When your kid has done something wrong it can be hard to keep your cool. You know they know better, and you can’t just let it go.
Discipline helps a child learn right from wrong. And it teaches them that there are consequences to their actions. It’s an important life lesson. But to be effective, discipline needs to be done the right way.
Positive discipline techniques are shown to increase positive behaviors while effectively punishing the bad. The best part — positive discipline will help you foster a relationship based on mutual respect. And this respect will stay with both of you as they grow into loving and amazing adults.
Ready to learn the best positive discipline techniques? Let’s get to it!
How to decrease bad behaviors with positive discipline
Many positive disciplines techniques are used before your child ever does anything wrong. These are daily practices designed to open up conversation and put a focus on the positive. With the right strategy, you can minimize the need for in-the-moment discipline and build a stronger connection with your child.
Set clear and consistent limits
Kids push boundaries. That’s how they learn. Setting clear limits ahead of the trouble, with appropriate consequences, makes it easier to dole out the discipline when needed.
Sit down with your child and discuss expectations. Keep the conversation age-appropriate and short. Layout the limits, and share what happens when they break them. If they’re older, ask if they have any questions or concerns. Conversations over commands will lead to more cooperation.
Bonus tip — when choosing limits, focus on those most important to you. Present only the hard limits, and then be consistent in enforcing them.
The tricky part — make sure you aren’t just throwing out arbitrary rules. Every limit should have a strong argument for why it’s important. If you don’t have one, your kid will push back even harder. Choose your limits wisely to avoid power struggles (which benefit no one).
Clear and consistent limits will help you when discipline is needed. The consequences are already laid out. All that’s left is to take a calming deep breath and enforce them.
Give them your full attention
You can’t always be available to your child. There are things that have to be done throughout the day. And you still need to leave time for yourself.
But when possible, set aside a special time for your child. Even just 10 minutes of your full attention can fill up their cup and help minimize difficult behaviors.
Choose a time without other distractions, set aside your phone, and ask about their day. Get specific to avoid those one-word answers, and then listen closely.
After school or right before bed is a great time to share a chat. Or take a special trip together, even if it’s just to the grocery store. Little moments can really add up. And your child will feel heard, appreciated, and loved.
Recognize positive behaviors
How often do you call out when your child is doing something right? Recognizing their positive behaviors is one of the best ways to see them repeated.
This is more than congratulating them on a great report card or game-winning kick. It’s calling out the little, everyday things that will make the most impact. What are some great tasks to recognize?
- Taking their plate to the kitchen after dinner
- Filling up the pet’s water bowl
- Comforting a sad sibling
- Starting their homework without a reminder
- Sharing a toy with a friend
These are all great times to say, “I see you and I appreciate you.”
Another strategy — share these moments with other adults. Tell your partner or friend how proud you are of your child. Don’t put them on the spot or even call them over...just share during some casual conversation. If your child is in earshot, they’ll beam with pride.
We’ve already mentioned having a clear set of hard limits. When these limits are pushed, it’s important to stay consistent and follow the discipline that you outlined.
But it can pay to be flexible. When your kid is pushing back on less important things, rethink your initial “no”. Reconsider their request. If it’s not unreasonable or dangerous, start a conversation. Why is this important to them? Explain your initial reaction, then problem-solve together.
Learning to compromise is an important life skill — and it doesn’t mean you’re a pushover. Everyone’s wants and needs can be discussed, and then only proceed with their request if it works for you. By modeling this thoughtful behavior, you are setting your child up to be flexible without compromising themselves. And that will lead to a future full of happy, stable relationships.
Say “no” less often
Don’t worry — this doesn’t mean saying “yes” to everything. It’s more about rephrasing your “no”s with positive language.
Tell them the things they can do rather than the things they can’t. For example, instead of yelling “Don’t run!” tell them they need to walk. Instead of insisting that they don’t jump on the furniture, suggest that they jump on the floor. If you can turn these requests into fun games, all the better.
By rephrasing your negative responses you give your child options instead of commands. And this can lead to far less pushback. And you’ll feel better at the end of the day too. It’s draining to feel like all you’ve said all day is “no” or “don’t”. This little trick is a great way to ditch that parenting guilt and still get the desired result.
How to use positive discipline when bad behavior strikes
If you practice all the tips above, you will see fewer bad behaviors. But there’s no way to completely stop your child from misbehaving. They’re kids, and they still need a lot of guidance. When discipline is needed, try these positive discipline techniques.
Use natural consequences
Your child has broken a hard rule — what now? Think about what would happen if you did the same thing.
Did they hit someone? Then separation and some time away from the situation is appropriate. Did they start to run across the road? Then they now have two choices in parking lots: hold your hand at all times or you will carry them/contain them in a cart.
Do they refuse to pick up their toys? Then they are no longer available to play with.
Think about their age and what is developmentally appropriate, and discipline accordingly. Younger children are still working on impulse control, so even though they may know better than to run across the road, it takes practice to follow these instructions. This discipline involves removing the danger from the situation. And because they crave independence, losing it is an appropriate response to this behavior.
When you first sit down to determine your hard limits, think through some possible natural consequences. This is something that takes practice on your part as well. Does this consequence make sense? If not, keep working on it.
Punish behaviors, not emotions
Kids have big emotions, and the tantrums to go with them. When a child is acting out, be sure to only discipline the actions they can control. All emotions are welcome, but not all behaviors.
Hitting, biting, screaming, and door slamming are all behaviors that call for discipline. But honor the emotions behind them. Tell them that you recognize that they are sad and upset, but they need to find another way to process those feelings.
Toddlers may need to be physically moved to a safe space so as to not hurt themselves or others. Older children need to be reminded to find a space or activity to help them calm down.
Once they are in a more neutral headspace, discuss better ways to handle their big emotions. Remind them that you also feel upset sometimes. And sometimes you lose your temper. But that is something you are working on, and something they can work on too.
Redirect their attention
Redirection is a powerful tool, especially with younger children. As mentioned earlier, impulse control is still developing in your toddler and preschooler. They may have a difficult time keeping out of trouble when that trouble is right there in front of them.
When your child keeps returning to a bad behavior, remove the temptation (if possible) and redirect to a different activity.
When using redirection, try to keep the new activity similar to the problem one. If your toddler is constantly climbing on the table, block it off and then suggest a different physical activity. Take them outside and let them practice climbing safely with your guidance.
For older children, redirection is more of a reminder that they are making a bad choice. Let them know that there are better options, or consequences if they continue. It gives them a chance to pause and switch gears. For example, if they are refusing to put down their video game at dinner time, remind them that they can play after dinner or tomorrow, but now it’s time to eat. And if they can’t take a break now, then the option to play later will no longer be available.
Even if you had a conversation yesterday about the same thing, give them this beat to reconsider their actions. Then proceed with the natural consequences to your hard limits.
Remember the reason for discipline
Parenting is hard. At the end of a long day, we all just want to relax, not yell at our kids. Using these positive discipline techniques, both before and during times of bad behavior, will help create a more peaceful household for you and your family.
You are raising wonderful children to be loving and responsible adults. Teaching them right and wrong is important. If you make a mistake, that’s ok. This is its own teachable moment and a chance to build a stronger connection with your child.
Just steer clear of power struggles, take a deep breath, and trust yourself to do what’s right for your child. You’re doing a great job!