What is Positive Discipline? A Brief Overview of an Adlerian Parenting Model

March 21, 2013


Ballentine Books, 2006

How can discipline be “positive”? Isn’t the idea of discipline to make children feel bad so they won’t misbehave again? Although this belief was common in the past, many parents, teachers and psychologists now prefer a different approach.

The meaning behind the word “discipline” can offer some understanding to a new way of thinking. In the book, Positive Discipline (Ballentine Books, 2006), author Jane Nelsen explains that the word discipline comes from the Latin root disciplus, which means “to teach” or “to become a venerated leader.”

How is Positive Discipline Different from Traditional Discipline?

Instead of using punishment to stop negative behaviors, positive discipline takes the approach of teaching life skills and encouraging children to explore how capable they are. Positive discipline discourages the use of punishment (blame, shame and pain) and encourages the use of tools that help children mend their mistakes, make restitution and use age-appropriate problem solving.

Positive discipline philosophy also respects a child’s developmental stages and age-appropriate behaviors. For example, parents are urged to child proof a home instead of expecting that a toddler won’t touch breakable items on a coffee table.

Positive discipline strategies teach parents to be firm, yet respectful when setting limits  and exploring solutions with children. Jane Nelsen offers five criteria for Positive Discipline:

  1. Helps children feel a sense of connection
  2. Is mutually respectful and encouraging
  3. Is effective long-term
  4. Teaching important social and life skills
  5. Invites children to discover how capable they are

Positive discipline believes that a healthy parent-child relationship is the best environment for children to learn life skills and social-emotional skills. Examples of popular positive discipline parenting tools are

Positive Discipline – Similarities to Old Style Parenting

One aspect of positive discipline seems more old school than new. Positive discipline philosophy expects children to do chores and help out around the house from an early age. Positive discipline does not encourage pampering of children and aims to help children develop a sense that they are capable.

The positive discipline view insists that helicopter parenting (rescuing kids from experiencing the consequences of their actions) is harmful to children in the long run. If a child arrived at school and discovered he left his homework at home, he might call a parent to ask the parent to bring it to school. The positive discipline parent would respectfully explain to the child that he or she isn’t willing to drive the homework to the school.

Why Rewards are Not Part of Positive Discipline

Rewards seem positive, right? Not so, says a bundle of research and the positive discipline philosophy. Both punishments and rewards teach children to look for an outside source for motivation. Positive discipline wants to promote an inner motivation for children – qualities liken to a work ethic, responsibility to others and a sense of teamwork. According to those who support positive discipline, the motivation behind completing a task is just as important as doing the task.

In the book Positive Discipline, Jane Nelsen warns that luring kids with rewards creates children who become approval junkies and adopt a “what’s in it for me?” attitude. Instead, she suggests parents model and provide opportunities for children to learn the skills of cooperation, contribution, daily routines, problem solving, and so on.

Psychological Basis for Positive Discipline

The positive discipline philosophy is based on the work of Alfred Adler, who is credited as the founder of individual psychology. Instead of using a system of punishments and rewards, Adler believed that the primary goal of all people, including children, is to seek a feeling of belonging and significance to a group. Adler believed in equality for all, as well as the notion that pampering children is extremely damaging to one’s sense of self and one’s perceptions about belonging in a group setting.

Kelly014Kelly Pfeiffer

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

Think It Through Parenting

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5 Minute Energy Boosters for Parents’ Morning Routines

March 18, 2013

Morning Energy BoostersI know it’s hard to push yourself through the morning routine every twenty-four hours. You feel like your eyes were closed for less than an hour and now the sun’s coming up. Yes, you need more sleep. Yes, you might have to leave some things  undone to get more sleep. I hope you do get more sleep soon. Whether you’re getting enough sleep or now, you still lack energy to put into all of the demands of parenting.

Try a little nurturing for yourself first thing in the morning. Take five to ten minutes for yourself. Use this time to remind yourself of who your are (not just a mom) and what gifts you want to bestow on the world today.

Quick – Make a List

Grab a piece of paper and write down ten things or activities that give you energy. Circle a few that you can fit into your mornings. Try them out and see which ones help you frame the morning in a new way. If you’re not sure what I mean, take a look at the list of examples here. I want you to get creative! Expand your ideas about self-care. You may be overlooking some simple acts that could boost your attitude and your energy level. Create new rituals that fill your emotional cup in the morning or raise your energy level.

5 Minute Energy Boosters for Parents’ Morning Routines

  1. Energy Boost Playlist – Set your alarm to wake you with your favorite songs that offer your encouragement or a reminder of your gifts. Create a playlist for your shower or sink time.
  2. Energy Walk – Get your heart pumping with a solitary walk to the end of the street and back (this of course assumes there’s someone staying home with the kids for this five minutes.)
  3. Dancing Spirit Boost – Dance yourself awake to your favorite inspirational music. Dance in front of the mirror  if you like.
  4. Green Thumb Energy – Do you love plants or gardening? Find a way to interact with your plants each morning. Watering time could be first on your list once a week. Park a plant in your bathroom or dressing area and talk to it or start a topiary and check on it each morning, adjusting and guiding the vines.
  5. Joke of the Day – Subscribe to an app or list that sends you a joke each morning so you can laugh on your way to the shower.
  6. Nature Nurture Boost – Sit outside and listen to the morning sounds of nature. Watch for birds from your window. Take your dog out for a morning break.

Not in the Habit of Nurturing Yourself?

Parents often put themselves last on the list of people to take care of. I’m a big believer in taking care of the care taker. Parents need lots of nurturing too. You give and give everyday and soon you find that you’re running on an empty tank. If you’re not sure what would nurture you, grab a free copy of my Self-Care Map for Parents.

You know what it feels like to give and give until you’re depleted. Now try working from a new mindset. Taking care of you IS taking care of your kids. You’re giving them a more refreshed, more energetic and a more engaged parent!

So, what will you add to your morning routine? Tell me in the comment box below.

Kelly014Kelly Pfeiffer

Think It Through Parenting

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

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Take Time for Training to Improve Your Mornings with Kids

March 12, 2013

Take Time for Training 2

Take time for training is #8 on Jane Nelsen’s list of Positive Discipline Guidelines and as Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps know, Tellin’ Ain’t Training [American Society for Training and Development, 2011.] Sometimes parents confuse telling with training. We all know what telling looks like, but what does training look like?

Taking time for training can look like many different things. Here’s a list of ideas that take time to teach children what to do and how to do it – without telling them. Many of these idea are Positive Discipline tools included in the Positive Discipline Tool Card set.

  1. Routines – Help children create routine charts to encourage self-discipline.
  2. Curiosity Questions – Ask instead of tell to invite children to think and choose. (What’s next on your chart?)
  3. Do the Task Together at First – Complete tasks with your children instead of for them. Put your dishes in the dishwasher alongside your child until your child learns the habit. Make breakfast with your child. Clean out a messy backpack with your child.
  4. Avoid Pampering – It’s often easier to do tasks for kids, rather than take the time and patience to allow children to complete a new task. Focus on the long range goal of teaching independence and confidence building.
  5. Let Your Child Struggle – Avoid Rescuing – Again, it’s easier and faster for us to complete tasks, but struggling builds persistence, confidence and communicates to your child that you have faith in him or her.
  6. Allow for Mistakes – Making mistakes is part of the learning process. Expect children to make mistakes while they are learning.
  7. Give Encouraging Words – Acknowledge effort and success. Express faith in your child that they will eventually master the task.
  8. Natural Consequences – If your child forgets his lunch, resist the urge to run back to school to give it to him. Have faith in your child to figure out a solution. If your child calls and asks you to bring the lunch, ask what else he can think of to solve the problem.

Humans learn through best through experience, not by someone telling them what to do. We know this is true or else we’d never hear parents say, “But I’ve told you a hundred times.”

Kelly014Kelly Pfeiffer

Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

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Family Planning for Morning Routines – Setting the Scene at Night

March 6, 2013

Morning Tip the night beforeParents, you can’t single-handedly turn around the family morning routine. You need buy in and cooperation from the family. The idea of inviting cooperation and giving all family members ownership is a big one for Positive Discipline. I’ve outlined a few steps you can take that will show you that you can work together.

Family Planning for Morning Routines

  1. Schedule a family meeting, Positive Discipline Style. That means that the meeting starts out with each family member giving a compliment to another family member. This exchange of positive language sets the stage for the family meeting.
  2. After compliments, ask your family to brainstorm things they are doing in the morning that they could do the night before.
  3. Ask each family member if they are willing to choose one thing from the list that they will do at night instead of waiting until morning.
  4. Try the changes for a week.
  5. After a week, gather the family together again. Start with compliments again and check in to see how everyone’s doing. If your family is typical, everyone didn’t remember to complete the task the night before. That’s okay. Change is difficult and it takes time to change. Ask each person to think of a way to help them to remember to do the task the night before.

This small step can help your family start to learn to work together and make small changes towards calmer mornings.

Respect the Process – Baby Steps

Now parents, I know you want some quick change fairy dust that you can sprinkle over yourself and your whole family to help you all change your habits. I don’t have any to offer, but if you find any, let me in on the awesome news! Obviously we all weren’t meant to change our habits quickly. It takes time to change. You might also be tempted to add more changes for your family than the one I’m suggesting above. After all, won’t more change create more calm? Actually too much change means too much stress. We humans adapt slowly. Make small changes until those changes feel like they are now a routine and then work on another change.

Set your expectations for small changes and you’ll have more of your expectations met. After that you can create a new step – a new expectation. Be encouraging to yourself and to your family while all of you are working on changes. Build each other up. Allow for mistakes – mistakes are a healthy part of the learning process. If you need to, repeat the last sentence to yourself over and over again to stay patience while your family works together for change.

Family Meeting Perfection Doesn’t Exist

Some families expect that kids will know and understand how a family meeting works after being told the steps. Remember that your kids aren’t not accustomed to having meetings like you do at work. They aren’t familiar with being given the opportunity to solve problems. Parents may feel like giving up if the first meeting doesn’t “work” like they think it’s supposed to. Learning to work together takes time. That’s why I suggest a short approach at first.

Jane Nelsen, the author the book, Positive Discipline has some great suggestions in this article on family meetings. The standard family meeting format is a tad different from my suggestion, but I’m asking you to focus on one issue instead of using a family meeting agenda (which you can certainly do at a later time.) That being said, you may want to read over Dr. Nelsen’s article.

Post Your Feedback Here

I’d love to know how these changes are going! Post any results here in the comment section or on the Think It Through Parenting facebook page. Questions are welcome too!

Kelly014Have fun with it!!!

Kelly Pfeiffer

Think It Through Parenting

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer


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Positive Discipline Tools Can Turn Around Your Morning Routine

March 4, 2013

PD Tools Morning MadnessParents, are you spending lots of time nagging your kids each morning? Are you or your kids starting your morning off in a grumpy mood? Maybe your kids are the ones arguing with each other? Whatever the struggle, you feel it most mornings and you wish the day could start off on a sunnier side.

You hope this problem might get better and every once a while, you do notice that your family makes it through the morning without growling. Those moments are nice, but you wish they happened more often. You try to wake up in a good mood and use lots of patience, but still you find yourself feeling stressed more often than not. You’ve talked to your kids and explained the importance of having a good attitude. You’ve lost your cool with your kids and said things you regret. You’ve threatened consequences if your kids aren’t ready on time. But still your mornings look roughly the same.

You Need a New Plan

Not sure where to start? You know you want different results, but nothing you’ve tried has reduced the morning chaos. Most likely that’s because you’re been trying to treat the symptoms of your morning madness instead of addressing the root of the problem. That’s where Positive Discipline can help. Positive Discipline tools are different from most popular parenting tools because Positive Discipline is based on addressing underlying issues that are causing the symptoms.

You may want to know (if you don’t already) that some people use the term “positive discipline” to describe any discipline that isn’t negative, but “Positive Discipline” is actually a parenting book and curriculum that got its start in 1981. “Positive Discipline” is based on a model that is different from traditional parenting. Instead of using punishments and rewards, “Positive Discipline” uses tools that are firm on setting limits but also respect the parent child relationship and the child’s developmental stage.

Focus on Solutions

Another way that Positive Discipline tools are different is that the majority of the strategies focus on solutions for the future rather than punishment for the past. That’s what Conquering Morning Madness is about – focusing on solutions for your morning struggles. During the entire month of March, Think It Through Parenting will help you focus on new ways to look at morning behaviors and new ways to structure your morning.

Conquering Logo

I’ve been teaching Positive Discipline to parents for over thirteen years through live workshops. Not only do I train parents, but I also train Positive Discipline parent educators. As a Positive Discipline Lead Trainer, I conduct workshops that certify and teach others how to work with parents. During the month of March, I’ll lead you through steps to set your mornings on a different course.

How to Benefit the Most from Conquering Morning Madness

To get all of the parenting tips I’ll be offering during March, you’ll only need to do two things.

  1. Like the Think It Through Parenting facebook  page – I’ll be posting daily inspiration, tips and links to my latest blog posts on my facebook page all about Conquering Morning Madness.
  2. Sign up for my Think It Through Parenting Newsletter – I’ll be sending our four newsletters (one per week) during the month of March and they’ll contain extra pointers and articles that won’t be shared on the facebook page. Also when you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll receive a free gift from me, the Self-Care Starter Kit for Parents.

One More Bonus for You – Free Conference Call for Parents

Also as a part of Conquering Morning Madness, I’ll be offering a free conference call for parents called Morning Momentum Tools for Parents. This free conference call will take place during the third week of March. Stay tuned for details on how to register for this free conference call workshop with me. I’ll post the registration information on the Think It Through Parenting facebook page and in the weekly newsletters.

So let’s dive in and get your mornings back on track.  I hope they’ll look a lot different at the end of the month. We’re having our own type of March Madness here at Think It Through Parenting – one that carry on throughout the year.

Kelly014Kelly Pfeiffer

Think It Through Parenting

Positive Discipline Lead Trainer


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Conquering Morning Madness in March with Positive Discipline Tools

February 28, 2013


Conquering Logo

Parents, want sunnier mornings?

For the month of March, I’ll offer parenting tools, organizational ideas and encouragement

all about mornings for your family

Look for

-31 days of facebook posts-

-twice a week blog posts-

-weekly newsletters-


-a free live conference call – Morning Momentum Tools for Families-

all about conquering morning madness

from Think It Through Parenting

Interactive & Creative Positive Discipline Training for Parents


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Parent Burn Out Prevention – Find the Fuel that Feeds You

February 26, 2013

find the fuel editedYou’re a good parent. You’re an involved parent. You have high expectations of yourself. Those are all great qualities about you. But how often are you experiencing that burn-out feeling?

Moms and dads, do you know what feeds your soul? Without stopping to think, can you name three activities that relax you and recharge your energy supply? If you didn’t do well on that little test then I’m here to encourage you to reclaim who you are  – in addition to being a parent.

A Random Moment that Reminded Me of You Parents

Tonight I’m sitting in a quiet house. I’m the only one home. For dinner, I prepared myself some junky comfort food – my favorite brand of frozen lasagne and a soda. (Yeah, I know. I don’t eat this way all the time.) There’s no music playing, no television on (mine only turns on when my husband or kids are home.) All I hear is the hum of the refrigerator and the clicking of my laptop keys. I’m super relaxed! This is fuel for my introvert self. This same scene might be torture for someone else, but I know it makes me happy.

I wasn’t even planning on working tonight – as in I wasn’t planning on writing this post. I was planning on completely relaxing while I have the house to myself. But I noticed such a difference in myself, I felt inspired to write this message to you- get to know yourself better – so you can have more moments of relaxation too.

How Well Do You Know Yourself?

Odds are that if you’re a parent, you focus your thoughts on your kids more than yourself. What do your kids need? What changes are your kids struggling with? What would help you child become a better person? What can you cook for dinner that your kids will eat?

I’d like to suggest to you that you start paying more attention to yourself. Just a little. If you’re reading my blog, my bet is that you’re not the kind of parent who will become self-absorbed, so I’m not worried at all about you turning into a slacker parent. And if you’re concerned about what your neighbors or friends might think, just don’t mention that you’re trying to be a better parent by focusing on yourself a little.

I’d like for you to get to know yourself better so you’ll be able to choose some effective self-care strategies in the future. You know, the next time a random moment arises that you get 30 minutes to yourself and you don’t even know what to do with it.

find the fuel editd croppedAre You an Introvert or an Extrovert?

If you don’t know the answer to the question above, there’s a easy way to find out. Do you feel recharged from being around people or from being alone? If you get recharged from being around people, you’re most likely an extrovert. If you feel relaxed and calmer after being alone, then you’re an introvert. This is a simple but important step in knowing yourself and discovering what will truly refuel you and give you more energy.

If you’re an extrovert, your self-care plan might include going out with friends, having friends over or simply phoning a friend for a chat. If you’re an introvert, then nurturing yourself might look like soaking in a tub with the door locked or curling up with a good book in a room alone.

There are tons of short quizzes on-line that you can take to find out whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.  Here’s one quiz by the author of the book, Quiet [Broadway, 2013]. I’m only slightly introverted. I do enjoy people tremendously, but when I don’t get alone time for a while, I notice that my stress level rises.

Remember that You Don’t Have a Fairy Godmother


What Activities Calm You and Recharge You at the Same Time?

After deciding that you’re either an introvert or an extrovert, work on pinpointing some specific activities that might refuel you. This can be as simple as brainstorming and writing a list and then trying out the activities to see what works. You may discover that your favorite activities from your pre-parenting days still work well for you or you may find out that you crave something a bit different. But you won’t know until you start trying.

©2012 Kelly Pfeiffer

©2012 Kelly Pfeiffer

Learn more about yourself and discover more possibilities for self-care with the Self-Care Starter Kit for Parents available at my esty store called Encouragement Central.

Kelly Pfeiffer

Certified Positive Discipline Trainer




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Power Struggle Prevention Tools – Free Webinar from Think It Through Parenting

February 19, 2013

Power Struggles Webinar ImageGot power struggles with kids? Want Positive Discipline tools that address issues in a different way?

The definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

I need to remember the line above myself. This past weekend, I reminded myself of this exact message. For some reason, I’d been addressing an issue with my child in the same way over and over again and guess what?  YES! I kept getting the same results. This time, I decided that I’d rather try something different than repeat the same power struggle storyline again. I knew that it was possible that I’d still get the same results as before, but I was willing to try something different to see if I achieved different results. But it got me wondering – why do we continue to try the same strategy when we’ve seen consistent results from our efforts?

All parents try this “rinse and repeat” strategy.  Somehow we convince ourselves that because we’re approaching a situation with tons of respect and care for our child, that if we just try it one more time, we’ll finally get the same amount of respect in return. Simply asking our kids to do something in a nice way is only one tool. If it’s resulting in a power struggle, why not try a different tool?

What power struggles are you having over and over with your child? I know you’ve tried to approach the situation with care, concern and respect, but still experience the same power struggle again, right? You’re not alone. It happens here at my house too.

Change Your Tool – Change Your Results

This past weekend, I decided that I needed to try a different approach. I realized that if I used the the same approach as before, it would most likely yield the same results. In the past, this issue has resulted in a push back from my child and felt like a power struggle. I decided to try a different way to communicate and to my surprise, there was only a small push back, which did not develop into a power struggle and the issue was resolved. (I try to be general in my descriptions at times to protect my dear children. Out of respect for them, I do not want to publicize their lives.)

Positive Discipline Tools for Preventing Power Struggles

Positive Discipline has plenty of parenting tools that help prevent power struggles. On Tuesday, February 26, I’ll introduce 5 specific tools that prevent and side-step power struggles in my free parenting webinar:

Power Struggle Prevention Tools for Positive Discipline Parents

Power Struggles Webinar Image

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

12:30pm EST/11:30am CST/10:30am MST/9:30am PST

Parents, in this hour-long webinar, you’ll learn:

5 mistakes parents make that escalate power struggles

as well as

5 Positive Discipline tools that prevent power struggles

This parenting webinar is absolutely free but you must reserve your seat. Mark this event on your calendar, then register by CLICKING HERE.

You’ll be asked to enter your e-mail (which I will never share with anyone) so I can send you the link to the webinar at least 24 hours before the event.

I look forward to seeing you in the webinar!

Kelly Pfeiffer

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer


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What’s Missing from Your Morning Routine? Could it be Curiosity & Connection?

February 18, 2013

Morning ConnectionHow are you mornings going? Want to see more smiles? This month’s featured parenting tool is routines. Read on to get tips on using two tools for creating morning routines that aren’t full of drudgery.

Mornings can be quite hectic when they involve guiding and prompting children to eat breakfast, stop playing with toys, get dressed and travel to the car. For younger kids, add climbing into a car seat and sitting still enough for buckling procedures. Older kids often need reminders about lunch boxes, back packs, homework and sports equipment. The task of getting kids up and out the door each morning feels “full” – full of details, full of nags, full of tension and time constraints.

Curiosity Questions for Morning Routines

During my live parenting workshops, I often recommend visual routine charts as a way for kids to “see” the tasks they need to complete each morning. Often I ask a volunteer to be a child who has learned the steps in a routine. Then I ask curiosity questions to the “child” (volunteer) to help the child stay focused on completing the next task. My goal is to show parents an alternative to nagging – by asking curiosity questions. When parents nag, kids can tune us out. But when parents ask questions, kids have to turn the wheels on in their brains to search for the answers.

Examples of curiosity questions to use with routines and routine charts:

  • What’s next on your routine?
  • What do you need to do next to get out the door on time?
  • What ideas do you have for getting your clothes on?

Connection for Morning Routines

The routines tool is a good one, but one I think is best paired with connection. A morning routine full of boring “must do” tasks won’t produce long term results for your child. What your child craves most is connection with you. Build a morning routine for your child around the concept of connection. To start, ask yourself these questions:

  • How can I weave connection activities into my child’s morning routine?
  • How does my child like to connect with me in the morning?
  • What tasks can my child and I do together?000023102

These connections can be as short as a “hug mom” between your child getting dressed and eating breakfast or as long as the two of you brushing your teeth together or reading a story together.

Changing Our View of Routines

In our culture the word routines does sound boring and is usually associated with dry tasks, but it doesn’t have to be that way at your house. What quick but playful elements can you try in your morning routine? Here are a few ideas to get your mind turning:

  • joke of the day (your kid can subscribe to this on-line and tell you the joke)
  • 2 minutes of snuggle time
  • high fives throughout the routine on Mondays, hugs on Tuesdays, hip bump on Wednesdays, crazy dance on Thursdays, etc.
  • make up a silly morning song

Share Your Ideas for Morning Routines

What do you do to add play and connection to your morning routines with your kids? Share you ideas below so other parents can benefit!

Kelly014Kelly Pfeiffer

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

Think It Through Parenting

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When You Blow It As a Parent – Dealing with Guilt and Shame

utah_county_reception_venue CROPPEDParenting rewards us with plenty of smiles, laughter and celebrations. There are lots of highs when kids accomplish new skills or utter those “out of the mouths of babes” comments. When parenting is great, it’s really great!

Being a parent also has its lows – sleepless nights, sick toddlers and the everyday pressure to keep kids fed, clean and expanding in moral development. It’s not an easy job and all parents know that some days it feels like too much. You’ve been there. I don’t know a parent who hasn’t been there. The pressure slowly builds up inside of you – your words start to sound snippy, your tone of voice raises or lowers, signaling that you’re nearing the end of your rope. So when a drink is spilled or siblings argue over a toy, the event becomes  the last straw and you find yourself exploding with shouts of threats and shame. Of course this scares your kids – they cry and you hope the neighbors aren’t home to hear the commotion.

In many homes, this scene ends with some of all family members in separate rooms to step away from the conflict and calm down. After you calm down, you try to process what happened and why it ended so harshly. You might float back and forth between blaming the kids for being so selfish as to want the same red truck ( because there’s another truck exactly like it in the toy box!) and blaming yourself for and wondering why you were SO bothered over one little argument.

How Does the Guilt or Shame Show Up for You?

If you’re like most parents, you feel guilt or shame after a blow up with your kids. You might feel guilt that you yelled. After all, you’re a good parent who loves your kids. How could have screamed those awful things? You might feel stupid about the threats you made. You know that you’re not going to take the toys away for three months, so why would you say such a silly thing? Maybe you’re still wondering about your neighbors and what they think of your parenting skills. Did they hear you screaming uncontrollably?

When my son was two-ish, I lost it while sitting in a parking lot in front of the CVS pharmacy in Simpsonville, SC. I still remember exactly where I was and the direction my car was facing in the parking lot. I screamed at the top of my lungs at my precious little boy. (I posted his picture yesterday on the Think It Through Parenting facebook page. He was almost four in the picture.) My son was sitting in the back seat on the right side. I have a vivid visual memory of the event. All of the doors were closed in the car and the windows were rolled up. I don’t remember why I was upset or what triggered my yelling. I do remember getting out of the car and feeling shame when I saw a man walking past. I was positive he’d heard me screaming from inside of the car just seconds before. I was embarrassed for sure. As I opened the door to get my son out of his car seat, the man smiled and said, “Aren’t children beautiful!”

I remember feeling intense shame and to this day I feel guilt when I think back on this event that happened eighteen years ago. Back when this happened, in 1995 I’d just recently read Jane Nelsen’s book Positive Discipline for the first time. I was excited about the new ideas I’d read on parenting and was trying hard to implement some of them. After I yelled at my son, I felt intense guilt and wondered if I was going to be able to be a good parent.

In Daring Greatly, Brene’ Brown writes, “According to Dr. Hartling, in order to deal with shame, some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves and keeping secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame.” How do you deal with the shame of making parenting mistakes?

What I Know Now That I’ve Learned from Positive Discipline

Since that day in 1995, I’ve learned tons about lowering my stress level. I’ve gained new skills to keep myself calm. I’ve acquired plenty of parenting tools to navigate differently around power struggles. (I’m sure my son and I were in some sort of power struggle when I yelled.) I’ve even practiced different ways to apologize when I make mistake. On top of all that, I view the mistake as a learning opportunity. I commit to making a new plan for how I will handle the situation differently the next time a similar one arises.

All of the tools above have helped me deal with my guilt in a way that is empowering for me as a person. And I’ve discovered some powerful teaching opportunities for my kids about  my mistakes. I now understand that we all make mistakes as parents. To me the issue is – what do we do as parents after we make the mistake?

As parents, we have lots of choices of how we handle the mistake. Some of us don’t discuss the mistake. We’re too embarrassed and don’t want to bring up the awful subject again. Or maybe you’re the type who hugs your kids and says a short, “I’m sorry” and you move on through the day without discussing the issue. Possibly you’re the type who apologizes over and over to your kids throughout the rest of the day. I think I’ve tried all of these methods and other ones until I focused on learning the Three R’s of Recovery, one of the Positive Discipline Parenting Tools.

I’ve been working on this issue of recovering from parenting mistakes since 1995. I’m much better at being proactive about my mistakes rather than being reactive. I now know that the actions I take after I make a mistake can be wonderful teachable moments for my children. I can be a role model for what to do after I make a mistake. What an awesome gift to give to my children!  And I don’t think my kids would learn these concepts as well if I was perfect and always kept my cool.  I think they learn more from watching my example – seeing how I pick up the pieces after I’ve caused damage. I’m not saying that I don’t feel any guilt or shame at all now when I blow it with my kids. I do believe that feeling a healthy sense of guilt indicates that I experience empathy and have a moral conscience. But now I’ve learned proactive ways to mend my mistakes, acts that relieve my guilt in a refreshing way because I know I’m also teaching and modeling skills.

We Can All Learn New Skills

I should probably add that now I don’t “lose it” often with my kids and haven’t for years. Through practicing Positive Discipline, I’ve learned to walk away or take a break before I reach the point of flipping my lid as well as other conflict resolution tools. There are so many layers and variables to dealing with parenting guilt, but using great relationship tools after the blow up is one that has helped tremendously.

In a future post, I’ll offer ideas about how exactly to use the Three R’s of Recovery.Kelly014

Kelly Pfeiffer

Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

Imperfect Mom to 2 Teens/Imperfect Step-Mom to 1 Teen & 1 Young Adult



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