Toolkit: Using Positive Discipline and Appropriate Expectations

It is important for you to understand why your child may be misbehaving. Your child’s behaviors may result from testing boundaries, having a different set of expectations than you, not understanding the rules, or imitating someone else’s behaviors. If the behavior was an accident, like wetting the bed, it was not misbehavior. Before taking action, it is helpful to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Is my child really doing something wrong? Am I just tired and out of patience?
  2. Is my child capable of doing what I expect? Are my expectations realistic for my child?
  3. Did my child know at the time that he or she was doing something wrong?

Once you have reflected on these questions, you can choose an appropriate action. You may want to choose a natural or a logical consequence.

Natural consequences: Touching a hot stove and learning not to do it again is an example of a natural consequence. When natural consequences are immediate, they are very effective. Many times, however, natural consequences are not immediate or are too dangerous to allow.

Logical consequences: Refusing to eat dinner, then not being allowed to have dessert is an example of a logical consequence. These are structured consequences that “fit” the offense.

Promoting Autonomy and Encouraging Cooperation
Often a child will misbehave when seeking to develop personal power or autonomy. Help your child develop his sense of autonomy appropriately. Structure daily activities and provide opportunities for him to be involved in making decisions. In many cases, this will lead to his cooperation. Then you can avoid having to discipline your child.

  • Give your child a choice that requires his help: “We need to go to the grocery store. Do you want to carry the grocery bags or the car keys?”
  • Give your child adequate warning before there is a change of activity or a transition: “We have to leave the park in five more minutes. What is the last thing you want to play with here?”
  • Prepare your child for the next activity. “When we get home, what do you want to play with?”

Take Care of Yourself
Providing effective guidance and positive discipline are challenging skills for all parents to develop. If you find yourself losing your temper or in a situation where you are not offering the kind of discipline to aspire to, try to give yourself a few moments to regroup. Remember that all parents experience this. Take a deep breath, count to ten, or if possible and safe, give yourself a quick break in another area. Your child’s early years pass too quickly so find the time to enjoy them despite the challenges.


Duffy, R., Erwin, C, and Nelson, J. (2007)Positive Discipline: The First Three Years. New York, New York: Three Rivers Press.