5 Ways Positive Discipline Makes Parenting Easier

Do you find yourself often criticizing or yelling at your kids? Are you frustrated when they don't listen? Mighty Mommy shares 5 tips to make your discipline approach more positive and effective.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #516

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 25 years of parenting it's that kids themselves aren’t bad—it’s their behavior that can push us over the edge.

As the oldest of five and the daughter of two teachers, I was lucky to be raised with the understanding that we’re all human, we make mistakes, we (hopefully) learn from our mistakes, and when we do something disobedient—it’s our behavior that is unacceptable not us as a human being.

My upbringing helped lay the foundation for my own approach to discipline—which is to use bad behavior as a teachable moment rather than a punishment. But if I'm completely honest, there were plenty of days when my kids pushed my buttons so hard that I slipped from this ideal. No matter how many years you’ve been a parent, sometimes you need to take a step back and reevaluate what’s working and not working in your parenting regime.

If discipline is something you’d like to improve upon, but find that you’re exhausted when presented with a cherub who knows the fine art of manipulation, don’t despair. Mighty Mommy has 5 simple strategies that will help you incorporate positive discipline into your parenting routine and make that disobedient behavior a thing of the past:

  1. Name the Bad Behavior
  2. Stop Nagging
  3. Use Warmth and Understanding
  4. Don’t Threaten Isolation
  5. Catch Them Doing Good

Let's explore each in more detail.

Tip #1: Name the Bad Behavior (Not the Bad Child)

Parents in the 21st century tend to overcomplicate how we raise our children. We have so many competing agendas between home, work, and outside commitments that we often fail to prioritize how we expend our energy.

See also: 4 Basic Strategies for Parenting Success

Obviously life can get complicated. But on those days when our kid insists on wearing underwear outside his pants and we find a rainbow of melted crayons in the dryer, it's easy to lose perspective of the big picture—and that is to raise self-sufficient, productive children who will make a positive contribution to the world.

It's tempting to lose your cool in a frustrating moment, but remember that a large part of effective discipline is not what we do, but how we do it. This includes our choice of words and the tone we use.

So the next time your kindergartner decides to crack a dozen eggs all over the rug and use them as fingerpaint, or your teenager borrows the car without asking and stays out hours past curfew, refrain from labeling the child as bad, but instead focus on the bad action: “Annie, we use eggs to cook with, not as art supplies. Now, you’re going to help Mommy clean this mess.”

As for that sneaky teen who helped himself to your SUV, try this: “Alex, you know that one of the rules for driving is that you must always ask to borrow my car, no matter what. The other non-negotiable is being late for curfew. I’m glad you’re OK and nothing happened, but your choice results in no car privileges for the next two weekends.” That's it. No negotiation.

Tip #2: Stop Nagging

Do you have anyone in your life who is a constant nagger? Someone who continually criticizes everything?

In Psychology Today’s article, "Worst Mistakes Parents Make When Talking to Kids," author Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. says, “The problem with nagging is that you are actually training kids to ignore you because they know there will be more reminders down the road.”

This is so true. When a parent gets on the nagging bandwagon, the child has two choices—listen with frustration or tune Mom out. Neither is a good solution for the parent (or child), so rather than back yourself into such a negative corner, start being more mindful of how you speak to your child.  When you talk with a calm, matter-of-fact tone and leave the nagging and critical innuendos behind, you’ll have a much better chance of getting your child to listen and respond and at the same time, you’ll be setting a great example for positive communication.

(By the way, this approach works on spouses as well.)

Tip #3: Use Warmth and Understanding

On the one hand, American parents (theoretically) want our kids to learn independence, on the other, we also want to control their actions. 

Being a controlling parent isn’t the same as one who sets necessary limits for a child.  All kids need boundaries. Curfews, nutritionally-balanced eating choices, and solid bedtime and homework routines are healthy limits. A controlling parent, however, is overbearing and often tries to regulate a child's words, clothes, activities, and friends. 

Even worse is when a parent's controlling behavior eventually leads to manipulation and guilt. Tactics such as these won’t allow for effective discipline strategies and could eventually lead to resentment from your child.

If controlling maneuvers are part of the norm for you, regardless of your child’s age, it’s time to take an immediate look at why you feel this is an appropriate tool. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that being raised by parents who aren't psychologically controlling makes happier adults. Mai Stafford, the lead author of the study, says, “People whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental wellbeing throughout early, middle, and late adulthood.”

Naturally parents can’t be warm and fuzzy 24/7—parenthood is tough and often draining—but if you’re a control freak with your kids, try to interject some more love and kindness into your approach. This method can help keep little things from escalating and allow your child to figure things out on their own.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.