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4 Criteria for Effective Discipline: Kind and Firm

by Hannah Slattery, LPC, NCC


It’s time to dive deeper into understanding the basics of Positive Discipline. When beginning to incorporate Positive Discipline into your household it can be easy to go back to old beliefs, children have to always obey, I am the boss, etc. Remember Positive Discipline is fostered on the understanding that we are to teach our children with firmness and kindness. Firm being the follow through on appropriate consequences and kindness meaning in a way that encourages learning from the mistake. After a child has understandably made a mistake, we all do, it’s time to put into place the criteria that will allow for an enriching space instead of punitive. Below are the criteria and more-so questions for yourself when working through a child’s mistake and consequence.


4 Criteria for Effective Discipline.


  1. Is it kind and firm at the same time?

  2. Does it help children feel a sense of belonging and significance?

  3. Is it effective long-term?

  4. Does it teach valuable social and life skills for good character?


Now after reading these questions, I want you to think about the last consequence you gave to your child. Did it include some, any, or all of these criteria? Fear not, this again is a space that does not use shame or guilt to punish. Just like when working with our children regarding a mistake or issue, we can take some time afterward to see what could have been done differently.

So, let’s take the example you were thinking of and I’d encourage you to rewind, give yourself a do-over and think about how you could have handled it differently.


Now, let’s take a deeper look at these criteria and I’ll give specific phrases to help you start the process.


Is it kind and firm at the same time?


This is the first criteria for a reason. Some parents find themselves giving in, or lacking firmness and others are very firm and lack kindness. If a child is pushing our buttons, not listening, or picking on their sibling we as parents tend to want to go straight to punitive measures. What they are doing is incorrect, so I need to correct them. Let’s take a look at an example to get a better idea of what kind and firm looks like.

You tell your child it is time to do their homework. They say no and continue to “talk back” when you continue to tell them to do it. Your child starts to get angry, which means you’re also probably getting angry. Now, let’s take a Positive Discipline approach.


  1. Walk away--walking away is treating yourself with respect so you no longer receive the hurtful words your child is saying.


It can look like this: “Looks like you were pretty upset about having to do your homework. I respect your feelings and not the way you handled them. Whenever you treat me disrespectfully I will leave the room. I love you and want to spend time with you. When you are ready to be respectful again you let me know and I will be happy to help with your homework.”


Now how did you feel while reading that? Would you give that a try with your kiddos? This takes time and patience. All of which we think we have no more of, so I encourage you to be open to taking a few more moments to have connecting learning experiences with your child. It can make such a difference.


It’s time to tackle firmness. It’s usually the parents’ responsibility to create limits for the children, how much TV, when to do homework and chores, etc. When a parent sets the limits and enforces them with punishment, it will likely turn into a power struggle. This is no good for any family member. So what if we invite their input for TV time, or when homework needs to be done? When a child feels like they have some choice, they feel empowered and are more willing to follow through with agreed-upon limits. When a limit is agreed upon and the child has broken it, it is habitual to go straight to lecturing. This is another opportunity for Positive Discipline to change your life. Encourage involvement as problem solvers together regarding the limit that was broken. Here are a few phrases that can support the kind and firm belief:


  • Your turn is coming.

  • I know you can say that in a respectful way.

  • I care about you and will wait until we can both be respectful to continue this conversation.

  • I know you can think of a helpful solution.

  • Act, don’t talk (quietly and calmly take the child by the hand and show them what needs to be done).

  • We’ll talk about this later. Now it is time to get in the car.

  • (Temper tantrum) We need to leave the store now. We’ll try again later.


- Jane Nelson, Positive Discipline(2006)


I understand you might be sitting there saying, how the heck are they going to respect me if I am down at their level like that? You may try these phrases and for the first couple of situations, they may act exactly the same towards you. They are testing to see if you are actually going to stay kind and firm. Children are curious creatures and they are interested in figuring out your limits. This is how they build their belief of significance and understand how they belong in the family.

Your child will need time to readjust to Positive Discipline the same as you will, although you have the advantage, you have the knowledge. Every time you parent with kindness and firmness, you are building that relationship with them. The more the relationship is built, the stronger the bond and the better the mutual respect and understanding grows.


That was only part one of the 4 effective criteria for discipline. The other criteria will have their own blog post.

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