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Discipline  - Guiding your child to positive behavioursDiscipline - Guiding your child to positive behaviours

Discipline is forever a hot topic, whether it is the great PR generated by Amy Chua in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, or questions about the parenting of rioters, everyone has opinions on whether or not children require more discipline.

Father holding child's handThe word discipline can carry negative connotations for many and is seen as referring to punishment, it’s in fact the reverse. Discipline is supposed to be positive (and comes from the word ‘disciple’ meaning ‘pupil’ or ‘learner’); it’s about how you are teaching your child about right and wrong and guiding her towards positive behaviours.

I think most importantly, discipline is about providing opportunities as well as limits. You are your child’s "guide” through learning about new skills and opportunities as well as coping with challenges and frustrations.
What we do as parents carries meaning and importance from day 1, and studies show that sensitive and responsive parenting is associated with secure attachment which lays the foundation for later social and emotional effectiveness.

Effective parenting hits a balance:

  • The evidence is overwhelmingly for a discipline style that is supportive yet firm, and responsive to the child’s needs whilst keeping control.
  • Effective parents set clear rules and they explain why the rules are important.
  • They also provide immediate and understandable consequences to help the child learn about accountability and about right and wrong.
  • Parents are in control, but they teach their children about appropriate behaviours through fair and reasonable methods and explain things in a way that is understandable for their children. This way, the learning is positive and internalised.
  • We know that children learn from experience and by imitating what their parents do. It is therefore critical that parents set limits and show (by example) how to control impulses and emotions (foundation for self control).

Practical guidance for parents


Based on what research is telling us about discipline and effective parenting, below are key practical tips to help you guide your child to positive behaviours:

  1. See things from your child’s perspective; understand that what may seem obvious or even unimportant to you, can be unclear or very important to him
  2. Be your child’s "emotion coach”; validate what she is feeling and help her make sense of and deal with her emotions
  3. Set limits; these are just as important as providing opportunities, when it comes to guiding behaviour
  4. Focus on the behaviour when pointing out what you don’t approve of, ensuring your child knows he is accepted and loved for who he is
  5. Notice and emphasise positive (desirable) behaviours, so as to guide your child in knowing how to behave in future similar situations (and make repetition more likely)
  6. Be consistent in your messages on rules, expectations and consequences
  7. Beware of Rewards dressed as Bribes so your child is motivated to do the behaviour, not get the reward.
  8. Be a good role model; your child watches, imitates and absorbs every word, behaviour and emotional expression.


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