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Published on July 12, 2013

Positive Discipline: How to Stop Yelling and Start Teaching


SIOUX FALLS (July 1, 2013) – Discipline... Do you avoid it to keep your child happy? Do you feel like your child is running your home? Do you feel guilty after you’ve lost your cool? If so, you might find “positive discipline” techniques helpful and healthy for both you and your child.

“We often equate the word ‘discipline’ with punishment. It actually comes from Greek and Latin words meaning to teach, guide or instruct. Discipline is all about teaching your kids, not punishing them,” said Doniese Wilcox, Certified Family Life Educator at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.

Good discipline begins with positive attention. Catch your child “being good.” Respectfully listen and make eye contact. Texting, surfing the web or emailing while you’re in the same room with your child is not the same as being with your child. A child might resort to negative behavior just to get your attention.

Use positive statements at least 75 percent of the time. “Tell them what you want them to do as opposed to what you don’t want them to do,” said Betty Barto-Smith, Certified Family Life Educator at Avera McKennan.

“Our classic story is that of a 3-year-old girl whose mother told her not to pick her baby brother up, or carry him. One day the mother found the baby gone, and she heard the little girl in her room talking to her brother. When asked why she disobeyed, the little girl answered ‘I didn’t pick him up, I rolled him,’” Wilcox said.

If children are old enough to grasp it, give a brief clarifying statement and explanation. In this case, the mother could have helped by telling the little girl that she should not try to move her brother herself because she could hurt him. Instead, she should ask for help, or play with her brother right where he is.

Use a calm, normal voice for instruction. “The more we yell, the less effective it is,” Barto-Smith said. Instead of yelling to drive home your point, save the “loud noise” for impending danger.

If children do not obey instruction, consequences should be age-appropriate and reasonable. Don’t tell your child you’ll throw away the TV if you don’t intend to do it. Instead, calmly tell the child what the consequence will be, and if she disobeys, follow through.

If your 10-year-old daughter leaves her bike in the driveway instead of putting it away when asked, a logical consequence would be to confiscate the bike for a set period of time. If your 4-year-old son runs out into the street, a logical consequence would be to say, “you’ll have to play indoors this afternoon because I can’t run the risk of you getting hurt.”

Don’t keep telling your child what you might do if his behavior doesn’t stop; don’t issue empty threats, Barto-Smith advises.

In your frustration, don’t resort to behaviors that are damaging to your child, such as accusations, name-calling, labeling as “stupid,” swearing, or using a sarcastic and demeaning tone.

On the other end of the spectrum, don’t give in to tantrums, or allow children to get by with not doing the homework or chores that are expected of them.

A parent’s responsibility of discipline does not end when children reach their teen years. More than ever before, teens need to learn to control their own behavior. If reasonable, let your teen suffer the natural consequences of his or her actions. However, sometimes these consequences make the parent suffer more than the child. If that’s the case, come up with age-appropriate consequences that are not harmful or detrimental to family life.

“We can never love our children too much, however we can be a ‘helicopter’ parent and hover over our children, never requiring them to learn responsibility,” Wilcox said. “Or, we can allow children to make all of their own decisions because adults are not really running the household as they are supposed to.”

To learn more about positive discipline from Doniese Wilcox and Betty Barto-Smith, read their blog on the Avera Story Center at