What pops in your brain when you hear the word discipline?
Discipline paints a vivid scene in my head: a strict, angry-looking teacher and a bunch of students trembling in front of him. The word radiates punishment.
I will give you a fun fact. The word discipline has evolved to a meaning far away from its origin.
Let's have a look at the word origin of discipline:
Discipline: Old French from Latin disciplina ‘instruction, knowledge’, from discipulus (see disciple 👇).
Disciple: Old English, from Latin discipulus ‘learner’, from discere ‘learn’; reinforced by Old French deciple .
Now let's have a look at its dictionary meaning:
Discipline: The practice of training people to obey rules and orders and punishing them if they do not.
As you see, the meaning has shifted from "instruction, knowledge" to "training for obedience, punishment." No wonder the word discipline evokes unpleasant feelings.
Because of this shift in meaning, we now need a distinction between the "discipline that teaches" and the "discipline that punishes." This is where the term "positive discipline" comes in.
What is positive discipline?
Positive discipline is a discipline model that's used in education and parenting. Positive discipline "helps children learn how to handle situations more appropriately while remaining calm, friendly, and respectful to the children themselves."
Negative vs. positive discipline
Negative discipline enforces correction and punishment. Positive discipline aims to achieve connection and self-learning. Here's an excerpt from Daniel J. Siegel in “No-Drama Discipline.”
“Essentially, we want caregivers to begin to think of discipline as one of the most loving and nurturing things we can do for kids. Our children need to learn skills like inhibiting impulses, managing big angry feelings, and considering the impact of their behavior on others.
How to establish positive discipline in a parent-child relationship?
There are several approaches to positive discipline but there is no cookie-cutter application method.
Each kid is unique and so is each parent and each relationship. It's also a process that grows alongside our children. Positive discipline can also be seen as a natural result of a healthy relationship we purposefully establish.
Best books on positive discipline
To get a grasp of what ideas are out there, I went through 10+ books on positive discipline. After skimming through most and finding myself indulged in a few of them for a full read, I collected my top 5 favorites for you.
My selection criteria were mostly subjective. What I cared about the most was the tone, the novelty of ideas presented, and the breadth and depth at which the book explained positive discipline. An important note is: I prioritized books that included real-life examples over the ones that were purely theory-based.
IMPORTANT TAKEAWAY: The common point of all 5 of these books is that they aim to build a better parent, not a better child. After all:
"Parenting isn’t about what our child does, but about how we respond." Laura Markham
Let's move on to my list of top 5 books on positive discipline:
1) No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
I love Dan Siegel and all of his works. Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry. He is widely known for his books explaining a child's internal world using the latest advancements in neuroscience. His books cast light on children's emotions and behaviors through the lens of brain knowledge. Through the same lens, he offers mind-opening insights on how to build a healthy parent-child relationship.
What I enjoyed the most was that the book's approach to discipline is "building the brain of a child by improving his capacity for relationships, self-control, empathy, and personal insight.” The book encourages us to prime our children's brains for learning. We can do this by connecting with them.
2) Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Laura Markham
I love Aha! Parenting, a website on child development created by Laura Markham, the very writer of this book. My first discovery of Aha! Parenting was when I was searching for no-cry solutions to help my baby sleep better. I surprisingly couldn't find many articles that advocated zero crying. That's where Laura Markham entered my life. She was the only one to say meaningful things on the subject.
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids is a book I loved because it brings together lots of practical advice on how to form a relationship that helps raise a self-disciplined child.
Laura Markham is a big advocate of no-punishment parenting, which I love her for. The book breaks down into 3 parts: regulating yourself, fostering connection, and coaching not controlling. The last part is especially rich with how-to's of emotion coaching, raising a child how wants to behave, and creating high self-esteem.
3) The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children by Shefali Tsabary
I was a bit skeptical of Shefali Tsabary because of the flashiness of her media presence and the fact that she refers to herself as Dr. Shefali. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by her book. Shefali's book is a bit on the spiritual side and this is a fresh perspective. The reason I liked this book is that it allows a deep look into our inner parent. Through Shefali's writing, we can seek the reasons for a broken parent-child relationship not in our child, but in ourselves.
The book chapters touch upon the parent's ego, handling our child's mistakes, shelving our expectations, creating a conscious space in a child's world, and many other interesting topics.
4) The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) by Philippa Perry
I had zero knowledge about the writer of this book when I discovered it but I gave it a chance because the title was so compelling. I did not regret my decision. Turns out Philippa Perry is also a very colorful personality.
In her book, you'll find many dialogs and stories involving parents and children in real-life scenarios. I have to admit that I cried a few tears when I read some of the stories because they are so real and they paint a picture from a child's eyes.
This book is also great for settling our parenting values internally, without pushing our kids for instant behavioral change.
“This book is about how we have relationships with our children, what gets in the way of a good connection and what can enhance it.” from The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did)
5) How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 by Joanna Faber
I usually stay away from parenting advice, books, or opinions telling parents what to do and what to say. But this book does it for the right reasons and in a good way. You'll find many tools here for daily challenges, resolving conflicts, and establishing a positive relationship.
You'll find many "instead of saying this... say this" sections here. When reading similar advice I usually feel as if I won't be able to say things to my own child without stepping on a landmine. This book doesn't give me that feeling. I guess I can empathize with the context of the conversation, rather than being exposed to a bunch of "say and don't say" tips.
That's it. These are my top 5 positive discipline books. I enjoyed all of these books from cover to cover. If you have other favorites, let me know!