Positive Versus Negative Discipline

Discipline is more than simply getting your child to behave the way you want him or her to or stopping your child from behaving the way you don't want on a specific occasion. Discipline is the ongoing process of positive instruction and negative correction through which your children are taught to act within family rules and according to family values. So, to state it simply: DISCIPLINE = INSTRUCTION + CORRECTION

To make this equation effective, you need to make one additional modification:


Reverse that ratio, and the child's behavior usually gets worse, not better. Excessive negative responses from parents tend to encourage more negative responses from the hurt and angry child. Angry parents who threaten, “And I will keep punishing you until your attitude improves!” only encourage a more sullen attitude in their child.

To discipline effectively, negative correction should be used sparingly, and positive instruction should be used most of the time. Animal trainers have used this principle for years to successfully train all kinds of wild and domestic creatures.

They know that the only effective training relationships are those that hold positive value for the animal being trained. They don't punish failure or off-task behavior; instead, they encourage effort and success with rewards (known as positive reinforcement). It's the possibility of rewards that keeps the animal willing to work with the trainer.


The most powerful way for parents to foster obedience is to reward every act of compliance by their child with appreciation, approval, or praise.

Athletic trainers also know to practice the positive. They know that for a champion athlete to remain a champion, she has to stay focused on what she's doing right. Certainly the athlete wants to know when she's doing something wrong, to try to fix it. But fixating on the negative is a great mistake. It encourages the person to ignore the vast majority of what is working well.

Positive attention to what is going right keeps a consistent focus on what needs to be continued. Lose that positive attention and performance will begin to suffer immediately. The same principle applies when it comes to parents training their child in discipline.

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