What is Positive Discipline?

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Dr. Jane Nelsen - Founder of Positive Discipline


I feel amazed and grateful for the growth of Positive Discipline. There are so many wonderful people all around the world using Positive Discipline in their daily lives. Our Positive Discipline Association is growing every day and I see people encouraging and helping each other apply the principles of Positive Discipline.

Unfortunately with the growth of the Internet, I also see many people misusing the term Positive Discipline.  The original book was based on the philosophy of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs, and does not advocate punishment, praise, rewards, punitive time-out or withdrawal of privileges. These methods of discipline come from the realm of Behaviorism and teaches children an external locus of control. "I'll behave well for the reward and to avoid the punishment." The original Positive Discipline teaches children an internal locus of control. "I'll behave, even when no one is looking, because I like feeling capable, connected, and making a contribution to society."

Each week I receive an email from Google which lists all the websites mentioning the term Positive Discipline. Often these websites grossly misrepresent the basic Adlerian philosophy of treating children with dignity and respect. How can they possibly justify any form of punishment as "positive"???  Even when they talk about "logical consequences," what they describe is poorly disguised punishment.

Just this morning I received a Google notice of a blog titled "Tips for Effective and Positive Discipline Strategies". The blog post was filled with references to praise, consequences, and punitive time-out. It even had a YouTube video of the SuperNanny teaching a very punitive way of using time-out with a toddler. But contrary to the blog title, the article had very little to do with the Positive Discipline.

So what is Positive Discipline? We have a very clear description on our "About" page. On that page we also list the following "Five Criteria for Positive Discipline":


  1. Helps children feel a sense of connection. (Belonging and significance)
  2. Is mutually respectful and encouraging. (Kind and firm at the same time.)
  3. Is effective long - term. (Considers what the child is thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about himself and his world – and what to do in the future to survive or to thrive.)
  4. Teaches important social and life skills . (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, and cooperation as well as the skills to contribute to the home, school or larger community.)
  5. Invites children to discover how capable they are. (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy.)

Many people fear that if they stop using punishment, praise, and rewards—the only alternative is permissiveness. Adlerian psychology makes it very clear that permissiveness is not healthy for children and does not teach inner locus of control for responsibility, cooperation, and problem-solving skills. Because so many people wonder, "What else is there if you give up punishment and rewards? (Behaviorism), we have developed 52 Positive Discipline Tool Cards that summarize the alternative discipline methods discussed thoroughly in the Positive Discipline books.

If you believe in the Positive Discipline methods, please help us educate people who are misusing the term. Feel free to share the "About" link. Make comments on blog posts and share your own experiences with Positive Discipline. Help educate the staff at your children's school. Together we can help maintain the mutually respectful concepts of Positive Discipline so that our children will learn the valuable social and life skills necessary to be contributing members of society.

History of Positive Discipline

Positive Discipline Book 1981

1981 Self-Published Edition

I wrote and self published Positive Discipline in 1981. Can you believe that cover? I did it myself—I couldn’t afford to hire a cover designer. :-)  You should see how ridiculous it looks on the inside (which I also did myself, before the advance of word processing). Much to my surprise, the first 2,000 sold within one year, so I printed another 5000—again gone in a year. So, I hired a book designer for the next printing of 10,000. In six years I had sold over 80,000 copies as a self-publisher when Ballantine discovered the book and began publishing Positive Discipline in 1987. It has now sold more than one million copies in the United States and has been translated into many languages. In China one million copies were sold in just one year. I have since written many other Positive Discipline titles with several co-authors.

Positive Discipline Book Spines

Mistakes are Wonderful Opportunities to Learn

(As you can see I misspelled "Discipline" on the first edition and printed the spine upside down.)


2nd Positive Discipline Cover

New Cover Design for 2nd Edition


Current Revised Edition

In the years since, Positive Discipline series has grown to include titles that address different age groups, family settings, and special situations. Positive Discipline is taught to schools, parents, and parent educators by trained Certified Positive Discipline Trainers. Community members, parents, and teachers are encouraged to become trained facilitators and to share the concepts of Positive Discipline with their own groups. 

Since the humble beginning in the 1980s, Positive Discipline has expanded around the globe. There are now certified facilitators in over 90 countries. Books and training manuals have been translated in many languages. The internet has enabled people to connect in ways I never imagined when I wrote that first book. I have so many dear friends and at 86 I am still inspired daily by how our mission of creating respectful relationships is being fulfilled by so many passionate people. I could have never dreamed this would happen and I am eternally grateful. 


Become a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator

Parent Educator Training
Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott have completed a video training that includes 6 1/2 hours filmed at a live training and requires about 5 1/2 hours of homework to practice the skills in order to receive a certificate as a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator. At the end of this training, you will be ready to lead parenting classes. Click Here to Learn More.

Online Learning

Positive Discipline offers online learning options for parents, teachers, and parent educators. Learn in the comfort of your own home and at your own pace. You have unlimited access to our online streaming programs, so you can watch and re-watch the videos as often as you like.