Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Educational Psychology: Assessment · Issues · Theory & research · Techniques · Techniques X subject · Special Ed. · Pastoral

Positive Discipline (or PD) is a discipline model used by schools that focuses on the positive points of behaviour, based on the idea that there are no bad children, just good and bad behaviors. You can teach and reinforce the good behaviors while weaning the bad behaviors without hurting the child verbally or physically. Positive discipline includes a number of different techniques that, used in combination, can lead to a more effective way to manage groups of students. Some of these are listed below.


The Positive Discipline [1] Parenting and Classroom Management Model is based on the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs. Dr. Adler first introduced the idea of parenting education to United States audiences in the 1920s. He advocated treating children respectfully, but also argued that spoiling and pampering children was not encouraging to them and resulted in social and behavioral problems. The classroom techniques, which were initially introduced in Vienna in the early 1920s, were brought to the United States by Dr. Dreikurs in the late 1930s. Dreikurs and Adler refer to the kind and firm approach to teaching and parenting as "democratic." (Children the Challenge, Dreikurs)

Many other authors have carried on the parenting and classroom work of Alfred Adler. Jane Nelsen wrote and self-published Positive Discipline in 1981. In 1987 Positive Discipline was picked up by Ballantine, now a subsidiary of Random House. The latest edition of Positive Discipline was published by Ballantine in 2006, which includes 4 of the 5 criteria for Positive Discipline listed below. Jane has since added the 5th Criteria. Jane Nelsen also co-authored a series of Positive Discipline books with Lynn Lott: Positive Discipline for Teenagers, Positive Discipline A-Z and Positive Discipline in the Classroom (with H. Stephen Glenn). Positive Discipline the First Three Years and Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, was co-authored by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Duffy. Cheryl Erwin also co-authored with Jane Nelsen, Positive Discipline for Single Parents and Positive Discipline for Stepfamilies.

The term, positive discipline, has now become very popular. Many parenting books and programs that claim to be positive discipline are based on the philosophy of "Behaviorism," which is very different from the original Adlerian based Positive Discipline. Behaviorism promotes "external" locus of control. Positive Discipline promotes "internal" locus of control, as indicated in the Five Criteria for Positive Discipline.

Parenting style[]

Nelsen describes four basic parenting styles modified from Diana Baumrind's parenting style.

Short-term Parenting Long-term parenting

Neglectful/Giving up on being a parent

Kind and Firm

Positive discipline is used to teach long-term parenting--the kind and firm parenting style.[2]

Five criteria[]

There are 5 criteria for effective positive discipline:

  1. Helps children feel a sense of connection. (Belonging and significance)
  2. Is mutually respectful and encouraging. (Kind and firm at the same time.)
  3. Is effective long-term. (Considers what the child is thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about himself and his world – and what to do in the future to survive or to thrive.)
  4. Teaches important social and life skills. (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, and cooperation as well as the skills to contribute to the home, school or larger community.)
  5. Invites children to discover how capable they are. (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy.)[3]

Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is a form of child discipline that is a proactive and positive approach used by staff, parents and community agencies to promote successful behavior and learning at home and at school for all students. PBS supports the acquisition of replacement behaviors, a reduction of crisis intervention, the appreciation of individual differences, strategies for self control, and durable improvement in the quality of life for all.

Preventative measures[]

Part of using positive discipline is preventing situations in which negative behaviors can arise. There are different techniques that teachers can use to prevent bad behaviors:

Students who "misbehave" are actually demonstrating "mistaken" behavior. There are many reasons why a student may exhibit mistaken behavior, i.e. lack of knowing appropriate behavior to feeling unwanted or unaccepted. For students who simply do not know what appropriate behavior they should be exhibiting, the teacher can teach the appropriate behavior. For example, the young child who grabs toys from others can be stopped from grabbing a toy and then shown how to ask for a turn. For students who are feeling unwanted or unaccepted, a positive relationship needs to develop between the teacher and student before ANY form of discipline will work!

The sanctions that are listed at the end of the article would be less needed if students have a strong connection with the adult in charge and knew that the teacher respected him/her. Teachers need to know how to build these relationships. Simply telling them to demonstrate respect and connection with students is not enough for some of them, because they may also lack knowledge on how to do this!

Teachers need to view each child as an account; they must deposit positive experiences in the student before they make a withdraw from the child when discipline takes place. Teachers can make deposits through praise, special activities, fun classroom jobs, smiles and appropriate pats on the backs. Some children have never experienced positive attention. Children long for attention; if they are not receiving positive attention they will exhibit behavior that will elicit negative attention.

Teachers can recognize groups of students who would not work well together (because they are friends or do not get along well) and have them separated from the start. Some teachers employ the "boy-girl-boy-girl" method of lining or circling up (which may be sexist or effective, depending on your perspective).

Another technique would be to be explicit with the rules, and consequences for breaking those rules, from the start. If students have a clear understanding of the rules, they will be more compliant when there are consequences for their behaviors later on. A series of 3 warnings is sometimes used before a harsher consequence is used (detention, time-out, etc.), especially for smaller annoyances (for example, a student can get warnings for calling out, rather than getting an immediate detention, because a warning is usually effective enough). Harsher consequences should come without warnings for more egregious behaviors (hitting another student, cursing, deliberately dissobeying a warning, etc.). Teachers can feel justified that they have not "pulled a fast one" on students.

Using gerunds[]

Gerunds are words ending in "ing". It is believed that using gerunds can help reinforce the positive behavior a teacher would like to see rather than attacking a bad behavior. For example, a teacher might see students running down the hall and calmly say "walking" rather than yell "stop running" in an agitated voice. He might say "gently" (an adverb, not a gerund) instead of yelling "calm down!"

Positive Recognition[]

(This addition is an example of "Behaviorism" and is not part of the original Positive Discipline that does not advocate punishment or rewards.) Positive discipline includes rewarding good behavior as much as curtailing negative behaviors. Some "rewards" can be verbal. Some are actual gifts.

Instead of yelling at a student displaying negative behaviors, a teacher/leader might recognize a student behaving well with a "thank you Billy for joining the line", or "I like the way you helped Billy find his notebook." Recognizing a positive behavior can bring a group's focus away from the students displaying negative behavior, who might just be "acting out" for attention. Seeing this, students seeking attention might try displaying good behaviors to get the recognition of the leader.

One persons submits this as a reward method: Students are given stamps in their planner if they do well in a lesson. When they receive enough stamps from the same subject (usually 3 or 5) the student has a credit. When 50, 100, 150, 200 and 250 credits have been awarded to a particular student, that student receives a certificate. If a student meets certain behavioural criteria, they are rewarded with a trip at the end of term.

Other rewards:

  • A special chain or necklace students pass from one to another for doing good deeds.
  • High fives and positive words.
  • Awards/achievements on the wall of the classroom or cafeteria.

Other techniques[]

If a student is causing a distraction during class, a teacher might do something to gain the attention of the student without losing momentum of the lecture. One technique is quietly placing a hand on the shoulder of the student while continuing to speak. The student becomes aware that the teacher would like them to focus. Another technique is to non-chalantly stand in-between two students talking to each other. This causes a physical barrier to the conversation and alerts the students to the teacher's needs. A third technique for a standing group is to gently move the student next to the teacher.

A funny technique that requires a skilled PD practitioner is "the grocery list look". A gentler version of "the evil eye" this look is not happy or mad, but focused. The teacher looks at the student, places her tongue on the tip of her mouth, and thinks about a list of things to do (not to the child!). This focused look, along with silence, makes a student just uncomfortable enough to change behaviors, not enough to make them feel embarrassed or scared as an evil eye might.


Studies of implementation of Positive Discipline techniques have shown that Positive Discipline tools do produce significant results. A study of school-wide implementation of classroom meetings in a lower-income Sacramento, CA elementary school over a four-year period showed that suspensions decreased (from 64 annually to 4 annually), vandalism decreased (from 24 episodes to 2) and teachers reported improvement in classroom atmosphere, behavior, attitudes and academic performance. (Platt, 1979) A study of parent and teacher education programs directed at parents and teachers of students with "maladaptive" behavior that implemented Positive Discipline tools showed a statistically significant improvement in the behavior of students in the program schools when compared to control schools. (Nelsen, 1979) Smaller studies examining the impacts of specific Positive Discipline tools have also shown positive results. (Browning, 2000; Potter, 1999; Esquivel) Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that a student’s perception of being part of the school community (being "connected" to school) decreases the incidence of socially risky behavior (such as emotional distress and suicidal thoughts / attempts, cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use; violent behavior) and increases academic performance. (Resnick et al., 1997; Battistich, 1999; Goodenow, 1993) There is also significant evidence that teaching younger students social skills has a protective effect that lasts into adolescence. Students that have been taught social skills are more likely to succeed in school and less likely to engage in problem behaviors. (Kellam et al., 1998; Battistich, 1999)

Programs similar to Positive Discipline have been studied and shown to be effective in changing parent behavior. In a study of Adlerian parent education classes for parents of teens, Stanley (1978) found that parents did more problem solving with their teens and were less autocratic in decision making. Positive Discipline teaches parents the skills to be both kind and firm at the same time. Numerous studies show that teens who perceive their parents as both kind (responsive) and firm (demanding) are at lower risk for smoking, use of marijuana, use of alcohol, or being violent, and have a later onset of sexual activity. (Aquilino, 2001; Baumrind, 1991; Jackson et al., 1998; Simons, Morton et al., 2001) Other studies have correlated the teen’s perception of parenting style (kind and firm versus autocratic or permissive) with improved academic performance. (Cohen, 1997; Deslandes, 1997; Dornbusch et al., 1987; Lam, 1997)

It is not too late for adolescents across the United States that are currently making negative decisions to be diverted towards more positive and healthy ways. Studies have shown that through the use of positive intervention programs "designed specifically to address the personal and social factors that place some high school students at risk of drug abuse, schools can reduce these young people's drug use and other unhealthy behaviors" (Eggert, 1995; Nicholas, 2995; Owen, 1995). Use of such programs has shown improvement in academics and a decline in drug use across the board.


Studies have shown "that kids who are at high risk of dropping out of school and abusing drugs are more isolated and depressed and have more problems with anger", says Dr. Leona Eggert of the University of Washington in Seattle. "They are disconnected from school and family and are loosely connected with negative peers" (Eggert, 1995; Nicholas, 1995; Owen, 1995).

Overall implementing positive programs to deal with Positive Discipline will better the decision making process of teens and parents.[4]


Better student-teacher relations. Less teacher wasted energy/frustration. Students recognize desirable positive behaviors, rather than feel attacked.

Statistics show that each year, close to one-third of eighteen year olds do not finish high school (Bridgrland, 2006; Dilulio, 2006; Morison, 2006). Minority and low-income areas show even higher numbers. 75 percent of crimes committed in the United States are done by high school drop-outs. In order to know how to intervene Civic Enterprises interviewed dropouts and asked them what they suggest be done to increase high school completion numbers. Here is what they came up with: 81% said there should be more opportunities for "real-world" learning, 81% said "better" teachers, 75% said smaller class numbers, 70% said "increasing supervision in schools", 70% said greater opportunities for summer school and after-school programs, 62% said "more classroom discipline, and 41% said to have someone available to talk about personal problems with (Bridgrland, 2006; Dilulio, 2006; Morison, 2006). Through use of Positive Discipline, efforts are being made to prevent occurrences such as dropping out of school.[5]


This is another discipline technique, related to positive discipline. Punishments can be given by any member of staff and the order is as follows:

  1. Verbal Warning: The student is told to stop misbehaving and their name is taken note of for the teacher's reference.
  2. Written Warning: This phase is given straight away for lack of equipment or homework. If the student continues to misbehave a note is written in their planner so their parents can see that they have misbehaved.
  3. Phase 3: The student is sent outside the classroom for a specified period or moved to a different seat.
  4. Detention: If the student continues to misbehave after a phase 3, they are sent to another classroom and issued with a detention.
  5. Isolation: Once a student has received a specified number of detentions (usually 3 or 5), they are placed in a room with a teacher and forced to work in silence for an entire school day.
  6. Contract: The student is told by the headteacher that they will be excluded if they break a certain rule twice in a term.
  7. Exclusion: The student can eventually be excluded or expelled, either for a specified period or permanently.

See also[]


  1. Positive Discipline
  2. Nelson J and Lott L. Positive Discipline for Teenagers, rev 2nd ed. Prima Publishing, 2000, p. 54. ISBN 0-7615-2181-X
  3. [2006] Positive Discipline.
  4. Eggert, L.L.; Nicholas, L.J.; Owen, L.M (1995). Reconnecting Youth: A peer group approach to building life skills. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.
  5. Bridgeland, John; Dilulio, John; Morison, Karen (2006). The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts. Washington, D.C: Civic Enterprises, LLC.

External links[]

Brain animated color nevit.gif

Types of parent
Articles concerning parents
Related topics

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).