Children Parenting

Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline

I made use of a bit calmer time this summer when my girl was at her grandparents’ house to finally read this classic by Jane Nelsen aimed at helping children develop self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem-solving skills. The book did not disappoint!

In essence, a positive discipline approach to adult-child interaction is that of kindness and firmness at the same time, that is having freedom with order and limited choices. It thus differs from probably more known approaches of strict and permissive education. This is only in a nutshell of course – the author offers a detailed explanation of the concept, including through numerous examples.

The one that I found the most interesting, also because parents often struggle in this area, is how to respond when a child does not want to eat a meal. If using a positive discipline approach, a child, who had previously participated in family meal planning and shopping, is offered two choices. In case s/he does not want to eat or finish a chosen meal, there is no place for blaming or even “I told you so” in positive discipline (a phrase I am guilty of using (a lot)). If a child gets hungry soon after the meal, one rather expresses understanding for the child’s feelings, while sticking to the agreement that there is no food between meals and using encouragement, such as “I trust you can last until next meal”. Simple as that but quite a discovery for me, since I tend to use rather inconsistent approaches ranging from “you need to finish the plate” to angry versions of “mummy knows best”.

One of the concepts mentioned in the book that really resonated with me and believe it should indeed be a basis when thinking about children and their behaviour is that their primary goal is to belong and to feel significant. Actually, this is the case for all humans, not only the little ones. Linked to it are so called “mistaken goals” or better said child’s (mis)behaviours related to certain beliefs. There are four of these – undue attention, power, revenge, and assumed inadequacy. I found it very interesting to read about the underlying beliefs to these goals and appropriate responses.

As Nelsen says:

Encouragement is the most effective way to change behaviour. An encouraged child does not need to misbehave.

So the best way to help a misbehaving child is through encouragement – which differs from praise that should be avoided and the author explains the difference in detail – and Nelsen presents some “guidelines” as to what encouragement should look like.

What I appreciated is her very practical approach, such as the strategy on how to create an atmosphere where children feel ready to listen and to cooperate; so called four steps for winning cooperation: 1) expressing understanding for the child’s feelings; 2) showing empathy without condoning; 3) sharing your feelings and perceptions; and 4) inviting the child to focus on a solution.