11 Healthy Discipline Strategies for Teaching & Inspiring Children

Discipline StrategiesParenting comes with its own set of challenges, with new demands and stressors being placed on families in the forms of rapidly developing technology, easier access to information, and the looming presence of social media.

Despite the challenges, increased access to information and technological tools have also made it easier to learn about positive parenting and healthy discipline strategies across all ages.

In this article we will summarize positive discipline strategies in classroom and home settings, for kids of all ages from toddlers to students, and help you understand and implement positive parenting strategies.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients build healthy, life-enriching relationships.

3 Positive Strategies for Parents

Research shows that parents with more knowledge about parenting are more likely to engage in positive parenting practices (Child Trends, 2018). Therefore, gaining and accessing knowledge is a key part of developing positive parenting skills, specifically around healthy strategies to provide consistency for children of all ages.

But while it is important to provide insight into positive parenting, it is also important to give parents workable strategies. Educating parents on positive strategies is a key part of reducing violence and some health problems among children (Gershoff, 2016).

The World Health Organization states that a key step in the prevention of violence is to promote primary prevention responses, including training for good parenting practices (Krug, Mercy, Dahlberg, & Zwi, 2002).

Below are three simple strategies that parents should consider focusing on when introducing positive discipline in their household.

 

1. Focus on the reason behind the behavior

Even though it may be frustrating in the moment, there are always reasons why children misbehave. Since children are not as sophisticated at expressing their emotions as adults, any expression of emotion is reasonable to them. If your child shares that they are not happy with a particular outcome or situation, the immediate response should not be to change it or try to fix it.

For example, if your child is throwing a tantrum because they do not want to go to the grocery store, hearing them out and validating their emotions is sometimes more powerful than changing the outcome. You could respond with “I know you may not want to go, but can you tell me more about that?” or “It sounds like you’re feeling sad/angry/upset. What is making you feel that way?”

After prompting, provide neutral emotional support, such as “I can understand you may feel angry, but we need to go to the store today,” or “I understand your brother/sister can be frustrating sometimes. My brother/sister was annoying too.”

Providing emotional support that validates the child’s behavior and allows them to express their emotions safely is sometimes more important than having their request met.

 

2. Be consistent and follow through

If parents do not clearly communicate their expectations and set limits, this can result in children being confused and acting out. Setting limits for behavior is one important way to teach children to accept guidance.

Brill (2014) explains that alluding to limits is not helpful to children. It is important to note that “following through” and “being consistent” are not meant to be authoritative terms but, when done properly, encourage cooperation and build trust.

In order to help set limits, Brill (2014) offers the following guidelines:

  • Be kind
    Let your child know you heard them by acknowledging their feelings. Assuring your child that you see they are feeling a certain way can help them understand that they are heard, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that their behavior is acceptable.

  • Be clear
    Offer a brief explanation so your child can understand your reasons.

  • Be respectful
    This includes accepting all the frustration, tears, and disappointment that may follow.

 

3. Don’t be afraid to give yourself a time-out

This will probably be the most surprising advice to parents out there, as they may ask, “aren’t time-outs meant for children?” But you can only execute the strategies provided above if you are at your best, mentally and emotionally.

Trying to execute positive parenting strategies or any parenting strategy when you are frustrated, angry, or upset is a useless endeavor. Walking away not only stops the power struggle but also gives you time to cool down (Parenting for Brain, 2021).

Remember, the goal of positive discipline is to facilitate teaching. There are no winners and losers; just learning between the parent and child.

Some strategies you can use when giving yourself a time-out include taking a few deep breaths, leaving the room (while ensuring the child is safe or just going to a different part of the room), or counting down from 10 before you react to the situation.

Daily meditation can be a useful practice to help reduce stress and make these strategies automatic, as taking a time-out can also be beneficial in other stressful situations such as work or personal disagreements with a friend or spouse.

Our site has several strategies to promote daily meditation, including a list of meditation podcasts and information on the health benefits of meditation. Additionally, there is advice on general relaxation techniques to help reduce anxiety and stress. These will help you with simple relaxing strategies, which will help you then engage in more positive strategies when approaching parenting and everyday tasks.

 

3 Tips for Teaching Toddlers

Teaching ToddlersParenting a toddler brings its own set of challenges, as toddlers lack the self-regulation capabilities that older children eventually develop.

As a result, they are more likely to express big emotions such as anger and sadness more vocally by throwing tantrums, being physical (e.g., hitting, kicking), and engaging in impulsive behavior (e.g., throwing things, screaming).

Role-play is defined as a form of modeling that serves to reinforce lessons (e.g., playtime, story-time, pretend), with or without the child being given verbal feedback, with the goal of the child being able to repeat the role-played behavior autonomously (Solt, 2017).

The encouragement of role-play to facilitate parent–toddler communication is important in not only modeling desirable behavior in a positive way, but also encouraging autonomy when solving problems.

One positive strategy to use when role-playing acceptable behavior among children can be implemented from the principles of the Acknowledge, Connect and Teach program (American Psychological Association, 2020). Each of the three tenets are broken down further below to help you turn them into workable items that you can incorporate when role-playing positive emotional behavior (Moyer, 2016):

  • Acknowledge
    Get on eye level and name the emotion your child is feeling, while describing the action they are doing. “I see it upsets you that it’s time to leave. Are you sad about going?” or “I see that you are angry because your brother took your toy. Are you angry that he took it away?”

  • Connect
    Connecting with your child first, before correcting the behavior or asking them to change it, will make it much more likely that they will cooperate (Moyer, 2016). With toddlers, something as simple as offering a hug can go a long way and can have the impact of immediately calming them down.

  • Teach
    After you have facilitated a connection and acknowledged your child’s feelings, you can teach them what they can do differently next time, either through role-play or by taking a break. With toddlers, it’s best to teach through modeling, as their speech is still developing.

Remember that even though their progress and understanding may not be as rapid as older children, toddlerhood is a crucial time for children to learn and process new things. Even though it may seem frustrating sometimes, persistence pays off, and if you are consistent, your toddlers will eventually learn.

 

How to Teach Discipline to Your Students

Similar to positive parenting, positive discipline in the classroom is about communication and establishing clear limits. In addition, the primary goal of positive discipline, specifically in classroom settings, is to develop self-confidence in students and encourage lifelong learning (Durrant & Epsom, 2012).

Durrant (2010) states that there are five components to teaching and implementing positive discipline in the classroom, focused on creating long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes.

 

Identify your long-term goals

Some educators may read this and think, “well, that’s easier said than done when you’re in the moment.” And that can be true, especially when a student is misbehaving in a way that compromises safety (think, breaking school property) or the emotional or physical wellbeing of other students.

Teachers are in a position to teach not only academic knowledge to students, but also long-term mindsets, skills, and strategies they may use into adulthood.

Consider the following exercise when setting long-term objectives for your students (Durrant, 2010).

Think of your current students, and imagine it is 20 years later. Your school is hosting a reunion. Close your eyes and imagine what your students will look like at that age. Now, think about:

  • What will you feel when you see them at that age? Happiness, excitement, pride?

  • What kind of people do you hope they will be? Confident, good at communicating, independent, courteous?

  • What do you hope they will have accomplished by then?  College education, contributing positively to their community, achieving their dreams?

  • What kinds of relationships do you hope they will have? Trusting, mutually respectful, happy?

  • How do you hope they will feel about you? Affection, fondness, attributing their success to your guidance, thinking of you as a positive force?

By looking at the long-term impact you want to make on your students, you can then shape your philosophy of teaching around your class and integrate it as much as possible to impart a strong, consistent message to your students.

 

Providing warmth

Children are intuitive beings and can sense when they are in a place where they are appreciated for being themselves.

In early inclusive literature, Kleinfeld (1975) coined the phrase warm demander to describe this kind of educator. A warm demander has a demeanor characterized by patience, persistence, validation, and empowerment for their students. They convince their students that they care about them and will not give up (Bondy & Ross, 2008; Gay, 2000).

In short, warm demanders approach every student with unconditional positive regard and genuine caring, despite what the student may do or say (Bondy & Ross, 2008).

Although teachers may have little control over things that affect student behavior, such as their home environments, creating a warm, safe environment in their classroom is something they can control.

Establishing a warm and supportive attitude toward students, whether they are just starting or nearing the end of their school career, can be a challenge, but once you convince them that you truly care about them, they will be motivated to put forth their best efforts.

 

Providing structure

Similarly to providing warmth, having structure in the classroom benefits students emotionally, behaviorally, and academically.

It is easier for students of all ages to learn when they know what is expected of them. We all perform better when learning a new skill or completing a project at work when we are given a clear outline and reasonable expectations.

One practical strategy to implement structure in the classroom is to come up with a set of guidelines for both instructors and students to follow.

Students and instructors are both held accountable, and the behavioral expectations are set from the start. However, it is important to ensure that this list is limited to between four and eight guidelines, as any more can overwhelm both students and instructors.

 

2 Techniques for Your Classroom

Discipline in the classroomAlong with explaining how to implement positive discipline practices in the classroom, it is important to provide practical strategies on how to deal with situations as they come up throughout the instructional day.

Here are two techniques that are easy to integrate into positive discipline strategies in a classroom.

 

1. Catch your students being good

This goes back to the idea of setting up a classroom that is structured and has clear limits. Once you have established the limits for behavior, you can draw attention to times when students are abiding by those limits, not just when things go wrong.

Wright and McCurdy (2011) called it the Caught Being Good Game, where students were awarded points when teachers saw them meeting classroom expectations (i.e., sitting in their seat, talking when appropriate, and displaying on-task behavior).

This activity works best when implemented between kindergarten and fourth grade. For older children, this strategy can be modified so that students receive points as a class, in small groups, and individually.

Teachers can reinforce this by communicating how the students are meeting expectations; for example, “I like how Anna is raising her hand to answer a question” (Clair, Bahr, Quach, & LeDuc, 2018).

 

2. Developing an environment of respect and cooperation

Developing a classroom where students feel respected and their voice is heard is essential in developing effective communication between teachers and students.

A good way to do this is to have classroom meetings every day or every other day for the last 10–15 minutes of the period, when students and teachers check in with each other. With younger children, teachers can implement strategies like exit cards or circle time, when students can express their feelings in a structured manner.

With older students, the meetings can be less structured and more open ended. Teachers can point out behaviors and ask questions, and students can be part of the solution.

For example, imagine that students are taking a long time to get to their seats. The teachers and students could discuss them being released five minutes early one day a week if they settle quickly, instead of delaying the lesson every day to make up for the lost time. This way, students and teachers are compromising and recognizing each other’s needs.

For more ways to implement positive discipline in the classroom, read our article about positive reinforcement in the classroom and its application in a variety of school settings.

 

PositivePsychology.com Relevant Resources

On our site we have a helpful selection of articles that further define positive parenting, outline positive parenting skills, and even provide a curated selection of positive parenting workbooks.

For more information on developing positive practices to help with parenting, teaching, or everyday communication, our Positive Relationships Masterclass© is a fantastic course. This class focuses on developing meaningful relationships with others and the importance of investing in social bonds that matter. The course caters to psychologists, counselors, and teachers alike.

The development of self-awareness and wellbeing benefits our own mindset, and is also key in projecting a healthy mindset when teaching, coaching, or counseling others. That’s why our masterclass on the Science of Self-Acceptance© is a key tool in helping you develop a healthy relationship with yourself.

By becoming more self-accepting, you are opening yourself up to a new mindset that helps you become more satisfied with who you are, making you more likely to practice healthy habits in your everyday life.

 

A Take-Home Message

If you want to influence children positively, whether it is in a classroom or with your own kids, positive discipline is an ideal instrument.

It facilitates a healthy environment, better communication, more understanding, compassion, and, above all, patience, leading to a more meaningful relationship with the children you influence.

We trust this piece provided you with a solid overview of positive discipline strategies to use across a variety of contexts, be it parenting, teaching, or as a resource for clients.

Do you have any positive discipline strategies that work for you? Are you a teacher or practitioner who implements these or similar ideas in your practice? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free.

If you want more, our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 370 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires, and assessments for practitioners to use in their therapy, coaching, or workplace.

  • American Psychological Association (2020). ACT: A parenting program by the American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 23, 2020 from: https://www.apa.org/act/about
  • Bondy, E., & Ross, D. D. (2008). The teacher as warm demander. Educational Leadership, 66(1), 54–58.
  • Brill, A. (2014, August 5). Positive parenting: How to follow through with limits. Positive Parenting Connection. Retrieved from https://www.positiveparentingconnection.net/positive-parenting-how-to-follow-through-with-limits/
  • Child Trends (2018, July). Parenting knowledge among first-time parents of young children (Research Brief No. 2018-28). Bethesda, MD: J. D. Bartlett, L. Guzman, L., & M. A. Ramos-Olazagasti.
  • Clair, E., Bahr, M., Quach, H., & LeDuc, J. (2018). The Positive Plus Program: Affirmative classroom management to improve student behavior. Behavioral Interventions, 33(3), 221–236.
  • Durrant, J. E. (2010). Positive discipline in everyday teaching: Guidelines for educators. Save the Children: Sweden.
  • Durrant, J. E., & Epsom, R. (2012). Physical punishment of children: Lessons from 20 years of research. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 184(12), 1373–1377.
  • Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory and practice. Teachers College Press.
  • Gershoff, E. T. (2016). Should parents’ physical punishment of children be considered a source of toxic stress that affects brain development? Family Relations, 65(1), 151–162.
  • Kleinfeld, J. (1975). Effective teachers of Eskimo and Indian students. School Review, 83(2), 301–344.
  • Krug, E. G., Mercy, J. A., Dahlberg, L. L., & Zwi, A. B. (2002). The world report on violence and health. Biomédica: Revista del Instituto Nacional de Salud, 22(2), 327–336.
  • Moyer, M. W. (2016, June 14). “Aw—Mommy will make it better”: Are parents turning their kids into whiny weaklings by overconsoling them? Slate. Retrieved December 20, 2020 from:
    https://slate.com/human-interest/2016/06/when-to-give-crying-kids-comfort-and-when-to-tell-them-to-buck-up.html
  • Parenting for Brain. (2021). 8 Essential positive parenting tips and discipline guide. Parenting for Brain. Retrieved from https://www.parentingforbrain.com/what-is-positive-parenting/
  • Solt, D. (2017). Parents’ perspectives: How they use behavior modification techniques with toddlers aged 1–3 (Master’s thesis, Rochester Institute of Technology).
  • Wright, R. A., & McCurdy, B. L. (2011). Class-wide positive behavior support and group contingencies: Examining a positive variation of the Good Behavior Game. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 14, 173–180.

About the Author

Dr. Gabriella obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (OISE) in Developmental Psychology and Education where her research is centered around emotions, instruction, and online learning. She currently works as a psychological consultant with children, adolescents, and adults in Toronto, Canada. In her spare time, she enjoys building her writing portfolio, spending time with her family, and walking her dog.

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