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Discipline and Positive Parenting

Knowing how to best understand and guide your child’s behaviour can be challenging. Luckily there are lots of positive strategies out there to help you and your child!

Young girl poking her tongue out

What is discipline?

Discipline can play an important role in helping support your child to learn about their world and to explore it safely.

As they grow, so does their understanding of how things work.

Here are some things to keep in mind about discipline:

  • Discipline is not meant to be punitive or punishing - rather it is designed to be a positive way to help guide positive and safe behaviour
  • Helping your child to learn effectively is based upon a loving and caring relationship between you and your child
  • Discipline works best with patience, clear rules, consistency and realistic expectations
  • The way in which you guide your child will depend on their age and level of understanding - eg. how you use consequences would be different for a four year old, versus an eight year old
  • Every child is unique, so some strategies might work better than others - some experimenting might be in order!
  • Balance is key - aim for a fair, warm yet firm approach. Balance consistent boundaries with encouragement and praise. This helps kids feel safe, secure and loved
  • Discuss and maintain consistent family values – this will help your child learn how to regulate their own emotions and behaviour and support them to develop important social and problem solving skills

Understanding your child’s behaviour

Taking time to understand how your child learns about their world and how they express their needs can help you figure out how best to guide them.

Here are some things to keep in mind about preschool and primary school aged kids!

  • They begin to understand instructions and outcomes better
  • They are developing a good understanding of themselves and are getting better at expressing their feelings
  • They have more opportunities to practice social skills like sharing and playing with others
  • It might take time for them to learn family rules and also how to behave in different places - so reminders can help
  • They are able to put themselves in other people’s shoes - seeing things from another perspective
  • They can be determined to do things themselves - this can look like bossiness!
  • They can be excited to show off new skills and enjoy being silly – being easily distracted is normal
  • Modelling behaviour and testing out new words (even swear words) is common
  • They are more aware of how to behave in different situations and places - eg. at home versus school, the library versus outside
  • Reminders about boundaries and continued praise for positive behaviour is still important

Tips on guiding your child’s behaviour with positive parenting

Your child’s behaviour can tell you what they are feeling, needing and how they are learning. There are positive ways you can respond and guide their behaviour. Here are just a few of many tips:

  • Discuss family rules and values: Make expectations and limits clear. Begin with a few easy-to-remember rules – eg. we look after each other, we speak nicely to one another, we help each other.
  • Teach through modelling: Kids learn best by seeing how things are done - if you want your child to play gently, sit with them and show them how.
  • Encourage forward thinking and offer choices: Discuss upcoming changes with your child so they can learn to problem solve, manage feelings early and feel included in making choices - eg. If your child wants to play for longer, you could say ‘we need to head home in 10 minutes to get dinner ready, do you want to play on the slide or the swing for the last 10 minutes?’. 
  • Notice positive behaviour: Let your child know what you like about their behaviour. Be descriptive - eg. ‘I’m really happy with how well you were sharing with your friend’. When your child receives positive attention through praise, they feel rewarded and will likely want to keep up the positive behaviour.
  • Help them understand why rules are in place: Kids will want to know why there are rules and why you react the way you do. Spend time talking through the family rules together. Include your child in the process by allowing them to decide on some of the rules.
  • Communicate on their level: It can help to get down to their level when talking things through. This will make your child feel involved and attended to.
  • Plan ahead for potentially difficult situations: Consider your child’s needs and figure out what might help to minimise drama – eg. If grocery shopping is tricky with your child, try to pick a quiet time and involve your child by letting them help.
  • Reward emotionally: Praise your child and let them know when you are proud and happy with their behaviour. Try to keep material rewards to a minimal as this may encourage behaving only for a treat.
  • Make limits clear: Decide early on what the outcome will be for breaking a family rule. Use these outcomes consistently so your child becomes clear on what is expected of them.
  • Distractions: Providing alternatives to negative behaviours – eg. instead of saying ‘don’t touch that’, you could say ‘here is that book you like’.
  • Encourage responsibility: Use natural and logical consequences to help your child take responsibility for their actions. A natural consequence would be that your child can’t find their favourite shirt as they didn’t put away their clothes when asked. A logical consequence follows on from a specific behaviour - if your child didn’t slow their running down when asked and they knock over and break something, you could have your child clean it up.

You are not alone

If you need some extra support with how to support your child at this age, there are lots of options available to you.

Here are some ways to start getting the support you need:

  • Talk to a counsellor for emotional support or to discuss strategies
  • Reach out to a friend or a family member for advice
  • Contact your Child Health Nurse or GP if your child’s behaviour is concerning you
  • Parenting programs like Triple P – Positive Parenting Program
  • Call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84)

Parentline is here for you

"Remember to take time out for yourself! If you're relaxed, it rubs off on the kids too."

- Belle, Parentline Counsellor

This content was last reviewed 09/05/2018

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