Positive Discipline

Of late I have been reading a book called ‘Positive Discipline’ by Jane Nelson. I bought the book after I was flummoxed by a ‘surprise’ question in a parent questionnaire for school admissions. I say surprise, as I was supposed to sit right there at the school and answer the questions, without any access to the dear old web, and the question said ‘What are your views on the book?’. Having never read the book, with a sufficiently subdued parent ego, I wrote ‘I have not read the book’ in an illegible scrawl before going on to expound my own positive discipline guess response in more legible writing.

Anyway, I bough the book. In a nutshell, the book recommends making discipline a positive and not a punitive experience for children. It talks of treating children with respect, with due attention to their motivations and feelings. One of the most eye opening exercises in the book is the recommendation that parents should try to think back to their childhoods and try to identify situations when they felt encouraged and try to replicate that experience for the child while shunning the kind of experiences that made them feel discouraged. It also recommends that parents try to remember how they felt when they were ‘punished’ and evaluate if they want to subject their kids to the same.

Based on the philosophy of Alfred Alders and Rudolf Dreikurs, the book talks about childrens behavior being ‘goal oriented’ and that parents can gain amazing insight into their childrens mind through thinking of the child’s ‘goal’ for the behavior. For example, the babe has started throwing some tantrums on issues that were non issues before. When I tried thinking about the reason he would be doing that, I felt that he was crying, in his own way for more attention. I started, based on the books recommendations, giving him attention in small ways – such as more random hugs, silly jokes between the two of us, some ‘me time’ and it seemed to have helped the issue of tantrums.

Some of the telling insights are:

  • Children are great at figuring out their goals (like, I want Dad to love me more than my sister) but are terrible at interpreting the socially acceptable way of going about accepting it ( for example, the kid may feel crying at him once he comes home from work will achieve her goal whereas in effect it may make Dad more resentful)
  • Children want to ‘belong’ and feel ‘significant’ in their social environments. As you give them more responsibility socially and at home, they feel more significant and this improves their self esteem.
  • The goal of discipline should be to win children over and not win over children (i.e score a victory over them)
  • Discipline should be solutions oriented – deduce the childs hidden agenda or goal and find a solution for it, not punish him for it
  • Teach self discipline and long term behavior not short term fixes. For example, recommend a ‘positive time out’ where everyone cools off instead of the Supernanny version of timeouts.

Having said all that, I dont recommend following it verbatim. Some of the ideas seem too utopian. The examples are plenty, but the discourse on what parents do wrong is stronger than suggestions on how parents could make it right.

I had greatest discomfort in the concept of class and family ‘meetings’ to resolve problems. In a class/family meeting, the group discusses all problems facing them as a team and try to come up with solutions as a whole. So for example, if one child is throwing paper airplanes in class, all the kids get to say what can me the ‘solution’ to this issue – i.e. what the paper throwing child will need to do to make amends. While I can still buy having a family meeting with my preschooler and baby and their dad once a week, armed with an ‘agenda’ and a binder for the minutes, I dont think it will work in a classroom context for everyone. The theory that kids can put their friends on the ‘agenda’ and then have the whole class recommend solutions for than ‘friend’ seems like a concept which creates huge peer pressure on kids who may be different. There is so much pressure on kids to conform to stereotype, I cant help thinking that having your teacher and friends sit in a circle and judge you may be a stifling and not ‘encouraging’ experience.

I think it has some eye opening theories, so I would say read it and adopt it to your style. If we can reduce and end punishments, even timeouts, why not give it a shot?

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  1. Anonymous

    I think some of the suggestions are impractical but like you say, its a new perspective on looking at it through kids eyes.

  2. Indrani

    Thanks for sharing a new prespective of disciplining our precious little ones. I’ll try to get a copy of the same, i.e in case its available here.

  3. sarmila

    thanks for the topic

  4. Khushi

    Thanks all of you! Indrani, some of the concepts may be more ‘Americanized’ but its worth a read I think

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