Positive Discipline

by Elisabeth Caloghiris, April 2018


As a Montessori Teacher and a mother of five, I’ve had many people ask me my advice on various misbehaviours. So I was very excited and happy when I was introduced to Jane Nelsen’s book, Positive Discipline. After attending one of her lectures, watching many of her short videos and speaking to Lucia who had enrolled in her parenting classes, I was very taken as to how close to Montessori her approach is. Both approaches believe in supporting children to develop self- discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem solving skills and are based on the idea that the primary goal of all human beings is to feel a sense of belonging and significance.


In this article, I will share with you some insights into how positive discipline works in the Montessori classroom as well as Jane Nelsen’s approach to positive discipline. 


The Montessori Classroom and Positive Discipline


The Montessori environment is prepared in such a precise way that it caters for the child’s needs. When the child’s needs are met, there is no reason for misbehaviour. Sometimes issues arise, where we as the adults need to try and find a solution; we can’t give up. Montessori believes that though work and concentration the child becomes fulfilled and any negative behaviour will be left behind. With experience, we have found this to be true. If a change in behaviour is to be lasting, it won’t just happen overnight.


The Montessori environment allows freedom with clear boundaries; it is orderly and inviting with real objects and natural materials. The environment is a social place with children of a range of ages. There are lots of varied activities available to work with and the environment encourages the children to be independent. When children can do things independently, they feel good about themselves. When they do things for their community, class or family, they feel a sense of belonging.


In a Montessori class, the adults continually role model how they would like the children to behave, through the way they move, speak and interact with the materials. When children enter a Montessori class, they also are introduced to how to behave in different social situations, through role-play or games. For example: asking for help, standing sensibly in line, walking carefully around floor mats. These behaviours are introduced at a neutral moment, not when a misbehaviour has just taken place.


In a Montessori environment, the children have the freedom to choose their own work. It is the children’s class and they learn to be responsible for taking care of it: putting things away, sharpening pencils, watering plants, washing dirty tables or mats, etc.

When an accident happens (e.g. a younger child spills their rice!), the older children come to their aid and help to tidy up. They learn to solve problems together. The mixed ages in the Montessori class allow the older children to recognise their abilities and to become more responsible. They often enjoy showing the younger children how to do new activities. The younger children frequently watch the older children working.




Positive Discipline at Home (Based on Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen)

As parents, we want the best possible relationship with our children. Positive discipline can allow us to understand more about ourselves and our children, and why we act and react in certain ways.


“There is no such thing as a bad child, just bad behavior.”


Children don't behave in the obedient, complying way, as they have in years past- society has changed. The children's role models have also changed. Adults no longer give children an example or model of submissiveness and obedience. We no longer need children as important contributors for economic survival. We must remember primary goal of all human beings is to feel a sense of belonging and significance.


Why use Positive Discipline?

Most adults do not feel like being positive when a child is misbehaving. We know that strictness and punishment works, often stopping the misbehavior immediately. But what are the long-term results?


In her book, Jane Nelsen describe four long-term responses children have to punishment:


1. Resentment - this is unfair, I can't trust adults

2. Revenge - they are winning now, but I'll get even

3. Rebellion - I'll just do the opposite to prove I don't have to do it their way.

4. Retreat - sneakiness, I won't get caught next time.


Sometimes we can love our children too much!


We need to watch out, by giving too much to children in the name of love, without any effort or investment from their side, an entitlement attitude can develop. This can lead to a lot of misbehaviour.


We sometimes believe that to be good parents we need to protect our children from all disappointments. We then have a tendency to constantly rescue or overprotect. In these instances, we are robbing our children of the opportunity to develop a belief in their capabilities to handle the ups and downs of life. This is why it is important that we give our children the time, opportunities and the skills for them to contribute to the daily running of the household. Through these contributions the child develops responsibility and a sense of belonging by being an active member in a group.



We need to look behind the misbehaviour and understand what the child is really trying to say– his mistaken goal. Very often, the young child is just acting their age! You might feel a young child should know what you expect of them, as you have already discussed it. In reality, their will has not yet developed sufficiently for them to go against the urge to carry out a negative action. They may have misbehaviour because they are tired or hungry. They need more support from the adult.


According to Jane Nelsen, with most misbehaviours the mistaken goal is one of the following and your reaction, as a parent, to the child’s behaviour will help you understand which one of these it is.


The child is looking for:


1.   Undue attention –mistaken belief: I only belong when I have your attention

2.   Power – mistaken belief: I belong only when I’m boss or when I don’t allow you to boss me.              

3.   Revenge – mistaken belief: I don’t belong but at least I can hurt back

4.   Assumed inadequacy – mistaken belief: It is impossible to belong, I give up.

Our immediate feeling is often anger or frustration, these are secondary responses. We need to find our primary response.

  • If you are feeling irritation, worry, guilt or annoyance, the child’s mistaken goal is likely to be undue attention
  • If you are feeling threatened (you want to be the boss as much as your child does) challenged, provoked, or defeated, the child’s mistaken goal is likely to be Power – If you react with power you will come into a power struggle
  • If you are feeling hurt ( how could the child do such a thing when you are trying to be a good parent?) disappointment disbelieving, or disgusted the child’s mistaken goal is likely to be revenge
  • If you are feeling inadequate, (How can I possibly inspire this child?) despair, hopeless, or helpless, the child’s mistaken goal is likely to be assumed inadequacy

 How can we put Positive Discipline into action?


The Language of Positive Discipline

Firstly, it is important for us to reflect on the language that we use with our children. Instead of telling them what to do, we can invite them to participate in the problem solving by asking questions. In a simple task like getting dressed, you can ask, “What are you going to put on next?” versus, “Now, put on your trousers.” It seems simple, though when you ask a question the child feels respected, involved.


At a neutral moment, speak with your children and make sure that they understand what behaviour is expected from them. Jane Nelsen encourages the idea of a regular family meeting. Once a week, same time each week, when the family can discuss what areas are causing problems. All members can speak. All members can put forward solutions. The solution is chosen by the person who had the difficulty. This meeting should end with a family activity, such as playing a game or cooking a meal together.


Everyday misbehaviours

Jane Nelsen’s book touches on many everyday low level misbehaviours; one I have often been asked about is how to respond to a whiny child.

Young children whining can often cause great annoyance to parents. This is a time when you can retreat to the bathroom or sit down with a book! Before doing this, make sure that you have discussed with your child what will happen when she whines. Remember to tell her to come and let you know when she has finished whining, so that you can rejoin her. There should be little or no discussion during the misbehaviour.


Focusing on solutions

Focusing on solutions creates a very different family or classroom atmosphere than focusing on punishment. Solutions should be related to the behaviour and should be respectful to the child. They should not involve any blame, shame or pain. They should also be seen as reasonable from the child’s point of view and be helpful in changing the misbehaviour.


If your child has misbehavior, to diffuse the situation it is often necessary to give time out. Aim to make this a Positive time out; your child will need a place to calm down and perhaps a soft toy or a bean bag. It's good to have a designated area, but remember this area shouldn't have a negative connotation about it. At this point, it is important to validate feelings, empathise with the children how they are feeling. You don't have to condone it. For example, "I know that you're feeling angry, annoyed that you can't have/do..., but…." Be firm and respectful, and follow through.


Sometimes, as parents, we also need to cool off. Often the only place to find peace is the bathroom! Do let your children know what you are doing. "I'm going to the bathroom, and when I feel calm, I'll come out and speak with you." It is important for us all to recognise and control our emotions. Use this emotional withdrawal to stay out of power struggles and wait for a calm time to focus on solutions. Routine charts, involving the children in the solutions and focusing on solution are all ways to avoid power struggles.


As our children get older, we can begin to use what Jane Nelsen refers to as “Curiosity questions”, to help them to explore the consequences of their behaviour.

  • e.g. What were you trying to accomplish?
  • How do you feel about what happened?
  • What do you think caused it to happen?
  • What did you learn from this?
  • How can you use in the future what you have learned?
  • What ideas do you have now for solutions?


When children answer questions they are actively involved, whereas when you make statements they are passively involved. Remember that these questions need to be asked when you’re feeling calm and they should come from the heart.

“Why?” isn’t a suggested question, because it usually sounds accusatory and invites defensiveness.


The Significant Seven Perceptions and Skills

Our aim at  Deux Mille Feuilles is to help our children develop the “the significant seven perceptions and skills”, as described by Jane Nelsen in her book, Positive Discipline. 

  • Strong perceptions of personal capabilities – “I am capable”
  • Strong perceptions of significance in primary relationship
    • “I contribute in meaningful ways and I’m genuinely needed.”
  • Strong perceptions of personal power or influence over life -
    • “ I can influence what happens to me.”
  • Strong, intrapersonal skills: the ability to understand personal emotions and to use that understanding to develop self-discipline and self-control.
  • Strong interpersonal skills: the ability to work with others and develop friendships through communicating, cooperating, negotiating, sharing, empathising and listening.
  • Strong systemic skills: the ability to respond to the limits and consequences of everyday life with responsibility, adaptability, flexibility and integrity.
  • Strong judgemental skills: the ability to use wisdom and to evaluate situations according to appropriate values.


I hope this article has given you some insights on the benefits for the whole family of Positive Discipline. For more information about using positive discipline with your children, including personality types, sibling behaviour, praise vs. encouragement and wide range of real life scenarios, please refer to Jane Nelsen’s books.



Nelsen, J. (2006). Positive Discipline. New York: Ballantine Books. 


4 planes of development

What is a child about? How can a helpless baby become a full member of our society? Maria Montessori’s understanding was that “education” becomes an “aid to life” - a natural process all children undertake spontaneously, guided through ever evolving stages of development.

Pédaler en classe pour aider les élèves à mieux se concentrer

Quelle ne fut pas ma surprise en tombant sur cet article lors de mes recherches sur internet.

Et pourtant cela faisait écho à ce que j'ai pû observer durant mes nombreuses années de travail avec les enfants. Trop souvent j’ai entendu que les élèves devaient rester en position bien droite et statique sur leur chaise et trop souvent j’ai vu ces enfants se tordre, gigoter et prendre des positions improbables sur leurs chaises alors qu’ils étaient pourtant parfaitement concentrés sur leur activité. Une école primaire d'Ottawa a trouvé une solution originale pour maintenir l'attention des élèves.

Mère imparfaite et fière de l'être

La mère parfaite n’existe pas !

 Etant maman de deux enfants et ayant étudié l’éducation sous toutes ses coutures, j’ai appris une chose en devenant maman : avec ses enfants, on fait ce qu’on PEUT et non ce qu’on VEUT !