Ngan Jones

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" – John 3:16

‘Positive Discipline’ by Jane Nelsen


Jane Nelsen (née Wood) is a California-licensed marriage and family therapist who now lives in San Clemente, California, and South Jordan, Utah. She is the mother of seven and grandmother to eighteen grandchildren. She was an elementary school counselor and college instructor in child development for ten years. She now spends her time (when not writing books or traveling to present keynote lectures and workshops) with her husband, children and grandchildren.

Jane is author or co-author of 18 books (with over two millions copies in print and translation into more than 15 countries), including the popular Positive Discipline series, Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World, Positive Discipline in the Classroom, Positive Time-Out and Over 50 Ways to Avoid Power Struggles in Homes and Classrooms, and Serenity: Eliminating Stress and Finding Joy and Peace in Life and Relationships. She has appeared on Oprah, Sally Jessy Raphael, and Twin Cities Live. Her website is


This book discusses the positive discipline approach to parenting. At the heart of this approach is mutual respect and cooperation. Positive discipline incorporates both kindness and firmness in dealing with children. It not only addresses misbehaviour in the short term but also aims to encourage the life skills which are necessary for developing a capable person with social responsibility in the long run. Punishment is likely to produce resentment, revenge, rebellion, retreat into sneakiness and reduced self-esteem and is considered ineffective in the long run. It is not the most effective method in teaching children. In fact children make better behaviour choices when it makes sense to them and it feels good to be treated with respect and to treat others with respects.

The book provides an insight into the psychology of misbehaviour. Children often don’t have enough knowledge and skills to understand and communicate themselves well. Their primary goal is to belong and feel significant. However it could be expressed in a manner that is considered as misbehaving by adults. The author offers a variety of practical proactive and encouraging responses to help parents and teachers address the problems in line with the positive discipline approach including: bridge the communication gaps, defuse power struggles, avoid the danger of praise, enforce your message of love, build on strengths not weaknesses,hold children accountable with their self-respect intact, teach children not what to think but how to think, win cooperation at home and at school, meet the special challenge of teen misbehaviour.


This book is very easy to read. The author provides a lot of good examples to demonstrate her ideas. Her suggestions of how to deal with problems are practical and yet not mechanistic. I like how she goes into explaining the psychology of children’s behaviour before providing appropriate solutions. I can relate a lot of what she says to how I felt as a child. I also recall from my childhood experiences what is shared in the book, i.e. the key factor for winning the child’s cooperation and helping them learn is respect expressed through friendliness and empathy.

The downside for me is that I haven’t had any current experiences to see whether the advice from the book actually works, as my little one is only 8 months old. This book is more useful if the children are four years old and above, when they are at least able to communicate verbally. On one hand, it is useful to know the main principles from the early stage. It is always important to respect your child and try to understand their behaviour even from the very young age. But I will need to re-read it when the situations arise in the future.

I find the chapter about the impact of birth order on children’s behaviour interesting but not very relevant for now, as we only have one child. Similarly the chapter about class meetings is more useful for teachers than parents.

One small point is that there is some repetition across chapters and the ideas could be organised in a slightly different order to be more structured. But this doesn’t really affect the flow of the book.

Overall this is a good book for parenting. I would recommend it.


My notes

Significant Seven Perception and Skills

The perceptions and skills below,which are encouraged by positive discipline, were identified as necessary for developing a capable person:

  • Strong perceptions of personal capabilities – “I am capable”.
  • Strong perceptions of significance in primary relationships – “I contribute in meaningful ways and I am genuinely needed”.
  • Strong perceptions of personal power or influence over life – “I can influence what happens to me”.
  • Strong intrapersonal skills: the ability to understand personal emotions and to use that understandings to develop self-discipline and self-control.
  • Strong interpersonal skills: the ability to work with others and develop friendships through communicating, cooperating, negotiating, sharing, empathising, and listening.
  • Strong systemic skills: the ability to respond to the limits and consequences of everyday life with responsibility, adaptability, flexibility, and integrity.
  • Strong judgemental skills: the ability to use wisdom and to evaluate situations according to appropriate values.

Definition of positive discipline

Strictness (excessive control) is order without freedom. When it is used, children depend on an external locus of control. The most popular form is a system of rewards and punishment. Punishment produces resentment, revenge, rebellion and retreat into sneakiness and reduced self-esteem. Permissiveness is freedom without border producing irresponsible individuals. Positive discipline is an approach that does not include excessive control or permissiveness. It is freedom within limits based on mutual respect and cooperation. It incorporates kindness and firmness at the same time as the foundation for teaching life competencies based on an inner locus of control. An example is to offer two types of cereal for breakfast, instead of giving the child what they want (permissiveness) or giving no choice at all  (strictness). If the child picks one and then doesn’t like it, then leave it instead of forcing or lecturing. If the child gets hungry before lunch, get her to wait until lunch.

The Four Criteria for Effective Discipline

  • Is it kind and firm at the same time? (Respectful and encouraging)
  • Does it help children feel a sense of belonging and significance? (Connection)
  • Is it effective in the long term? (Punishment works in the short-term but has negative long-term results)
  • Does it teach valuable social and life skills for good character? (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, accountability, contribution, cooperation)

Kindness is important to show respect for the child. Firmness is important to show respect for ourselves and for the needs of the situation. Note that it is not respectful to pamper children. It is respectful to validate their disappointment and have faith in their development. An example is to leave the room when a child talks back to you and follow up later when people calm down.

When children are involved in setting limits, they are more willing to follow limits as limits are based on their understanding of why they are necessary and how to be responsible for them. When a limit is broken, don’t lecture or punish. Continue respectful involvement with the child by asking questions about what happened, how to solve the problems and what have been learned. If the child says “I don’t know”, tell them that they are a good problem solver and ask them to thinking about for 30 minutes and let you know what they have come up with.

Four steps for winning cooperation

  • Express understanding for the child’s feelings. Be sure to check with him or her to see if you are right.
  • Show empathy without condoning. Empathy doesn’t mean you agree or condone. It simply means that you understand the child’s perception. A nice touch her is to share times when you have felt or behaved similarly.
  • Share your feelings and perceptions. If the first two steps have been done in a sincere and friendly manner, the child will be ready to listen to you.
  • Invite the child to focus on a solution. Ask if he has any ideas on what to do in the future to avoid the problem. If he doesn’t, offer some suggestion until you can reach an agreement.

At attitude of friendliness, caring and respect is essential to these steps. It is important to create the atmosphere of closeness and trust. Stop “telling” and start “asking” in ways that invite the children to participate in problem solving.

Basic Adlerian concepts

Adlerian psychology provides a set of basic concepts that help us increase our understanding of children and of ourselves:

  • Children are social beings. When they are thriving, they are developing strength in all of the Significant Seven. When they are in their survival mode (trying to figure out how to feel a sense of belonging and significance), adults often interpret this as misbehaviour.
  • Behaviour is goal-oriented and a child’s primary goal is to belong and to feel significant. Children are often not conscious of their goals and sometimes behave incorrectly as they have mistaken ideas of how to achieve their goals.
  • A misbehaving child is a discouraged child. A misbehaving child is trying to tell us, “I don’t feel I belong or have significance and I have a mistaken belief about how to achieve it.” When a child misbehaves, ask yourself “What is she really trying to tell me?”
  • It is extremely important to teach social responsibility to children, i.e. real concern for one’s fellow person and a sincere desire to make a contribution to society. The first step is to teach self-reliance. When they are self-reliant, they are ready to help others and feel extremely capable when they do. When adults take the role of supermums and super teachers, children learn to expect the world to serve them rather than to be of service to the world. Parents and teachers should take time to teach children to make a contribution to their home or classroom.
  • All people have equal claims to dignity and respect. That’s why Positive Discipline doesn’t include humiliation.
  • Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn. We need to learn and teach children to be excited about mistakes as opportunity to learn. It is much easier to take responsibility for a mistake when it is seen as an opportunity rather be than as something bad. It may be helpful during dinner time to invite everyone to share a mistake of the day and what they learned from it. It is important to recognise the mistakes, apologise and work on a solution together.
  • Make sure the message of love gets through.


A child misbehaves because she doesn’t have enough knowledge and effective skills to communicate herself. Most of the time, children are just acting their age not misbehaving.We want children to learn to control their behaviour then we should learn to control our own behaviour. With awareness, we can be the ones to take responsibility for our behaviour and change in ways that invite improved behaviour in children without damaging their sense of self-worth.

The four mistaken beliefs and mistaken goals of behaviour:

1. Undue attention – the mistaken belief: I belong only when I have your attention.


  • Parent’s feeling: annoyed, irritated, worried, guilty
  • Parent’s reaction: reminding, coaxing, doing things for the child which they could do for themselves
  • Child’s response: stops temporarily, but later resumes same or another disturbing behaviour

Proactive and encouraging responses:

  • redirect by involving child in a useful task. “I love you and ____.” (Example:  I care about you and will spend time with you later.)
  • plan special time
  • set up routines
  • take time for training
  • use family meetings
  • touch without words
  • set up nonverbal signals

2. Misguided power – the mistaken belief: I belong only when I’m the boss, or at least when I don’t let you boss me.


  • Parent’s feeling: provoked, challenged, threatened, defeated
  • Parent’s reaction: fighting, giving in, thinking “you can’t get away with it” or “I will make you”, wanting to be right
  • Child’s response: intensifies behaviour, defiant compliance, feels they have won when parent is upset, passive power

Proactive and encouraging responses

  • acknowledge that you can’t force them and ask for help
  • don’t fight and don’t give in
  • withdraw from conflict and calm down
  • be firm and kind
  • act, don’t talk
  • decide what you will do
  • let routines be the boss
  • develop mutual respect
  • give limited choices
  • get help from child to set reasonable and few limits
  • practice follow-through
  • encourage
  • redirect to positive power
  • use family meetings

3. Revenge – the mistaken belief: I don’t belong, but at least I can hurt back.


  • Parent’s feeling: hurt, disappointed, disbelieving, disgusted
  • Parent’s reaction: retaliating, getting even, thinking “How could you do this to me?”
  • Child’s response: retaliates, hurts others, damages property, gets even, escalates the same behaviour or choose another weapon

Proactive and encouraging responses

  • deal with the hurt feelings. “Your behaviour tells me that you must feel hurt. Can we talk about that?”
  • avoid punishment and retaliation
  • use reflective listening
  • make amends
  • encourage strengths
  • use family meetings

4. Assumed inadequacy – the mistaken belief: It is impossible to belong. I give up.


  • Parent’s feeling: despair, hopeless, helpless, inadequate
  • Parent’s reaction: giving up, doing for, overhelping
  • Child’s response: retreats further, passive, no improvement, no response

Proactive and encouraging responses

  • show faith
  • take small steps
  • stop criticism
  • encourage any positive attempt, no matter how small
  • focus on assets
  • don’t pity, don’t give up
  • set opportunities for success
  • teach skills/ show how
  • enjoy the child
  • build on their interests
  • encourage, encourage, encourage
  • use family meetings

Note: For teenagers, apart from the four above, the other important factor is peer approval.

Goal disclosure

Goal disclosure is one way to help children become aware of their mistaken belief. It is essential to be objective and friendly during the process.

First ask the child if she knows why she is engaging in a certain behaviour. You should name the behaviour specifically. “Do you know why you keep wandering around the room when you are supposed to be in your seat?”.

The child usually says “I don’t know” or gives some reason which is not the real reason. You then say “I have some other ideas. Would it be okay with you if I guess? You can tell me if I’m right or wrong.”

If your manner is objective and friendly, the child will be intrigued to have you guess. The ask “could it be” questions, waiting for the child to respond to each question.

  • “Could it be that the reason you wander around the room is to get my attention and keep me busy with you?” (Undue attention)
  • “Could it be that the reason you wander around the room is to show me you can do whatever you want?” (Misguided power)
  • “Could it be that the reason you wander around the room is because you feel hurt and want to get even with me or someone else?” (Revenge)
  • “Could it be that you wander around the room because you don’t feel you can succeed so you don’t even want to try?” (Assumed inadequacy)

There are two response that will let you know if your guess is correct and the child become aware of her goal: 1) recognition reflex – the child involuntarily smiles, even while saying no, 2) a simple yes answer. You can then engage the child in a discussion of other ways to feel belonging and significance.

Natural consequences

A natural consequence is anything that happens naturally, with no adult interference. It is often one way to help a child learn responsibility. An example is to let the child be responsible for remembering his lunchbox. If he forgets it, he will be hungry and learn not to forget it.

The times when natural consequences are not practical are:

  • when a child is in danger (e.g. play near the road)
  • when it takes time for training (e.g. cross the street)
  • when natural consequences interfere with the rights of others (e.g. throw rocks at another person)
  • when the results of children’s behaviour do not seem like a problem to them (e.g. don’t take a bath, don’t brush teeth, don’t do homework)

Logical consequences

Logical consequences require the intervention of an adult or other children in a family meeting. It is important to decide what kind of consequence would create a helpful learning experience that might encourage children to choose responsible cooperation. An example is when a child spills milk, the logical consequence is to clean it up.

The four criteria to help ensure that solutions are logical consequences rather than punishment:

  • Related: the consequence must be related to the behaviour.
  • Respectful: the consequence must not involve blame, shame or pain and should be kindly and firmly enforced. It is also respectful to everyone involved.
  • Reasonable: the consequence must not include piggybacking and is reasonable from the child’s point of view as well as the adult’s.
  • Revealed in advance: allowing  a child to know what will happen (or what you will do) if he/she chooses a certain behaviour.

A logical consequence is effective when it redirects the child into a useful (contributing) behaviour. Example: if a child causes disruption in a class making the teacher’s job difficult, he can make it up by helping me the teacher with other jobs like cleaning the blackboard.

Logical consequences may be effective at the time of conflict only if the goal is undue attention. When the goal is misguided power or revenge, logical consequences can be effective during a problem solving session after a cooling off period or after winning the child’s cooperation.

Logical consequences can be very difficult methods to use as it can be misused and become punishment. If logical consequences are not obvious, it is probably not appropriate to use them in the situation. Consider other effective methods first.

Focusing on solutions

When we focus on solutions, kids learn how to get along with others and they have tools to bring with them to the next challenge. The emphasis is on helping people learn how to solve the problem instead of having to pay (through punishment) for the problem. The solutions should be related, respectful, reasonable and helpful.

Positive time-out

Positive timeout is designed to help children feel better (so they can access their rational brains), not to make them feel worse, not to make them pay for what they have done. It is not effective to focus on solutions until everyone has calmed down enough. Never say ‘You go and think about what you did’. It is unrespectful and it is a silly assumption that adult can control children’s thoughts.

There are following guidelines to follow when getting children involved in creating a Positive Time-Out area:

  • Take time for training and plan with them in advance. Talk about how helpful Positive Time-out can be before you use it. A great way to teach is by using it yourself or going to the “happy place” with them.
  • Allow children to create their own time-out area – an area that will help them feel better so they can then do better (e.g. reading, playing with toys, resting, or listening to music).
  • Teach children that when they feel better, they can follow up by working on a solution or making amends if there is still a problem.

Curiosity questions

Helping children explore the consequences of their choices is much different from imposing consequences on them. Exploring invites their participation to think for themselves and figure things out for themselves, and to decide what is important to them and what they want. The key to helping children explore is to stop telling and start asking curiosity questions.

Typical curiosity questions including:

  • What were you trying to accomplish?
  • How do you feel about what happened?
  • What do you think caused it to happen?
  • What did you learn from this?
  • How can you use in the future what you learned?
  • What ideas do you have for solutions now?

Don’t try to have an agenda about how they should answer the questions. Don’t ask questions if either of you is upset. Ask questions from your heart.

Using encouragement effectively

Factors which help to use encouragement effectively are:

  • Timing: sometimes encouragement is favourably received only after a cooling-off period.
  • Mutual respect: incorporates attitudes of (a) faith in the abilities of yourself and others, (b) interest in the point of view of others as well as your own, and (c) willingness to take responsibility and ownership for your own contribution to the problem. The best way to teach children is to model it yourself.
  • Build on strength, not weaknesses: it is encouraging to yourself and others to focus on the positive.
  • Redirecting misbehaviour: look for the strength in the child’s behaviour and assign them appropriate jobs which help direct the behaviour in a contributing direction.
  • Making amends: get the children involved in problem-solving process.
  • Avoid social pressure: if there are observers, you may be tempted to use punishment. When under social pressure, get away from the audience so that you can solve the problems privately.
  • Schedule special time: plan the special time with your child and brainstorm to come up with a list of things you would like to do together. Make sure you only focus on the child during this time. It could be just 10 minutes a day for ages between two and six. From ages six to twelves, it may reduce to half an hour a week.

Encouragement vs Praise

Note that encouragement is not the same as praise. Praise may inspire some children to improve their behaviour. The problem is that they may become pleasers and approval junkies. The long-term effect of encouragement is that it invites self-confidence while praise invites dependence on others. Helpful questions to consider are:

  • Am I inspiring self-evaluation or dependence on the evaluation of others?
  • Am I being respectful or patronising?
  • Am I seeing the child’s point of view or only my own?
  • Would I make this comment to a friend?

Praises express favourable judgement (e.g. “You did it right”, “I liek the way you did that”, “You are such a good girl”, “I’m proud of you for doing that”) while encouragement inspires with courage (e.g. “Good job”, “You gave your best”,”It reflects your hard work”, “I appreciate your cooperation”, “Thanks for helping”, “How do you feel about what you accomplished?”, “What do you learn/think/feel?”).

Encouragement vs Criticism

It is important to let children know when there is room for improvement, but you don’t have to make them feel worse in order to get them to do better. An effective way to discuss areas that need improvement is to ask the child “In which areas do you think you are doing well? In which areas do you think you need improvement?”. We should encourage self-evaluation.

Take time for training

Adults often expect children to accomplish tasks for which there has not been adequate training. Taking time for training means being very specific about your terms and expectations. Once you feel there has been adequate training, check it out by asking the child (e.g. “What is your understanding of what needs to be done for the kitchen to be clean?”). Time for training can be fund and involve games. It also includes telling your children when you are going to change your methods. You can also use curiosity questions to help train them.

Routine charts

One of the best ways to avoid bedtime hassles and morning hassles is to get children involve in creating routine charts. Start by having your child make a list of things she needs to do. Make a chart with pictures for each thing. Let the routine chart be the boss. Remember the goal is to help children feel capable and encouraged.


Try a hug. Sometimes hugs don’t work as the child is too upset. If the child is unwilling, you can say “I sure would like a hug whenever you are read.” Once hugs create an atmosphere of encouragement, it is the perfect opportunity to take time for training, ask curiosity questions, give a limited choice, use distraction or engage in a joint problem-solving, or help them feel useful by making a contribution.

Family meetings

  • Family meeting should be held once a week.
  • Discussions should focus on solution solving. Decisions should be made by consensus. If the family can’t come to a decision by consensus, it should be tabled until the next meeting.
  • Family meetings should include a review of the next week’s activities.
  • Family meetings should not end without planning a family fun activity during the week.
  • End the meeting by doing something together as a family (e.g. play game). Don’t watch TV unless there is a program that the whole family look forward to. If you do watch TV, be sure to end by turning it off and discussing about what values were portrayed and how this might apply to your lives.
  • Sitting at a cleared table is conductive to staying on task for problem solving.

Components of the family meetings

  • Chairperson: This job should rotate including children. The responsibility is to call the meeting to order, start the compliments, begin the problem-solving sessions, and start the “talking stick” around the circle t everyone has a turn to voice an opinion or make  suggestion.
  • Secretary: This job should rotate among members of the family who can write. The responsibility is to keep notes of problems discussed and decisions made.
  • Compliments: Begin every family meeting by having each person give every other member of the family a compliment.
  • Gratitude: Alternate between compliments and sharing what we are grateful for.
  • The agenda: use three-hole punched paper and keep them in a family meeting album. Discuss agenda items in chronological order so decisions doesn’t need to be made about which item is the most important.

Allowance money

Use allowance money to teach money management. But do not use it as punishment or reward.


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This entry was posted on January 8, 2016 by in Books, Parenthood and tagged , , , , , , , .
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