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Positive Guidance and Discipline Strategies: Description and Explanation

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Learning how to use these strategies makes it possible for you to meet the needs of individual children. You will be able to choose the most effective strategy in a variety of discipline encounters. 

Positive discipline strategies begin with adult behaviors: good limit setting, clearly communicating limits. They include teaching more appropriate behavior, giving cues for the new behavior, giving choices, and supporting children in their new behavior. Positive guidance and discipline also include changing something about a situation, and ignoring behavior when it is appropriate to do so.

Positive guidance and discipline continue when adults manage typical discipline encounters with positive, helpful strategies: redirection, active listening, I-messages, conflict resolution, and recognizing and dealing with strong emotions.

Finally, helpful adults learn to recognize signs of stress, anxiety, and strong emotion. They try to prevent overstimulation and they teach calming techniques. The core of positive discipline strategies, however, is the last section in this chapter. Helping children save face and preserve their dignity in discipline encounters is the most important and essential element in child guidance.

We will start with limit setting. This strategy includes:

  • Developing reasonable limits that focus on important things
  • Stating limits effectively
  • Helping children accept limits
  • Communicating limits to others and reviewing limits periodically

Develop Reasonable Limits That Focus on Important Things

Adults influence children by stating their expectations for desired behavior and helping children understand that there are boundaries, or limits, on behavior. Authoritative caregivers understand the importance of proper boundaries in relationships in general, and appropriate limits in an adult-child relationship in particular. They figure out and clearly communicate limits that will be most helpful in encouraging children to behave appropriately. They understand what a good limit is and what benefits appropriate limits have for children (Marion, Swim, & Jenner, 2000).

Authoritative adults work with children in developing some, but not all, limits. For example, Mr. Claiborne, the first-grade teacher, led a discussion about classroom limits at the beginning of the school year.

Example.  He started by stating first, “The most important rule in our classroom is that we treat each other and our animals with respect,” as he wrote on a large sheet of paper. He then described what that might mean and elicited the children’s contributions; for example, “The gerbils get scared when they hear loud noises. What would be a good rule about noise around the gerbils?” He printed limits and posted them as a reminder.

His children are much more likely to take ownership of limits because they have helped to develop them.

Highly responsive, authoritative adults set and maintain reasonable, fair, developmentally appropriate limits. Their limits focus on important, not trivial, things. The limits protect children’s and adults’ health and safety and encourage the development of healthy self-control. Their limits also transmit values of dignified, fair, humane treatment of people and animals to children.

Healthy self-control through limits
Self-control develops slowly in children. Reasonable, fair limits can help children achieve internal control gradually because limits clearly communicate appropriate behavior and reasons for that behavior.

Examples.  “Scoot back to your spot on the carpet, Jack. Vinnie can’t see if you sit in front of him.”

Mr. Nellis to second grader Willis: “I see that you’ve finished your story. Please choose the next thing that you need to do now because the other children are also still working.”

Rules protecting physical health
One set of important limits deals with health issues. Disease can spread exceptionally quickly in group settings for children. Design and communicate rules that protect the physical health of both adults and children. Some examples:

  • Thorough hand washing by adults. All adults who work in a classroom or elsewhere should be required to demonstrate that they know proper hand-washing techniques. All adults should also demonstrate the willingness to wash their hands at specific times.
  • Thorough hand washing by children. A checklist would be useful.
  • Proper handling of food.
  • Washing and sanitizing toys and other equipment.
  • Labeling and storing toothbrushes properly.
  • Using tissues when sneezing.
  • Proper toileting and diapering routines, including approved cleanup.

Rules protecting everyone’s safety
Appropriate limits ensure safety. Think about safety on different levels. One level governs the safe use of toys, equipment, and space. Typical limits include “You pour and dump sand in the sand box, but not on the trike path,” or “You must stay inside the fenced area of our playground.”

A child’s inner feeling of safety and security calls for another level of safety rules. Children feel secure when they know that they will not be hurt; therefore, a good environment for children has rules that keep children and adults safe.

Examples.  Mr. Claiborne to Vinnie: “Yes, you are angry, and that’s OK, but I want you to tell Ryan that you are upset. Use words to tell him that you want your book back. Say, ‘I want my book back.’ ”

Mr. Nellis to kindergarten child Louie, who had asked what day it was several times in one morning: “Today is Thursday. You go home with your dad on Thursdays. He always comes to get you right on time.” Louie goes through many transitions (Mom’s house to school, school to baby-sitter, baby-sitter’s to Mom’s house, school to Dad’s house, Dad’s house to Mom’s house). His mother does not prepare him very well for transitions, but his father does a better job. Mr. Nellis does whatever he can to help Louie feel secure.

Respectful treatment of others with limits
Responsible adults set and maintain limits about fair treatment of everyone in a class. Children have to learn what respectful treatment means; they learn this best from the words and actions of adults. It also means clearly stating the behaviors that we will not tolerate (e.g., degrading or hurting others).

Examples.  “Hold the kitten gently, like this” (teacher demonstrates). “Mitchell’s name is on the list before your name. He goes first.”

As you can see, this includes rules about humane treatment of animals. Humane means kind, caring, and compassionate treatment of animals, something that children must learn.

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