Saturday, December 22, 2012


Helping children explore the consequences of their choices is much different from imposing consequences on them. Exploring invites the participation of children to think for themselves and figure things out for themselves, and to decide what is important to them and to decide what they want. The end result is focusing on solutions to the problem instead of consequences.

Imposing consequences often invites rebellion and defensive thinking instead of explorative thinking. The key to helping children explore is to stop telling and to start asking curiosity questions.

Too often adults tell children what happened, what caused it to happen, how the child should feel about it, what the child should learn from it, and what the child should do about it. It is much more respectful and encouraging when we ask what happened, what the child thinks caused it, how the child feels about it, what the child has learned, what ideas the child has to solve the problem, or how the child can use what she has learned in the future. This is the true meaning of education, which comes from the Latin word educare’, which means to draw forth. Too often adults try to stuff in instead of draw forth, and then wonder why children don’t learn.

 Watch this video for examples of Asking vs Telling.

Typical curiosity questions:

  • What were you trying to accomplish?
  • How do you feel about what happened?

  • What did you learn from this?
How can you use what you learned in the future?
  • What ideas do you have for solutions now?

I call these typical curiosity questions because it is important not to have a script. The point is to get into the child’s world. You’ll notice that "Why?" isn’t one of the suggested questions. The reason is that "Why?" usually sounds accusatory and invites defensiveness. This isn’t always the case. All of the questions can be asked in an accusatory tone of voice. "Why?" works when children feel that you are truly interested in their point of view.

The following guidelines will help when using curiosity questions:

  1. Don’t have an agenda. You aren’t getting into the child’s world if you have an agenda about how the child should answer these questions. That is why they are called curiosity questions.
  2. Don’t ask questions if either of you are upset. Wait until you are both feeling calm.
  3. Ask curiosity questions from your heart. Use your wisdom to show you how to get into the child’s world and show empathy and acceptance.

One of my favorite examples is the time my daughter shared with me her intention to get drunk at a party. I gulped and said, "Tell me more. Why are you thinking of doing that." She said, "Lots of kids do it and it looks like they are having fun." I stifled my temptation to lecture and asked, "What do your friends say about you now that you don’t drink." She thought about this and said, "They are always telling me how much they admire me and how proud they are of me." I continued, "What do you think they’ll say after you get drunk?" Again, I could watch her think before she said, "I’ll bet they’ll be disappointed." I followed with, "How do you think you’ll feel about yourself." I could tell this question made her think a little deeper. She paused a little longer before saying. "I’ll probably feel like a loser." This was soon followed by, "I don’t think I will."

If I hadn’t known about curiosity questions and the value of helping her explore the consequences of her choices, I would have been tempted to impose a punitive consequence—such as grounding her. Chances are that this would have inspired her to get sneaky instead of trusting that she could discuss things with me. The biggest loss would have been that she would not have had the opportunity to explore for herself the consequences of her choices and what she really wants in her life.

Parents and teachers have an ingrained habit of telling instead of asking. I jokingly challenge them just to notice how often they "tell" for two weeks, and to put a quarter in a jar every time they do. At the end of two weeks they will have enough money for the vacation of their dreams.

The suggested curiosity questions mentioned are what I call “Conversational Curiosity questions" because you are inviting a conversation. Sometimes curiosity questions can be very simple. I call the following examples “Motivational Curiosity Questions.”) Instead of telling a child, "Don’t forget your coat," ask, "What do you need if you don’t want to be cold?" Instead of, "Brush your teeth," ask, "What do you need to do so you’ll have clean teeth?" Instead of, "Go to bed," ask, "What was our agreement about bedtime?" As you think about the difference between "telling" and "asking," which do you think is more empowering to children? Which invites them to think and feel more cooperative?"

When the solutions come from the children, or are brainstormed together and the child chooses what will be most helpful, they learn that they can make a valuable contribution when using respectful decision-making skills. Children learn that mistakes aren’t horrible if you don’t beat yourself up about them and if you look at mistakes as ways to learn.

Parents and teachers who are just beginning to use positive discipline methods should work on only one thing at a time and remember to have the courage to be imperfect. To end the discipline war, (peace in the world can start with peace in homes and schools) it is imperative to stay out of power struggles and create an atmosphere where the long term effects for both children and adults are mutual respect, accountability, a sense of capability, resourcefulness and problem-solving skills. It is important to see mistakes as opportunities—to learn. Positive Discipline methods, including positive time-out, focusing on solutions, and asking curiosity questions help children feel capable and teaches them valuable social and life skills. A sense of belonging, significance, connection and cooperation are the long-term effects.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Limited Choices

Offering limited choices instead of making demands can be very effective. Children often respond to choices when they will not respond to demands, especially when you follow the choice with, "You decide." Choices should be respectful and should focus attention on the needs of the situation.

Choices are directly related to responsibility. Someone once said that we should have a statue of responsibility next to the stature of liberty.

Younger children are less capable of wide responsibility, so their choices are more limited. Older children are capable of broader choices, because they can assume responsibility for the consequences of their choice.

For instance, younger children might be given the choice of going to bed now or in five minutes. Older children might be given full responsibility for choosing their bedtime, because they also take full responsibility for getting themselves up in the morning and off to school without any hassles.

Choices are also directly related to the respect for, and convenience of, others. Younger children might be given the choice of coming to dinner on time or waiting until the next meal to eat, rather than expecting someone to cook and clean up more than once. Older children might be given the choice of being on time or fixing their own dinner and cleaning up any mess they make.

Whenever a choice is given, either alternative should be acceptable to the adult. My first try at choices was to ask my three year old, "Do you want to get ready for bed?" She didn’t. Obviously, the choice I offered was beyond the need (mine and hers) for her to go to bed, and the choice I offered did not include an alternative I was willing to accept. I waited five minutes and started again by asking, "Would you like to wear your pink pajamas or your blue pajamas? You decide." She chose her blue pajamas and started putting them on.

Adding, "You decide," after a choice is very empowering. It adds emphasis to the fact that the child does have a choice.

What if they don’t want either choice and want to do something else. If the something else is acceptable to you, fine. If it is not, say, "That isn’t one of the choices." And, then repeat the choices and, "You decide."

Children may not have a choice about many things, such as whether or not to do their homework. Homework needs to be done, but children can be offered a choice as to when they would like to do it, such as right after school, just before dinner, or after dinner.

As with every Positive Discipline tool, it is important to remember that there isn't one tool that works for every child in every situation. That is why we offer so many Positive Discipline tools. It is also important to remember that the feeling behind what you do is as important as what you do. The key is to be kind and firm at the same time.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Positive Discipline in France

I just have to share this email from Béatrice Sabate, A Certified Positive Discipline Trainer in France. I loved watching the video even though I don't understand French.

Hi everyone,

A few good news to share with all of you!
Last Wednesday, we got a 4mn during the evening news (prime time) on
national television :

In the video above, you will be able to see the 4mn including
Nadine's family talking about a few PD tools they are using at home
(all beautiful and natural and so PD!); and parents during a session
talking about what PD has brought to their life...very touching! It's
only 4 minutes when the shooting lasted 9 hours total but ... great
memories, wonderful sharing and a real sense of belonging for all the

The Positive Discipline book is now published in French, there are articles in the media such as ELLE magazine; Parents magazine; psychology magazine ... the sky will be the limit. The first Positive Discipine in the Classroom Workshop will happen at the end of February and we will have our second Teaching Parenting Workshop in January. A lot of seven week parenting classes are now running. We are all focused on spreading the Positive Discipline news in this lovely country who really is in need! It's a start but it's happening. A few French educators will go to the PDC in London in order to meet Jane and see Teresa again (as she already met them in Paris). We also have a facebook page : association discipline positive france. Check out our page!

It is amazing for all of us to be part of the Positive Discipline adventure. We are so grateful to all of you and your unconditional support.
As far as I am concerned I am also deeply thankful remembering the
day, 15 years ago, when I accidentally found Jane's book on a shelve
in an office where I was providing play therapy to kids ...
Warm hugs to all.


Encouragement vs Praise

Rudolf Dreikurs taught, “A child needs encouragement like 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 what encouragement means and how to do it. Let’s start with the difference between praise and encouragement. It would be helpful to download the file "Differences Between Praise and Encouragement".

Is it Praise or Encouragement?

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.

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, “Congratulations! You worked hard. You deserve it.” A subtle difference, but it will change the perception of your child.

The differences between encouragement and praise can be difficult to grasp for those who believe in praise and have seen immediate results. They have seen children respond to praise with beaming faces. However, they don’t think about the long-term effects. Praise is not encouraging because it teaches children to become “approval junkies.” They learn to depend on others to evaluate their worth. Encouragement leads to self reflection and self evaluation.

Now let's get back the the fact that children like praise. (So do I.) Praise is a little like candy. A little can be very satisfying. Too much can cause problems. Awareness is the key. Notice if your kids are becoming addicted to praise—need it all the time.

Those who want to change from praise to encouragement may find it awkward to stop and think before making statements that have become habitual. It will help to keep the following questions in mind when wondering whether the statements you make to children are praise or encouragement:
  • Am I inspiring self-evaluation or dependence on the evaluation of others?
  • Am I being respectful or patronizing?

  • Am I seeing the child’s point of view or only my own?

  • Would I make this comment to a friend?
I have found the last question especially helpful. The comments we make to friends usually fit the criteria for encouragement.

How to Encourage

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.

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. Show Faith in children so they can develop faith in themselves.
  5. Spending Special Time to make sure the message of love gets through.
The successful use of encouragement requires adult attitudes of respect, interest in the child’s point of view, and a desire to provide opportunities for children to develop life skills that will lead to self-confident independence from the negative opinions of others.