All About Positive Discipline

The hardest thing about parenting for me has been trying to get my kids to behave. I knew I didn’t want to be a strict authoritarian parent, all about rules and control. Nor could I let my kids rule over me unchecked. Thankfully I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with a preschool that has a parent education component emphasizing positive discipline. 

According to the website, positive discipline has three components.

  1. Parental self-regulation: Parents commit to staying calm and controlling their own emotions when their kids are upsetting them. Think: no yelling, spanking, saying something critical, controlling, or mean, showing anger, etc. It’s about not taking taking kids’ behavior personally, and recognizing that as parents, they set the tone for their kiddos. When parents are in control of their emotions, they are better able to connect with their kids and model self-regulation, an important life and social skill.
  2. Prioritize the parent-child connection: When they value and respect their kids rather than trying to control them, parents are able to connect with them. That means taking the time to understand what their children are feeling and emphatically acknowledging their wants or needs. Kids crave connection with their parents. A strong connection can inspire kids to naturally want to please their parents (rather than defy them).
  3. Use emotion coaching instead of control and punishment: All emotions are valid. By recognizing and validating what a child is feeling – whether it is sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness, etc. – parents allow the kiddo to feel heard and supported. For example, I might say to my daughter “You feel angry because I turned off the TV.” The next step is helping her work through that anger so she can move on from it.

Applying positive discipline definitely doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s not always easy to stop what I’m doing and take time to talk through my kids’ emotions. (That’s especially true when one kid is wailing because the other threw a book at him.) Sometimes I’m not empathetic, or good at controlling my frustration or irritation, or feeling energetic enough to connect.

But I do know that threats don’t work, bribes only go so far, and timeouts are ineffective (and according to, only lead to future behavior issues). I like that positive discipline advises setting reasonable limits instead of punishments and consequences. It uses giving choices, playfulness, win-win solutions, and imagination (giving the child’s desire in fantasy) to help kids accept the limits you’ve communicated. It feels more like teaching and supporting (because it is), and less like dictating and demanding (because it’s not).

Manage to parent in this way and you’ll end up raising kids who are self-disciplined, resilient, emotionally intelligent, and happy, says’s creator Dr. Laura Markham. That’s a big promise, but a very motivating one (after all, who doesn’t want that for their kids?!).

And I’m hoping it sets me up to have a good relationship with my kids into their tween and teen years. If dealing with a three-year-old’s behavior is hard, I can only imagine the challenges that await me when she’s older.

Are you familiar with positive discipline? Is it your style of parenting?