A positive approach to discipline
Discipline is about guiding children towards positive behaviour. A positive approach to discipline involves:
- agreeing on and setting limits for behaviour – for example, through family rules
- helping children to behave within those limits – for example, by using consequences.
A positive approach to discipline helps children understand what’s expected of them and learn to:
- behave in positive ways at home, friends’ houses, child care, preschool or school
- manage their own behaviour and get along well with others
- express and manage their emotions.
Corporal punishment including smacking doesn’t teach children how to behave. It can hurt children and affect them in the longer term. It can also make children scared of you, which makes it harder to encourage them to behave in positive ways.
Discipline at different ages
Discipline isn’t appropriate for babies. That’s because babies don’t understand rules or consequences. Their behaviour is all about learning and developing. They do things to test skills, make things happen, communicate, connect with you and so on.
For example, when your baby pulls your hair, they’re learning about cause and effect. The best way to help your baby learn and develop is with warm and loving care. So when your baby pulls your hair, you might say ‘no’ and show your baby how to touch your hair gently.
Our Baby Cues video guide helps you to work out what your baby is trying to tell you through their behaviour and body language.
Discipline isn’t appropriate for toddlers either. That’s because toddlers are only just starting to develop the skills they need to understand and behave within limits. This includes skills for understanding and following requests and instructions, as well as skills for managing and expressing strong feelings like frustration and anger.
The best way to guide your toddler’s behaviour is to tune in to their emotions. For example, a strategy like time-in can help your toddler calm down if they’re getting frustrated because they can’t put on a sock.
Our toddler behaviour strategies have more ideas for guiding your child’s behaviour. These include changing the environment, distracting your child, and planning for challenging situations.
You can start using a positive approach to discipline for children aged 3 years and older. At this age, children can understand how to behave in positive ways – for example, being cooperative, thinking of others and sticking to family rules. But they’ll probably need help to understand, remember and practise this kind of behaviour. This is where discipline comes in.
For example, you might have a family rule about behaving gently towards each other. A positive approach to discipline might involve using a consequence like time-out if your child is hitting their sibling.
Our preschooler behaviour strategies have more ideas for guiding your child’s behaviour in positive ways.
You can use a positive approach to discipline for school-age children. At this age, children usually know how to behave in different situations – for example, school, home or the library. But your child still needs limits for their behaviour, plus help to stick to these limits. Discipline is a way to do this.
For example, you might have a family rule about sharing household chores. A positive approach to discipline might involve using a consequence like loss of privilege if your child refuses to do the washing up when it’s their turn.
Our school-age behaviour strategies include ideas for guiding your child’s behaviour in positive ways.
If your child’s behaviour or other things in your life are affecting your interactions with your child or you’re struggling with your child’s behaviour, ask for help. Ask your GP or child and family health nurse for advice and a referral to a counsellor or other professional.