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Principles of Positive Discipline

Policy makers, educators, child rights activists, and researchers from 21 different countries including the United States, England, France, Israel, Ethiopia, Australia, and New Zealand, recently gathered in Dallas for “The Global Summit on Ending Corporal Punishment and Promoting Positive Discipline”.

Dr. George Holden of Southern Methodist University organized this conference, the first ever to bring together internationally recognized experts from diverse fields to promote awareness of child rights, the negative consequence of using corporal punishment (e.g., spanking and other forms of physical discipline), and ways of encouraging positive discipline in homes and schools.
Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, Co-Chair of the Summit’s Organizing Committee and a professor at The University of Texas at Austin, summarized the results of many studies examining the negative effects of corporal punishment of children. She asserts “until researchers, clinicians, and parents can definitively demonstrate the presence of positive effects of corporal punishment, including effectiveness in halting future misbehavior, not just the absence of negative effects, we as psychologists cannot responsibly recommend its use”. Careful review of the research literature provides a clear picture: there are no positive effects of such punishment, only negative effects.
Gershoff acknowledges that discipline is one of the most challenging tasks of being a parent. Given that very few parents receive formal training on how to discipline their children effectively, they primarily learn “on the job” or default to using the strategies their parents used. Gershoff laments, “this unfortunately means we sometimes use discipline methods that are familiar but not effective”, such as corporal punishment. This brings us to the important question of what constitutes effective, positive discipline that can teach children acceptable behavior.
Drawing on the research literature as well as years working with children, Gershoff outlines four main principles of effective positive discipline.
1. Guide, not punish. Punishment can teach children what not to do, but it is even more important for parents to teach their children what to do.
2. Focus on the positives. Building a strong relationship with your child is the cornerstone of effective discipline.
3. Be prepared. Let your child know what type of behavior you expect in different situations.
4. Be consistent. Children appreciate consistency – create fair consequences, share these with your child, and implement when needed.

Category: Family