This article in the Economist explains how positive parenting techniques will teach children to solve their own problems whereas “negative” discipline like time outs and naughty corners rob the child of the opportunity to make choices and learn from mistakes:
IN THE old days parents followed a simple rule: spare the rod and spoil the child. These days less violent forms of discipline are favored. Supernanny, a television toddler-tamer, recommends the “naughty step”, to which ill-behaved brats are temporarily banished. Yet even this is too harsh, some psychologists say. Putting Howling Henry on the naughty step may interrupt his tantrum; but advocates of “positive discipline” say it does nothing to encourage him to solve his own problems (and thus build character). Some even suggest it may be psychologically damaging.
Positive discipline, which is becoming a grassroots fashion in America, aims to teach children self-control and empathy. Rather than screaming at them to pick up the toys they have strewn on the floor, parents or teachers ask them to suggest their own way of tackling the problem. Adults are encouraged to think harder about the causes of bad behaviour. Families meet regularly to discuss all of the above.
The Ravenswood School in Chicago has embraced positive discipline. When children quarrel, they are allowed to pick an option from a “wheel of choice” poster. These include “share and take turns”, “balloon breath” and a spell in the “calm-down corner”. In one classroom this has a tiny wicker chair, some fairy lights and an inviting box of picture books.
Positive discipline is not new; Jane Nelson, a family counsellor and child-care guru, first published a book with that title in 1981. No reliable statistics show how many parents or schools use it, but the Positive Discipline Association, a non-profit that ran 18 training workshops in 2005, found itself running 51 in 2010.
Doubters fret that positive really means permissive. Not so, says Marla Vannucci of the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. The goal is to connect with a child, rather than simply barking “Shut up!” or “Go to your room!” For example, a child who is getting underfoot in the kitchen may need to feel involved and be given something to do, such as rolling pastry or folding napkins. One who has given up on his homework may need to have the task broken down. A toddler who hits another may not know why he is angry; he may be removed or told: “Use your gentle hands.” Bribes are out: positive disciplinarians fear they may prevent a child from developing pride in a job well done.
“Negative time outs” (eg, the naughty step) are also taboo. Mrs Nelson scoffs at the notion that in order to make children act better they must be made to feel worse. Some experts think that time outs can damage younger children. (The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, for example, considers them inappropriate for under-threes, since children of that age cannot regulate their own emotions and so learn nothing from being isolated.) However, Alina Morawska of the University of Queensland and Matthew Sanders of the University of Manchester have found that, for older children, time outs can work if done properly. Children removed from positive stimulation when they misbehave may come to associate good things with good behaviour. If they are bored to begin with, however, isolation may seem no worse by comparison.
Rather than banishing kids to their rooms, positive disciplinarians ask them to go to their calm spot to regain control. (Parents can try this, too.) When all is calm, both sides can work out how to fix whatever has been thrown, broken or hurt.
Few plans, alas, survive contact with the enemy. Even Ms Vannucci admits to using a sticker reward chart with her four-year-old. Her son responded by creating one for his mom. Each day she is good she wins a sticker. Her ultimate reward is to choose which of her son’s stuffed animals she would like to sleep with.