Monday, December 14, 2009

Positive Discipline Evidence Based

The reason I have used Positive Discipline (based on the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs), in my own life and to share with others, is that it works. Thousands of parents have shared with me that it works for them to improve their relationships with their children and to help their children learn self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem-solving skills. Still, many organizations cannot adopt programs unless that are “evidence based” or have the designation of “best practices.” Achieving best practices can be very expensive, involving extensive research.
Finally, Dr. Jody McVittie, a Certified Positive Discipline Associate has completed research described in the following press release.

*** For Immediate Release *** For Immediate Release ***

A new study released this week shows that parenting classes are helping parents create the kind of family that they want.  The study, The Impact of Adlerian-Based Parenting Classes on Self-Reported Parental Behavior, was conducted over a 3-year period by Jody McVittie, M.D. and Al M. Best, Ph.D. with the assistance of 69 parent educators across the US and Canada, utilizing data from 110 classes (1300 parent and care-givers).  The parenting class curricula were experiential and primarily from the Positive Discipline or the Parent Encouragement Program.
By the end of the class, parents reported that they were more able to set clear limits, more able to connect with their children in positive ways. They also were able to decrease hitting and yelling.  Many of the respondents added comments at the end of the post class survey that indicated that they were pleased with the changes in their families. Typical comments included: “My own anger level and frustration has decreased.” “I have a better relationship with my children.” “There is less yelling now.” “Fewer power struggles now.” “We have more fun as a family.” “I enjoy parenting more.” “I’m better at problem solving.” ”I have more confidence in my parenting skills.” ”I calm myself down instead of reacting.” “I’m remaining firm in my limits.”  “I have more hope for who my child will become.” “We have more fun as a family.” “I enjoy parenting more.” ”I respect myself more and my children more.”
Previous research documents the long term benefits of parenting that is both firm and caring.  This kind of parenting, called “authoritative,” has been shown to reduce many social risks for children (smoking, early sexual debut, drinking, violence) and has been shown to be helpful for academic and social success.  This large new study provides one missing link, showing that parents can change their parenting styles in ways that will be helpful to their children long term and that the parents were quite happy with the changes.
Further research will be useful to establish that the changes that the parents report are long term.
A copy of the results summary is attached.  It may be reproduced, but for copyright reasons it can only represent a small portion of any article describing the research.

For more information please contact:
Jody McVittie, M.D. at: or 206 782 1595

For copies of the Research:
McVittie, J. & Best, A., The Impact of Adlerian-Based Parenting Classes on Self-Reported Parental Behavior, Journal of Individual Psychology, Fall 2009, 65(3)  264-285. 
Published by the University of Texas Press, 800 252 3206,
P O Box 7819, Austin TX  78713-7819

Monday, December 7, 2009

Positive Discipline and Pampering: More on Kind and Firm and the Same Time

I know that people who are against punishment are drawn to Positive Discipline, but they often see only the kind part and take that kindness to the extreme. Why is it that human beings seem most comfortable when thinking in extremes? The pendulum seems to swing back and forth in argument for being very strict (firm) with children to the other extreme of being very lenient (kind) with children. Why is it so difficult to help parents see the value of being both kind and firm?
I keep hearing reports of children who have complete meltdowns when they can’t have their own way; of children who are obnoxiously demanding; of children who are hitting and screaming and threatening their parents. Much of this is normal testing as children find out what kind of power they have and don’t have. What is not normal is parents who are afraid of being firm for fear it will damage the psyche of their children for life. They “misuse” Positive Discipline parenting tools by being too kind without being firm. They are afraid to allow their children to “suffer.” Note that I said, “allow them to suffer,” not “make them suffer.” Let’s take the example of validating feelings.
            Sally had a temper tantrum because she wanted the toy her little brother had. Her mother said, “I can see you are really angry.” Sally continued to scream that she wanted the toy. Mother tried to reason with her, “Maybe you could wait your turn or find a toy to trade.” Sally continued her tantrum. Mom continued to validate her feelings and trying to comfort her.
            What would Positive Discipline look like? Mom might say, “I can see you are really upset,” ONCE. Then she might say, while leaving the room, “I have faith in you that you can handle this.” I would like to add that the last statement is more for the benefit of the mother than the child.  A huge part of being firm is for parents to stay “firm” in allowing children to experience their feelings instead of rescuing, fixing, and trying to make sure their children never suffer.
Parents need to have faith in their children to deal with the ups and downs of life and to know that this kind of “suffering” is good for their children. Children need to learn that they can’t always have what they want. What do they learn from this? That they are capable, that they can be resilient, that they can survive delayed gratification.

Being too kind can lead to demanding behavior in children—especially in a materialistic world. The answer is not to go to the other extreme of being too firm. The answer is to follow the age-old advice of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs (and taught by Positive Discipline) to be both kind and firm at the same time. It is okay to say, “I love you, and the answer is, ‘No.’”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Encouragement: What does it mean and how is it done?

By Jane Nelsen

Rudolf Dreikurs taught, “A child needs encouragement as a plant needs water.” In other words, encouragement is essential. Children may not die without encouragement, but they certainly wither.
Since encouragement is so essential, it would be good for parents to know exactly what encouragement means and how to do it. Let’s start with what encouragement is not.
Encouragement is Not Praise
Praise is not encouraging because it teaches children to become “approval junkies.” They learn to depend on others to evaluate their worth. Research by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. a professor at Columbia University, has now proven what Adler taught years ago. Praise is not good for children. Dweck found that praise can hamper risk taking. Children who were praised for being smart when they accomplished a task chose easier tasks in the future. They didn’t want to risk making mistakes. On the other hand, children who were “encouraged” for their efforts were willing to choose more challenging tasks when given a choice. [1]
            As Dreikurs said, “Encourage the deed [or effort], not the doer.” In other words, instead of, “You got an A, I’m so proud of you,” try, “You worked hard. You deserve it.”
Encouragement is not Cheering, Clapping, and Commenting on Everything a Child Does
Parents talk too much. Sometimes the talking is called “lecturing,” and sometimes it is an attempt to be encouraging. A trend today is for parents to think they have to make a comment (in the name of encouragement) on everything a child does. Even worse is when they think they should clap and cheer.
            Imagine you are a two-year-old child and you have just poured your own milk from a small measuring cup into a small cup. What are you feeling? When I get into that role, I’m feeling proud of myself—and very capable.
 Stay in the role and now imagine your mother starts clapping and cheering?  The most popular cheer is, “You did it!” What are you feeling now? When I get into that role it is interesting that I still feel proud. I even like it that my mother is cheering. However, when I dig deep, I’m starting to believe I need to do well to please my mother.
Clapping and cheering is a form of praise, and the danger is that children do like it. They don’t understand the subtle beginnings of the need to please and/or the fear that they might not—or the power to rebel as the only way to hang on to themselves. All of these feelings and decisions are being formed at a subconscious level. Cheering, clapping and commenting on everything a child does are subtle ways of making your child’s accomplishments more about you than about him or her. It actually robs your child of maintaining his or her sense of personal satisfaction and feelings of capability.
Encouragement Is:
Encouragement is helping your children develop courage—courage to grow and develop into the people they want to be—to feel capable, to be resilient, to enjoy life, to be happy, contributing members of society, and, as Dreikurs said, “To have the courage to be imperfect,” to feel free to make mistakes and to learn from them.
            So, now I must go back to what encouragement is not.
Encouragement is not rescuing, fixing, over-protecting
What would happen if the mother bird felt guilty about pushing her baby bird out of the nest so it will learn to fly? The baby bird would not survive. How well do our children survive when they don’t develop their disappointment muscles, their resiliency muscles, their delayed gratification muscles, and their courage to be imperfect muscles? When parents rescue, fix, and overprotect, they rob their children of the opportunity to learn that they can survive disappointment; that they can survive the ups and downs of life and learn many life skills in the process.
How to Encourage
Positive Discipline tools such as the following are designed to be encouraging to children:
1.     Family Meetings where children learn to give and receive compliments and learn to brainstorm for solutions to problems.
2.     Curiosity Questions to invite children how to think instead of what to think—and to give them a sense of choice to use their personal power for social responsibility.
3.     Letting Go so children have opportunities to learn and grow—mistakes and all.
4.     Having Faith in children so they can develop faith in themselves.
5.     Spending Special Time to make sure the message of love gets through.
There are many more—all designed to be empowering instead of enabling. A new Positive Discipline tool is called Energetic Encouragement.
Energetic Encouragement
Sometimes, the most encouraging thing a parent can do is to sit close by and keep his or her mouth shut while simply sending out energetic support. A unique feature of Positive Discipline parenting classes and workshops is to use experiential activities to help parents practice skills and “get into the child’s world” to process the effects of their skills.
In a recent workshop I asked a volunteer to be her 5-year-old who has temper tantrums when she "wants something now." I had her sit in a chair next to me (so we didn't have to sit on the floor) and told her to role-play her daughter having a tantrum while I role-played the mom sending out energetic support. All I did was sit there and watch her with a compassionate look on my face. It was fun to process with her later how she was aware of what I was doing even though she was in the middle of her tantrum. She shared that she felt loved and supported—even though she was a little frustrated that her tantrum didn’t “work.”
            I pointed out that when children feel confused because their behavior isn’t “working,” they are ready to go “shopping” for a new behavior. So, even though a Positive Discipline Tool doesn’t seem to be encouraging changed behavior, it may be effective in the long-term once the child decides to shop for another behavior. Use the following questions to make sure you provide an encouraging shopping environment:                         
  1. Are you promoting SELF-evaluation or dependence on the evaluation of others?
  2. Are you inviting your child to think or telling him what to think?
  3. Are you allowing your child to figure things out for herself or engaging her in problem solving), or are you rescuing and fixing things for her?
  4. Are you considering what your child might be thinking, feeling and deciding in response to what you do or say, or do you avoid getting into your child’s world?
  5. Are you helping your child feel capable or dependent? 
If you can answer yes to the first part of each of these questions, it is likely that you are being encouraging to your child. If not, now might be a good time to start allowing for the courage to be imperfect.  J

[1]  to read the complete article

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


If you have listened to the news lately, you have heard some of the debates over healthcare reform. The fighting, shouting, name-calling and taking things out of context, could be humorous if we were watching three-year-olds.

What could the politicians and “talking heads” learn by observing a Positive Discipline Class Meeting or a Positive Discipline Family Meeting?
  1. To be respectful?
  2. To take turns talking instead of interrupting each other. (Maybe they could even start using a talking stick to know whose turn it is.)
  3. To stop the name-calling, taking things out of context, slanting comments to fit their point of view.
  4. To listen and validate another point of view. (Validating does not mean agreeing.)
  5. To stop focusing on being right and making each other wrong.
  6. To brainstorm for solutions and choose those that are respectful to everyone.
  7. To develop social interest (concern for the needs of everyone) instead of power to push personal agendas.
What would happen if everyone refused to listen to all 24-hour news stations for a week? A month would be even better. We wouldn’t miss anything. They would still be talking about the same things, 24-7. And, they might get the message that we are not entertained by so much negativity. Anyone want to join me in a book titled Positive Discipline for Politicians and Talking Heads?

Just kidding.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Class Meetings for Preschoolers


At what age can children participate in class meetings? 


I do class meetings every morning with my little preschool group (made up entirely of 3.5 yr olds), and it's really a class meeting/circle time hybrid.  Every morning one of the children is the "meeting leader" and starts off our good morning song (in the two languages of their choice).  Then they check the weather and give a report.  Next we give compliments and appreciations (they are so fabulous at this, gives me goose bumps... we learned this by sharing something we had done ourselves that we felt good about, then noticing things that our friends had done that we 
felt good about and appreciating it).  Then we either play a game based on one of the PD student activities, simplified and made developmentally appropriate (ie., cooperative ball rolling, bugs & wishes, feeling faces, etc.) or we do "doggy problem solving", where our stuffed dogs have a problem that I act out (one that either I have observed or the children bring up to me) and the children help them.  I used to do this with puppets, but this group has such an attachment to these toy dogs, so that's what we use now.  We end with a book, chosen by the meeting leader.  It typically takes about 25 minutes, which can be a long time for some groups in my experience, but this little group has been
 known to draw it out even longer with extra songs and stories and games.  It's fun and exciting, and yes, they do get it!  I love hearing them later make connection after connection, and hearing that they bring these things home to their families, and the practice is adopted at home, too.  Very cool indeed.  I'm currently phasing out my family home daycare and moving in a new professional direction, and I have to say that our cl
ass meetings are one of the things I will miss the most.   

Eryn Rodger, Certified Positive Discipline Associate, Santa Cruz, CA 

Another Answer: 

    I directed an Adlerian private school in Bloomington, IL where we enrolled children from 3 years old-8th grade. Our ‘early learners’ all did regular class meetings. Most did then once weekly, and in the early program they mostly focused on compliments. When there was a problem they needed to discuss, the teachers 
of 3’s and 4’s led the conversation, but as the children grew in their maturity and ability to articulate, they took more leadership around the topics and the solutions.  We typically didn’t begin using an agenda until children were in kindergarten, which for us, was late 4’s through early 6’s depending on the child.

    I began at that school as a kindergarten teacher, and I started in January so the children were already well practiced in class meetings and they trained me. I’ll never forget the feeling of utter equality as I sat on my 5-year-old sized ch
air and participated in the meetings without a real clue how it would work. A student was the leader and just handled the whole thing! I remember looking at the agenda in kindergarten and often the only thing I could read were the names. They would draw pictures of their problem or best guess spell it. Often we would pass the agenda to the person with the problem so they could read what they had written.  It didn’t faze them a bit that they couldn’t spell yet, or barely write for that matter. It was pretty cool.

    I strongly believe that this is the time to start with kids.  When they begin to practice this kind of community at such a young age, problem solving is not a big deal. It’s just part of being in community in a classroom, or family, or life. They get it.  

    Dina Emser, Life Coach and Certified Positive Discipline Associate, Eureka, IL 

Following is an excerpt from Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, Chapter 16 on Class Meetings for Preschoolers, by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Duffy 

      It is class meeting time at the ABC Preschool. As the youngsters settle into a circle, Mr. Scott, the teacher, consults the agenda. “It sounds like we’ve had a problem on the playground with people throwing wood chips at one another. Does anyone have something to say about this problem, or can someone offer a suggestion of how we might solve it?”

      Five-year-old Girard raises his hand. “Whoever throws wood chips could take a cool-off!” Four-year-old Natalie waves her hand, and when called upon, offers, “We could not have wood chips anymore and have grass instead.”

      The teacher looks toward three-year-old Cristina, whose little hand has been patiently held aloft, and calls on her. “Guess what?” Cristina says with a bright smile.

      “What, Cristina?” Mr. Scott asks.

      “I had bananas in my cereal today.”

      “Mmmm, that must have tasted good.” Mr. Scott smiles and thanks Cristina for her comment, then asks for more suggestions about the wood chip problem. Although Cristina clearly is not thinking about wood chips, she is still a valued member of the group.

      When children are old enough to participate actively in group or circle time activities (usually around the age of two and a half ), they are ready for class meetings. Class meetings are a wonderful way to help children learn cooperation, contribution, and problem-solving skills. This class agreed that they wouldn’t throw woodchips anymore—a suggestion that had never worked when teachers pleaded, but was very effective when suggested by a child and agreed upon by the whole class. 

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Different Parenting Styles


Do you have any information that addresses the issue of differing parent styles in the home. ie one parent wants to use the positive parent style but the other wants to use rewards and punishments to control? What can the positive discipline parent do to when dealing with the issues that result from an "anti positive discipline" parenting style?

Thank you


Since so many people ask this question, I wrote the following:


It is interesting to note that two people with these opposing philosophies often get married. One has a tendency to be just a little too lenient. The other has a tendency to be just a little too strict. Then the lenient parent thinks he or she needs to be just a little more lenient to make up for the mean old strict parent. The strict parent thinks he or she needs to be just a little more strict to make up for the wishy washy lenient parent—so they get further and further apart and fight about who is right and who is wrong. In truth they are both being ineffective.

One way to help children and parents learn effective communication is to have regular family meetings where they have an pportunity, on a weekly basis, to brainstorm for solutions to problems and to choose the solutions that are respectful to everyone. Focusing on solutions is one of the best ways for “opposites” to get closer together and be supportive of each other and their children, and is discussed in more detail in chapter six of Positive Discipline..

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Class Meetings—So Many Benefits

I feel passionately about the value of class meetings in schools and family meetings in homes to teach children many valuable social and life skills for good character. They learn to listen to each other and to value differences. They learn to help each other by focusing on solutions to problems that are respectful to all concerned. They learn that they can be accountable for their mistakes because they won’t experience blame or shame. Instead they will get help from their fellow students during the brainstorming process for solutions. They can then choose the solutions they think will be most helpful.

However, class meetings aren’t about perfection. They don’t provide magic pills that solve all problems immediately. Learning the skills for effective class meetings takes time just as reading, writing, and arithmetic take time—and when practiced skills improve and deepen.

The following Q and A provides an example of the joys and frustrations that can be experienced when first implementing class meetings.

Class Meetings Working Except for One Child


We implemented the class meeting format in November and the kids love it. They are coming up with real strategies that are helping one another. I have a lot of confidence and am happy with the results with most of the children except for one. A young girl age 6, grade 2, youngest child. She has difficultly dealing with other children and often displays a goal of Misguided Power or Revenge. She is often violent with the other children. I have started sharing special time with her, and giving her purposeful jobs that allow her to play a positive helper role with the other kids.

I myself however am still confused. You talk about firmness. When she acts out violently I let her know that the behavior is unacceptable and ask if she needs some time to cool off. She is often able to apologize after and can see that her behavior was inappropriate. I feel that the violence is not getting better. The kids are all asking why she is not being held accountable for her actions. We discuss it at class meetings and the other kids identify her behavior as attention seeking and often offer to work with her or ask for her help but it doesn’t seem to be working. I am lost in my follow through here. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you so much



Hi Reagan,

In my experience, there is always one child in every classroom who decides to be the challenging student. If that child should happen to move, it seems that another child is happy to take that role.

I remember sitting in one classroom where "Phillip" was discussed in 3 of the 4 items on the agenda. I asked Phillip if he felt the kids were helping him or ganging up on him. He grinned and said they were helping him. Later I asked the teacher if he saw any improvement in Phillip. He admitted, "Not much, but a huge improvement in the other children. They used to see Phillip ask the scapegoat and blame him for everything. Now they really try to help him. Phillip gives them lots of opportunities to practice their skills.

Keep doing the wonderful things you are doing and focus on improvement instead of expecting perfection.

I would love to hear some examples of other problems that children have solved.

Jane Nelsen

Friday, February 20, 2009

Disciplina Positiva

Disciplina Positiva, the Spanish translation of the 2006 edition of Positive Discipline is now available at Stay tuned for an announcement of the audio book now being edited.

While visiting take a few minutes to watch the video clip of H. Stephen Glenn. Steve is so funny and entertaining as he provides valuable parenting information for Developing Capable Young People.

I was very pleased to find such an excellent review of Positive Time Out and 50 Ways to Avoid Power Struggles in Homes and Classrooms at

This is a favorite book of many who appreciate how short it is while providing so many Positive Discipline parenting and teaching tools.

I have 5 children, 9, 7, 5, 2, and 6 months. My oldest son is 7. It seems that of all of my children, he is the one I have the most trouble with now. For example, I send him to get ready for bed and he just dawdles around in his room. And if I don't remind him over and over again what he is was sent to do, he just dawdles around for a never-ending amount of time it seems. This seems to be the case for most any task that I give him to do. If he is sent on an errand, he quickly forgets what it was he was supposed to be doing and never returns. Is this normal age appropriate behavior? Should I not let it bother me so much? Heidi

Dear Heidi, This is normal behavior for many children (they are all different—as you know) AND there are parenting tools you could use that might help. 1) Try creating a routine chart with him? This means that you sit down with him and take dictation while he lists all the things he needs to do at bedtime. If he forgets something, you can chime in. Have him rank order his list. Then take digital pictures of him doing each task and paste them on his "routine chart" (or ask if he would rather draw pictures or symbols after each task). Then let him post his chart where he can see it. Do not add stickers or rewards which take away from the inner reward of feeling capable. 2) One other tool I'll mention is the use of family meetings where he can get help from everyone in the family who can brainstorm solutions--and then he can choose the solution he thinks would work best for him. Of course there are many, many more ideas in the Positive Discipline books. I think you will enjoy watching the video of H. Stephen Glenn on the home page of and listening to some of the free podcasts at for more ideas. I wish you the best.
Jane Nelsen