The Power of Positive Parenting – Definition of Discipline

I am going to be referring back to principles contained in this post in upcoming posts so it is important that if you are going to follow this series on parenting that you understand the concepts contained here.

When we think of discipline we often think of punishment for doing the wrong thing. That is only one side of the coin. The other side of discipline is giving reward or reinforcement for doing the right thing. My working definition of discipline is

A sequence of positive rewards and negative punishments administered to
increase desirable behaviors and to decrease undesirable behaviors.

Punishment teaches children what is wrong and what not to do the next time. It discourages inappropriate behavior. Parents often find themselves saying “Stop doing that.” “Don’t touch that.” “You better not go in your brother’s room.” Okay, now they know what they are not supposed to do. That is half of disciplining a child. The other half of discipline informs a child of what is appropriate and gives them positive feedback or reward for appropriate behaviors in order to encourage those behaviors to happen more often.

One problem is a lot of parents give non-specific (what some called “unlabeled”) praise. These are praises like “thank you” or “good job.” This often leaves younger children wondering which part of what they did was right. A better way of giving praise is more specific (what is called “labeled”) praises. These tell the child exactly what the parent liked about the child’s behavior. These are statements like, “Thank you for using your inside voice” or “I like it when you sit on the couch like a big boy.” Discipline works best when rewards and punishments work together to teach a child what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. I am going to spend more time on positive reinforcement and negative punishment in an upcoming post. I am just trying to lay down some basics here.

Proverbs 22:6 – “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” We have often interpreted that verse to mean that we must punish children for the wrong things they do in order to discipline them. Notice that verse says we are to train our children in the way they should go. Punishment shows them the way not to go. If we want to train our children to grow into a healthy maturity level they need both sides of the discipline equation – rewards for appropriate behavior and punishments for inappropriate behavior. More on that in future posts.

Part 2 – Understanding Functional Behavior


About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

7 Responses to The Power of Positive Parenting – Definition of Discipline

  1. Dr. Paul says:

    Positive goes a long way with kids (and anybody else for that matter). I just had an opportunity to discuss a similar idea with several moms on a call that I recorded and posted to my blog related to teaching kids to experience joy. Let me know what you think of it. is the site.

  2. Don Flor says:

    This is a new site and I’m looking for content, can I use material from your website?

  3. mattdabbs says:


    Thanks for stopping by. My rule of thumb here is use whatever is helpful to you or you think will be helpful to others as long as you don’t claim it as your own original work. A link back here as a citation would be appreciated. Take care and hope to hear more from you soon.


    Thanks for stopping by. I left a comment.

  4. Don Flor says:

    Can I post some of your material on my website / we’ll give you credit

  5. Totally right on how parents tend to do “half” the job in disciplining a child. Its very uncommon for most parents to actually explain reasons for not doing something…. parents forget that children can understand from a young age.

  6. Ebenezer says:

    I was searching for important information on this subject. The information was important as I am about to launch my own portal. Thanks for giving a idea in my business.

  7. cribs says:

    Wow. I thought, giving appreciation by just saying thank you and good job is enough. Never thought that it would make a lot of difference telling them exactly what I am thankful for.

    Thanks for enlightening us on this.

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