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Positive Discipline

Dear Debi,
My 17-month-old toddler throws a fit and screams every night when it’s time to get ready for bed. All she wants to do is run around free all day without any limits. She deliberately ignores me when I tell her “NO!” What should I do?
Sandra Fernandez
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Set clear & reasonable limits
  • Model the behavior you expect from kids
  • Tell children what to do rather than what not to do
  • Anticipate problem situations
Expert Advice
Susan Baxter
Susan Baxter
Early childhood education instructor
It’s important to remember to tell kids what to do, rather than what not to do. Always use the positive rather than the negative. They never hear the “not” in a sentence. Instead, convey to the child the behavior that is expected – not the behavior that is not wanted. Then the attention is paid to the positive behavior, not the negative. Instead of saying “don’t do that,” say “it is Suzy’s turn to play.” Use positive vocabulary. Meeting a child’s needs means giving children what they need, not necessarily what they want. That is the goal with positive discipline.

When talking about positive discipline, we use the concept of teaching or guiding. Routine is a proactive approach to discipline. If children have routines, they don’t feel the need to act out. Without routine, adults end up being put in a reactive situation because children are behaving in a way that is inappropriate.

By giving children routines, we are maintaining balance with them. They don’t have needs that need to be met. When children act out, they are telling us they are out of balance and have needs that need to be met. They don’t know how to do that. For example, it could be attention, hunger, they need a change of scenery, less stimulation –whatever it is that makes them unsettled. They react because they don’t know how to maintain their own balance. So when children have a routine, it creates a safe and secure environment where they know what to expect and how to behave. It’s easier to maintain their needs in that regard. It also gives children the opportunity to establish a sense of independence, even as a baby.

A parent can set clear and responsible limits by first being aware of the age and stage of the child so that the parent knows what would be appropriate and what the child would understand as being clear. Then you create an environment so that it sets many of the limits, supporting the expectation you have of the child. For example, if a child isn’t supposed to touch things, then you shouldn’t have those things in the environment. The next stage is to have your rules and be consistent with them – have follow through. The key is to be consistent and to be constantly reinforced.

Adults should model the behavior they expect from their children. In other words, walk your talk. Children learn through imitation. A child does what you do, not what you say. Modeling good behavior also tells the child that you respect the rule. It’s important to talk respectfully to children because you want to model respect. Also, giving respect gets respect – children will return it. Disrespect gets disrespect. Model appropriate behavior because you want them to emulate that.

A sense of autonomy is important for children. Kids need to feel like they have control over what they do because it gives them a sense of empowerment and self-worth – a sense of participating in the family. Control is not the same thing as options. Give children limited options. Control means being able to feel a sense of independence.
Child Care provider Comments
Rob Morhaim
Rob Morhaim
Father of two
My wife and I have been on the same page with our kids at all times. We are very consistent with our routines. Breakfast time is breakfast time, nap time is nap time. If you don’t have any routines during the day, then it’s hard to expect kids to conform to a schedule at night.
Carol Woods
Carol Woods
Grandmother of eleven
My suggestion for bedtime is to establish a routine, the same time every night. That way, the child knows what to expect: dinner, bath, read, bedtime. Children need schedules to function correctly. Make it something they look forward to doing. Let them know it’s good for them. Explain why sleep is good for their bodies and how it will give them energy to do tomorrow’s activities.
Sonnia Corzo
Sonnia Corzo
Child care provider for 6 years, mother of four
Keep in mind that young children may not be able to handle sudden changes in routine. Let them know ahead of time what’ coming up to avoid confrontation. A lot of children say “no” because we tend to go from one thing to another suddenly without a warning, so give children advance notice to make the transition easier.

Clean-Up Time Strategies Featured Activity:
Clean-Up Time Strategies
Positive Discipline Featured Video:
Positive Discipline
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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