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Top : Children : Make Lemons into Lemonade: Use Positives for Disciplining Children

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Make Lemons into Lemonade: Use Positives for Disciplining Children

If you find yourself using words like "don't...," "stop...," and "no" to discipline your child, try using positive words instead. Children need to be taught how to behave in socially and morally acceptable ways. To discipline means to teach, especially in matters of conduct. To teach effectively, we need to tell our children clearly what we want them to do. The word "don't" seems to come easily to our lips, so it takes practice to learn to rephrase our limits and rules. The rewards of guiding children rather than commanding them won't necessarily come right away. But in the long run, it helps children learn to be morally well-developed, socially appropriate, self-directed, and happy kids.

Positive Discipline or Child Guidance

Positive discipline is based on understanding child development--what it is like to be in your child's shoes. Parents also must have a firm idea of the kind of person they want their children to become and be willing to follow a plan of action.

Telling children what we want over and over again supplies them with the information they need to learn. Eventually, this knowledge will become second nature to them. Recognizing that it is natural for children to behave in socially inappropriate ways, the child guidance approach helps children develop self-discipline. Guidance addresses the child's behavior rather than judging the child. Listen to the following example. Instead of chiding a child who isn't ready to leave in the morning with, "You always make me late for work!" you might say, "Taking time to decide what to wear makes us late everyday. Tomorrow we can either get up earlier or put out clothes before we go to bed. You decide."

Restating Limits and Rules Positively

Instead of constantly using "don't" commands (although sometimes they are necessary), learn to rephrase in a positive way while clearly stating the desired behavior. Instead of saying, "Don't run in the house," for example, try saying, "Walk in the house." This states clearly how you want your child to act. Sometimes you may want to give reasons for the rule--especially when you state it for the first time. Explaining a rule might sound like this: "Walk in the house. When you run, you may break something or hurt yourself by running into something."

Negative versus Positive Guidance

Think about what you want your children to do instead what you don't want them to do. In the following examples, the positive guidance follows the "don't" command.

  • "Don't go into the street," versus, "Play in the yard. You could get hurt if you go into the street."
  • "Don't stay out too late," versus, "You need to be home by 11:00 p.m."
  • "Don't throw the ball in the house," versus, "Roll the ball in the house," or, "Balls are for outside play."


Limits are specific expectations parents set for their children. They are guidelines or rules, such as staying in the backyard when playing outside, staying out of a sister's bedroom, keeping car tools in the garage, and asking permission before borrowing clothes. Setting limits tells a child, "I care about you. I want you to be safe. I want you to be considerate. By acting responsibly, you will learn to get along with others."

Four Types of Limits

  1. Prevent physical harm, as in, "Be gentle with your baby sister."

  2. Protect property, as in, "Play with the ball outside, not in the house."

  3. Prevent psychological harm, as in, " When your sister makes a mistake, give her some help. Laughing at her would make her very sad."

  4. Respect for others, as in, "Ask Jamie before you play with his toys."

Keys to Effective Limits

  • Keep your limits to important matters. Too many limits can be a burden to children and parents. Limits should be based on your highest priorities.
  • Set reasonable limits. Can the child do what is expected of him or her? Consider his or her age and developmental stage.
  • Teach self-discipline with clear, positive limits.
  • Be consistent with limits you set. If limits are not consistently enforced, the child will be confused.
  • Change limits to adapt to changes in the child's age. A child's ring of freedom should grow larger as he or she ages. However, limits involving respect are reasonable for all ages.
  • Involve children in setting some of their limits. Asking children to give their opinions about limits boosts self-confidence and self-control.
  • Help children understand the reasons for limits. Children are more likely to cooperate with parents if they understand the reason for the limits.
  • Set enforceable limits. Parents must enforce limits their child deliberately defies. Can a parent enforce a rule that their children always wear a hat and coat when it is cold? Can you see them at school or at a friend's house? When you aren't where you can watch your child's actions, it is difficult to enforce a limit. Sometimes you can set up a consequence if you find out they have broken a limit. When setting limits, think about whether you can enforce them. For example, can you enforce a rule that your child always eats their vegetables at school lunch?

Parents should expect their children to occasionally try to test their parents' commitment by breaking the rule. Children test parental limits to assert their own independence and to see if their parents are willing to stand behind what they say is important.

Too few or too many limits create fear, anxiety, or anger. Limits that are clear, positive, and consistently enforced are an important step toward responsive discipline. Limits are values translated into guidelines for children's behavior. Children want to know what their parents value. Children also want their parents to love them enough to stand up for their deepest beliefs.


Responsive Discipline: Effective Tools for Parents. Cooperative Extension Service, Kansas State University.

A Fresh Look at Disciplining Young Children. Extension News Service, Cornell Cooperative Extension.

J. Eileene Welker

Family and Consumer Sciences
Campbell Hall 1787 Neil Avenue Columbus, Ohio 43210

Submitted by: J. Eileene Welker *

16-Apr-2003 Hits: 466 Rating: 0 Votes: 0 Rate It

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