Teaching parents about positive discipline strategies can help avoid child abuse

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends positive discipline strategies to teach children how to manage their behavior while keeping them safe from harm.

What is positive discipline?

Parenting comes with a lot of responsibility, which includes teaching a child how to behave. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatricians teach families about positive discipline strategies that can show children how to manage their behavior while keeping them safe from harm.

Positive discipline also can keep parents’ emotions under control, in order to avoid potential child abuse. Kentucky consistently has one of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect in the U.S., with more than double the national average for per capita child victimization rate.

“Parents are under a tremendous amount of stress, and if you don’t have tools in your toolbox for positive discipline, it’s a setup for things to go awry,” said Kelly L. Dauk, M.D., chair of the Norton Children’s Hospital Child Abuse Task Force and pediatric hospitalist with Norton Children’s Inpatient Care, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Using positive discipline is one of the best ways to help a child grow and develop.”

What are examples of positive discipline?

Here are five examples of positive discipline strategies:

  • Consistent schedules
  • Children are set up for success when they know what to expect, said Dr. Dauk. Conversely, parents can anticipate the potential for challenging behavior when schedules are disrupted.
  • Example: Keep kids on a schedule with eating, waking up and going to bed. If there has been a disruption in the schedule, parents can mentally prepare to for any behavioral issues. This could include having a snack or distracting activity ready.
  • Timeouts
  • Children usually need to be around 2 years old to understand the concept of a timeout. A child should sit in a quiet place with no activities or distractions. The duration of a timeout typically should reflect the child’s age in minutes.
  • Example: A 3-year-old should remain in a timeout for no longer than three minutes. Timeouts that exceed five to 10 minutes, regardless of a child’s age, tend to lose their value.
  • Set limits
  • Have clear and consistent rules that are explained in a way the child understands. For certain activities, using a timer can be helpful, and preparing children for a change can help them understand what is going to happen. For younger children, there should be a few, consistent rules they know to follow. Older children should be included for input on house rules.
  • Example: Tell the child, “We’re going to leave in five minutes, so when the timer goes off, you know that’s when we’re going to leave.” If a child has an outburst when the timer goes off, remain calm, look them in the eye and give them a reminder of the original rule. “We said when the timer goes off, it’s time to go, so it’s time to go.”
  • Redirection
  • If a child is misbehaving, try to distract them with another activity. If they are acting out in protest of something they don’t want to do, such as chores, try to appeal to their interests to make it more fun.
  • Example: If a child is refusing to pick up their toys, try turning it into a game or adding music, singing or dancing to the activity.
  • Model behavior
  • Be consistent between caregivers; parents should keep their word. If you tell the child something and don’t follow through, they will learn that their behaviors can continue.
  • Example: If you’re getting frustrated when parenting your child, model pausing to take a breath and calmly sharing that you are feeling frustrated with them and why.
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Take notice when the child is being good and reward their good behavior. Vocalize Toddlers respond well to someone speaking to them at eye level. Additionally, don’t hesitate to take a parent “time-in” as a way to offer the child one-on-one attention and praise.
  • Example: Tell the child, “I like how you put your books away.”

Additional Support

Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness offers education and programming on positive parenting skills and injury prevention. For more information visit NortonChildrens.com or call (502) 629-7358.

Why spanking children doesn’t work

According to the AAP, using spanking and harsh words as forms of discipline are not effective and have been proven harmful to children’s long-term physical and mental health.

“Positive reinforcement of good behavior is much more effective than punishing bad behavior through physical or verbal force,” said Melissa L. Currie, M.D., child abuse pediatrician and director of Norton Children’s Pediatric Protection Specialists, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Spanking, instead of correcting the behavior, often causes a child’s anger and aggression to increase, which leads to more poor behavior.”

Learn more about positive parenting strategies in the Norton Children’s “Parenting With You” podcast. In this episode, child abuse specialists discuss current issues around child abuse prevention, positive parenting techniques, and best ways to discipline young children.


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