Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Time Out on Time Outs: Part Two – Positive Discipline

When I first heard the words “Positive Discipline” put together - I thought it was an oxymoron.  Either that or a catch phrase that parents with no backbone came up with so they wouldn’t feel bad about having absolutely no control over their child’s behaviour.

Here is a helpful list of criteria for Positive Discipline – from


1.     Helps children feel a sense of connection. (Belonging and significance)

2.     Is mutually respectful and encouraging. (Kind and firm at the same time.)

3.     Is effective long - term. (Considers what the child is thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about himself and his world – and what to do in the future to survive or to thrive.)

4.     Teaches important social and life skills . (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, and cooperation as well as the skills to contribute to the home, school or larger community.)

5.     Invites children to discover how capable they are. (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy.)

Jane Nelsen

 The words that stand out most for me in this list are : Connection, Respect (ful) and Capable.

For those of you that read my last blog entry on “Time Outs” – you already know how I feel about them.   My intention was not to make parents feel bad about using time outs – my hope was just to get people thinking about them differently.

If we use the list of criteria given for positive discipline – Do time outs fit? When you are giving a time out…Are you being respectful? Are you helping your child feel a sense of connection? Are you encouraging them to feel capable? I am almost certain that it is impossible to do all of these things while placing a reluctant (often emotionally distraught) child on a chair and making them stay there for a few minutes until they say they are sorry.

We are human beings. We are going to get angry, frustrated, irritated, annoyed, upset and disengaged with our children.  There are going to be times that we are going to lose our patience and want nothing more than to put our child(ren) somewhere else for a few minutes. The reality is that any relationship is like that. I am sure there are times that we would love to put our spouses, friends, bosses, or family members on a chair in another room for a few minutes and then force them to apologize (wouldn’t that be nice.)

The only reason we do it to children, is because we can. Because they are smaller than us and we can physically over-power them means that we have the control.  Time outs can be disrespectful to a child (depending on how you do them and why). Does that mean that I will always be respectful to my child? Probably not. In fact, I am often tempted to give my child a time out.  It would be nice if I could say that I will always be respectful– but I am sure there have been times when I was disrespectful to my spouse, friends, boss, and family members. Chances are I will be with my child as well. Because…as mentioned above, I am human and will unintentionally hurt people.

However, by being aware of how my actions impact my child (and others for that matter) I can hopefully build connection and be respectful with Finley most of the time.
Looking for an alternative to time outs? Try time ins! Check out this link from the Positive Parenting Connection:

As I mention above, in any number of difficult situations with your children it can be so tempting to take physical control, e.g., grabbing things out of their hands (I often find myself doing this), picking them up and moving them, or placing them on a chair or somewhere else for a time out.  I am not saying that you will never physically intervene with your children, but it is something to think about. If your child was the same size as you, how would you deal with the situation? Sometimes the easier thing to do is over-power them, but what if you couldn’t?

Taking the time to really think about respectful ways of dealing with your children will result in a longer lasting solution to most difficult problems. It also takes a heck of a lot of time and energy – which you might not always have.  So, don’t put pressure on yourself to get it “right” all of the time.

For example, we were having such a hard time getting our daughter Finley to brush her teeth. She is only 2 years old, so we are brushing them for her – which she really doesn’t enjoy. Partly because she wants to do everything herself and partly because she really doesn’t enjoy having her teeth brushed. She will scream and cry and try and throw herself to the ground – not so easy to brush her teeth this way. We use to sing to her, but it wasn’t working anymore. A few times we just held her in a way that she couldn’t escape and brushed her teeth while she cried. That felt pretty horrible. Again, the only reason that we were able to do that is because she is smaller than us and easy to over-power. We didn’t want her to grow up thinking that it is ok to over-power someone OR that it is ok not to brush your teeth. So we put our thinking caps on. What would be a calm, friendly and respectful way of encouraging Finley to brush her teeth? So, we decided to buy her a sticker book and let her choose a few stickers every time we brush her teeth.  Now, she is usually pretty happy to have her teeth brushed and looks forward to choosing her stickers.
So, we could have continued to force Finley into brushing her teeth, but that is neither positive nor helpful in teaching life skills. Until children learn the value of intrinsic rewards (Ex. feeling good about having clean teeth), parents often need to rely on external rewards (Ex. stickers).

To me, positive discipline is about being creative.  It can be exhausting coming up with creative ways to deal with difficult situations – and you won’t always be able to. The point is to stop and think…how can I build connection, be respectful and encourage capability in this moment and still have my child follow through with what I need them to do.

While writing this blog entry, I have realized how difficult it is to fully describe what positive discipline is – or even what it looks like to me. Each situation (and child) has its (their) own challenges and will require different strategies to deal with them. I feel like I could write an entire book on this subject – but getting people to read my blog is hard enough!

If you have any specific situations you want to share or questions to ask – please feel free to post them below.  It is always great to have discussions and see how other parents/educators use positive discipline with their children.



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