parent,

You are not alone. Until very recently, most of us parented our children the way we were parented…there were few books or classes on ‘being a better parent’. It was a common assumption that if you could have children, you ‘intuitively’ knew how to parent them effectively. This may have had some truth in prior generations, when most people lived in the same community, with the same neighbors, and everyone went to the same school, church, for their entire lives...things didn’t change much, and everyone had basically the same values.

In today’s culture, we often live in very diverse communities, our friends, neighbors and even other family members have different values and mores, and the average American family moves every two to three years. There are hundreds of books on raising children – with varying philosophies. Parenting is much more difficult and confusing.

Positive Discipline provides a foundation for folks looking for an effective way to raise children in today’s culture. Most of us want our children (by age 22 or 23) to be respectful of self and others, responsible, honest, kind, compassionate, etc. We also want them to be good decision-makers, have leadership skills, and be able to communicate effectively. These are the ‘long term’ qualities we are reaching for when we discipline, as it’s during those times of ‘misbehavior’ that we are modeling and teaching our children how to ‘be’ in the world.

Positive Discipline is based on the theories of Alfred Adler, a psychiatrist in the early 1900’s. He believed, among other things, that our primary goals is to find belonging and significance, that all people (including children) are deserving of dignity and respect, that children do better when they feel encouraged, and that discipline is about teaching and training, not about blame, shame or humiliation. Positive Discipline is not a ‘how to’ program (i.e. when you see this behavior, this is what you do)…it’s a ‘how we BE’ program. Once parents understand the underlying philosophy, and its roots of respect and connection, there are many, many tools at their disposal. Here are some Positive Discipline guidelines for discipline that is effective:

*Does it help children feel a sense of connection?

*Is it mutually respectful (honoring both the needs of the parent and the child)?

*Is it effective long-term (what is the child learning about him/herself, the world)?

*Does it teach important life skills (respect, cooperation, responsibility, etc.)?

*Does it invite the child to discover how capable they are?

I hope this helps you and your husband. If you would like more information about these concepts, I recommend the ‘Positive Discipline’ series of books, authored by Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., and other co-authors. There are two that are specific to your children’s ages: ’Positive Discipline: The First Three Years’ and ‘Positive Discipline for Preschoolers’ as well as the basic ‘Positive Discipline’ book.

I wish you well on your parenting journey.

Penny Davis, M.F.A.

Respectful Relationships Consulting

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer


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