An Episode in Positive Discipline

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The other night, my husband and I were talking in the kitchen, and Elia (5) & JJ (3) were in the living room when we heard Elia shriek, scream & start crying.  It is instantly followed by “SOR-RY!” from JJ.  We look over and Elia is getting up from the floor, holding her neck & crying and JJ has hidden himself between the ottoman and the couch, with his face buried on the floor. Elia said that JJ kicked her.

John comforted Elia, and I picked up JJ and carried him into the front room, intending to “deal with him” (oh, doesn’t that sound nice?). There, he flopped to the floor crying, and I said, “You hurt her!”  I had been intending to continue yelling & berating, BUT… realized that I had Flipped My Lid; my prefrontal brain (where the logic & reasoning skills are) was no longer communicating effectively with my middle brain (where emotions are regulated, as is the “fight or flight” reflex). So I walked across the foyer into the office and stood there…the computer was right in front of me so I checked Facebook.  This took all of about 20 seconds before I felt calmer and walked back into the room where JJ was still crying (and he could still see me this whole time).

I sat on the couch not knowing if I felt calm enough to say anything yet.  But when I did that, he crawled right up next to me and laid his head down on my lap.  He stopped crying & sucked his thumb, and I put my arm down on his shoulder.  IMG_3743Then I was sure we both were calm, and our conversation went like this (I was trying to “Listen for Understanding”):

Me: Why were you mad?

JJ: I don’t know.

Me: Were you mad?

JJ: No

Me: Were you frustrated?

JJ: No

Me: Were you sad?

JJ: Yes!

Me: You were feeling sad about something?

JJ: Yes because Elia was making scary faces  and I didn’t like that and I told her to stop and she didn’t!

Me: Ohhhh… were sad that she was ignoring you.  You didn’t like the scary faces, and when you told her to stop and she didn’t stop, that hurt you; your feelings were hurt.

JJ: Yes

Me: Oh, OK.  You know, Elia got hurt too.  When you kicked her, that hurt her neck.

JJ: Mm-hm

Me: Right now she needs help feeling better.  What could you do to help her feel better?

JJ: Give her a hug.  But I don’t want to do that.

Me: OK.  What else could you do?

JJ: I don’t know.

Me: I think you could either tell her that you’re sorry, or you could do something nice for her like color her a picture, or do something else she would like.

JJ: Yeah, I could color her a picture. Will you help me? (Just an aside here, coloring is something JJ rarely does.  He never asks for me to get the crayons out, and even when crayons are out and Elia is coloring, he wanders away and does something else. He’s just not too interested.)

So I get out the crayons and paper, and help him get situated at the counter, and he decides to draw a fairy for Elia.  He wanted to do it “right” so he kept asking how to do it…he drew a head, body, wings, and then colored it “pretty colors” like pink, yellow & orange.  It was so sweet, because he was clearly thinking of her the whole time!

He gave it to Elia, and I was nervous that she would say something about how it didn’t really look like a fairy, but she didn’t.  I asked her if that helped her feel better and she said, “Yes, a little bit.”  I thanked JJ for helping Elia feel better and he went to sit down & watch basketball with John.

Well, then Elia sat right down at the counter and used the crayons to draw and color a picture of a tank for JJ!  I think she realized that she was not so innocent in this whole situation; it was true that had JJ triggered the outburst, but she was the one who had been doing the “poking” all along.  She gave him the picture, and he was surprised and said that he felt better too!

I couldn’t have been more proud of my kids, or pleased with the effectiveness of Positive Discipline.  Throughout the ordeal, I had used 3 PD techniques: positive time-out (for myself), listening for understanding, and not forcing an apology. The whole encounter started out tense, but ended so sweetly!  We all ended up in the living room playing Blokus, and I felt very thankful for my Positive Discipline skills!

Kelly is an API Leader and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor in Portland, Oregon.  She blogs at Parenting From Scratch.

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Author: Kelly Bartlett

Kelly Bartlett is the author of "Encouraging Words For Kids" and "Help! My Child is Addicted to Screens (Yikes! So Am I.)" She is an API leader and Certified Positive Discipline Educator in Portland Oregon.

5 thoughts on “An Episode in Positive Discipline”

  1. Thanks for sharing this.

    I often find other parents deny getting angry – and claim they never have an initial reaction to do anything other than positive discipline. It’s great to see other parents can start off with their ‘lid flipped’ and still be respectful in the end.

  2. This is a wonderful “real-life” example of how positive discipline works. I know a lot of families who spank or yell or do time-outs because they don’t know “what else to do.” The truth is, though, that almost all problems can be solved with a little bit of creativity and a dose of good communication.

  3. Kelly,

    My favorite part is where you literally put yourself on “PAUSE” mode.

    What a great example for us as parents. Your story provides us a wonderful model of the “PAUSE” button in full effect as it can also be our example of teaching our children to handle their own strong emotions in positive ways.

    Thank you Kelly! .


  4. While this is great and inspirational, I would like to point out that this is a 2 person job. Your husband comforted Elia. You had a time-in with JJ. If he hadn’t been there, if he had been at work like so many husbands are for a majority of the day, how would you have dealt with it? Or what about the family with four kids where there are multiple parties engaged in an all out sibling brawl? I have four and so while I think positive parenting is a great idea in theory, and a great idea in practice if you have only one child, I haven’t been able to figure out the logistics of practicing this style of discipline with a tribe.

    1. Yes, this situation was a two-person job…because my husband was there! 🙂 When he’s home, he’s absolutely involved in the parenting. We also have plenty of moments like this when he is at work, and just I am with the kids. If that were the case here, I would have done the same thing…comforted Elia first, then had a time-in with JJ. If I had more kids, I would still do something similar…separate them, connect with them. Our kids also have their “feel-good” spots that they know they can go to (see, which helps a lot when it’s just me at home.

      Another thing that helps us (and would help any family, large or small) is that we have family meetings every day. We specifically talk about issues, problems, & successes that come up. We talk about problems that we’ve had, as well as brainstorm future problems, and discuss ways to solve them together. We do this every day! Family meetings have been a huge help to us in our positive discipline efforts. (

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