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11.2: Is positive discipline all about being nice?

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    by Mary Parker


    How should teachers, parents, and babysitters deal with children? Should they work as a team or should adults be on an entirely different level than their students? All children respond to authority in a unique way. Naturally, kids like to push their limits, test their boundaries, and see what they can and can not get away with. Discipline can be separated into two different categories: positive discipline or negative discipline. I have had a lot of experience working in classroom settings, not only as a student, but also as a volunteer, camp counselor, and as a teaching assistant. I have been exposed to many different personalities of teachers such as calm, stressed, easy-going, aggressive, and even frustrated teachers. Throughout my education, I was mainly taught using negative means of discipline. It is easy to recall students who, no matter how many times they had been sent to the principal's office, never seemed to correct their behavior. Could there be a better relationship between the adult and child that could have led to fewer trips to the office and better performance in the classroom? I am an avid believer in positive discipline because I have seen a classroom where it has been successful. Yet, I have also been exposed to classrooms where students get their work done because the teacher is strict and did not tolerate misbehavior. What is the solution? Should children constantly be praised for their good behavior or reprimanded when they act out? Are teachers required to punish in order to maintain respect as an authority figure. It is important to understand:

    1. What positive discipline is, and how it compares to negative discipline.

    2. How to apply positive reinforcement in the classroom.

    3. Understand how Positive Reinforcement can work.

    What is Positive Discipline?

    Jane Nelson, who according to Alice Yand a publication manager for the Northeartern Foundation for Children, has written a very inspirational book on Positive Discipline and illustrates to her readers how to implicate it in and out of the classroom. Nelson states that, "Positive Discipline is based on the understanding that discipline must be taught and that discipline teaches" (Positive Discipline Associates). There are several different components that combine to define positive discipline. A few of these factors include: mutual respect between teacher and student, understanding the drive behind bad behavior, efficient correspondence, discipline that allows learning, focusing on improvement rather than reprimand, and encouragement (Positive Discipline Associates). Along with these aspects of guidance through positive reinforcement, consistency is also crucial in this method of teaching. When teachers use this type of reinforcement, children are acknowledged for the things they are doing right, rather than receiving attention for what they have done wrong.

    What is Negative Discipline?

    According to, Negative Discipline can be described as punishment that denounces a child's behavior. Often, reprimands are given to the kids that act up and the child is punished in front of the class. Children crave attention, whether it is positive or negative, and will take extreme measures to be noticed by the adults in their lives. When a child is corrected in front of the other children, sent to the office, or even yelled at, they are receiving attention that they crave. Should students try and lash out to obtain negative attention from their teachers? The Institution of Educational Statistics states that some people believe that being stern is the way to get children to be corporative and respect authority. Also, it is understood that if there is a strong sense of power in the classroom, students will not test their limits. If children gain the understanding that they will not be chastised for their bad behavior, they may not comply with the rules. Negative Discipline has been in classrooms for decades, children have been exposed to referrals, suspension, time-out, and even spanking. There have been many schools that base their education on negative discipline and the results have been successful. Why is there a need to change now?


    Positive Discipline Phrases:

    "Do the right thing."

    "Gentle Hands."

    "I'm sorry he knocked you down."

    "Do you think that was a good choice?"

    "Thank you for doing the right thing."

    There is a new method of teaching called Positive Discipline. What components are involved in this new teaching method? S. Doescher and L. Burt of Oregon University, explain that there are many ways to incorporate positive reinforcement into the teaching curriculum. Some ways to apply this method of partnership include:

    1. Making positive comments. When students do something desirable, instead of ignoring it. It is crucial for the instructor to address the good behavior. If children realize that others are being praised for their behavior, they may also try to receive encouraging feedback from his or her teacher.

    2. Ask for children's input. Everyones opinion matters and even adults tend to pay attention to topics that they are interested in. When teachers inquire students' opinion, they are more likely to be entertained and participate.

    3. Body language is essential. Even young people can sense approval through accepting gestures such as eye contact and smiling.

    4. Getting on their level. Positive Discipline is defined as a partnership, therefore; children should feel as though they are an important part of the relationship. Some teachers feel as though, "bending, kneeling, or sitting at a children's level" (Doescher and Burt), makes a child feel involved and important.

    5. Encourage children to redirect their negative behavior to a positive one. Children learn new things everyday, if students are made aware of positive behaviors they are more likely to want to try new things. An example of redirected a child's attention could be if he or she is trying to take someone else's toy, an instructor can present the idea of a different toy to play with.

    6. Ignore actions that are not desirable. When children are performing inappropriate manners, adults should act like they do not see them behaving bad, therefore; they may loose interest in the behavior and do something positive to gain the teacher's attention.

    7. Consistency is essential. If a teacher chooses to use Positive Discipline in his or her classroom, they must not change. Children crave structure and fluctuating between methods of discipline will only lead to confusion and frustration, two unhealthy attitudes to have in a classroom.

    A Success Story and Conclusion

    Katharine Kersey, a professor of Early Childhood Education at Old Dominion University, wrote a book dealing with the idea of Positive Discipline. It is titled The 101s: A Guide to Positive Discipline. In this book, Kersey addresses how to present children with a vigorous classroom experience by highlighting positive behaviors rather than negative. I have experienced many classroom environments as both a student and as an adult. Not only have I been in classrooms where Negative Discipline was the teaching approach being used, but also I have worked in Old Dominion's Early Childhood Development Center and the Old Dominion Day Care. Both centers are avid believers in the use of Positive Discipline. After viewing it first hand, it is obvious that some education institutes can succeed using Positive Reinforcement.

    No matter what teaching method is going to be used in a classroom, the instructor must remain consistent and understanding. It is important to understand kids and how to deal with them appropriately. People have different opinions on what works and what does not work for them. Through personal experience, I have seen success stories on both sides of the spectrum. Finally, it all comes down to the idea that although Positive Discipline is a somewhat new teaching tactic, it can work. Whether or not one discipline method is better than the other depends on the teacher and the students. As a teacher, one must find what works for them and try to make their classroom the best environment for his or her students.

    References Retrieved 7 February 2009, from

    Doescher and Burt (1995). You, Your Child, and Positive Discipline. Oregon State University Extension Service. Retrieved 7 February 2009, from

    Institution of Education Sciences (2007); U.S. Department of Education; National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, D.C. Retrieved 7 February 2009, from

    Kersey, Katherine C., Ed.D. (1991). The 101s: A Guide to Positive Discipline, Retrieved 7 February 2009, from

    Positive Discipline Associates, Inc.(2008); Northeast Foundation; Positive Discipline, Orem, UT. Retrieved 7 February 2009, from