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The Big Answer


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Positive Discipline A-Z

a book by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, H. Stephen Glenn

(our site's book review)

One of the P.E.T.-like parenting methods is called Positive Discipline. Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott and H. Stephen Glenn are the proponents/authors of this method. It differs from P.E.T. in that it includes logical consequences in its parenting toolbox.

Like STEP, Active Parenting, Winning Family Lifeskills, Redirecting Children’s Behavior, and Positive Parenting (which we call any Dreikurs-styled authoritative parenting that is not any of the aforementioned methods or Positive Discipline), it relies on wisdom from the likes of Alfred Adler, Rudolf Dreikurs, Abraham Maslow, and Haim G. Ginott, to greater or lesser degrees.

All of these methods advocate natural consequences and nonpunitive logical consequences and can be called authoritative parenting methods (which discourage all permissive and authoritarian tactics) and democratic parenting (since they believe in equality, rights, win-win and avoidance of power trips from anyone). P.E.T. is also authoritative and democratic, but it tries to avoid even the slightest taint of punitive strategies by rejecting logical consequences—which all these other methods find necessary, even though they accept logical consequences only of the nonpunitive variety.

One of the most important parenting tools is the weekly family meeting
One of the most important parenting tools is the weekly family meeting

One of the most important parenting tools is the family meeting, according to the authors. The way to insure they’re successful is to have them weekly at a regularly scheduled time that everyone can count on. Post an agenda that is available to all to add to. Start with compliments and appreciations so that all get a chance to receive validation. Rotate the jobs of chairperson and recorder. The former calls the meeting to order, reads the agenda, calls on people, and keeps the meeting on track. The latter writes down suggestions and circles ones that become agreements. When solutions are brainstormed, everyone votes and only unanimously agreed upon solutions are accepted. Sometimes subjects need many weeks before an agreement can be reached—people should gather information in between in order to support informed decisions.

The meeting recorder person writes down suggestions and circles ones that become agreements
The meeting recorder person writes down suggestions and circles ones that become agreements

Note that just hearing people’s feelings and ideas (active listening helps) is often enough to inspire changes and solutions. Sometimes the brainstorming will result in coming up with logical consequences for problem behavior. Go over the family calendar to coordinate schedules, plan for rides, and ensure attendance at important events, being sure that family fun times are also planned and put on the calendar. It may be beneficial to end meetings with games and/or desserts.

Parents have to learn to give up their propensity to lecture and control, and kids must realize that they’ll be listened to and taken seriously. Solutions won’t last forever. So as life goes on, the same problem or type of problem may need solving more than one time in more than one way.

Praise is a bad way of instilling self-esteem—it  produces not self-esteem but dependency; verbally encouraging is bad for kids if it is done with You statements but good for kids if it is done with I statements ('I'm wondering how you felt when you drew that' or 'I appreciate it when you help with dishes')
Praise is a bad way of instilling self-esteem—it produces not self-esteem but dependency; verbally encouraging is bad for kids if it is done with You statements but good for kids if it is done with I statements ("I'm wondering how you felt when you drew that" or "I appreciate it when you help with dishes")

The authors make a big point of rejecting the obsolete ideas behind permissive and authoritarian parenting. Democratic authoritative parenting is the correct method. Kindness without firmness or firmness without kindness are both doomed to fail. Firmness doesn’t mean power games and authoritarian tactics. It means using appropriate parenting principles with confidence. This parenting method attempts to have everyone win and no one lose. It appears to do a good job of that. It supports active listening, no-lose problem solving, democratic parenting, support for kids’ autonomy, the use of natural and nonpunitive logical consequences, the avoidance of praise or bribes (but the acceptance of appreciation, encouragement and validation), and I-statements (but see the caveat below). It rejects the idea of punishment as well as spankings and other violent reactions. But it supports the idea of changing the environment when behavior is unacceptable, which can include leading a child gently to the appropriate environment, which may be a car or a room.

Unacceptable behavior can lead to leading a child gently to the appropriate environment, e.g., a car or a room
Unacceptable behavior can lead to leading a child gently to the appropriate environment, e.g., a car or a room

Positive discipline correctly supports logical consequences only if natural consequences aren’t appropriate. It there is danger, long-term harm likely to ensue, or if the happiness of others is being degraded and I-statements fail, then the use of logical consequences may be the only option that actually addresses the situation. Logical consequences must be related, respectful, reasonable and obvious. If possible, instead of logical consequences, use meeting-derived, agreed-upon solutions for problems and involve the kids in the working out of these solutions in family meetings. Focus on the future, not the past.

Notice that for every opportunity a kid has, there’s a corresponding responsibility, and the obvious consequence for not accepting the responsibility is to lose the opportunity. Don’t add any punitive verbiage or context to the logical consequences process. If kids aren’t involved in the consequence planning, give them advance notice of consequences: Example: “If people refuse to use the living room respectfully, they will be asked to leave the room until they feel ready to use it respectfully.” This is a reasonable way to insure a home is a win-win, positive environment for everyone—it’s also a logical, fair, respectful and positive way. But evolving such rules in family meetings or no-lose problem-solving meetings is much better than creating such a rule unilaterally.

The weaknesses of this method are few, but they include:

  1. They recommend getting on kids about schoolwork with the use of “I notice” statements. However, in our opinion schoolwork is the child’s responsibility. Covertly disguised nagging will not teach as well as natural consequences. But there’s no reason that I-statements, encouragement, validations, setting good examples of diligently getting your work done, and discussing homework shirking at family meetings cannot bear fruit.

    Nelsen says to nag via 'I notice' statements to ensure homework gets done, but we say don't do it
    Nelsen et al. says to nag via 'I notice' statements to ensure homework gets done, but we say don't do it


  2. Getting on kids about cleaning their rooms, even if done with “I notice” statements, is inferior to natural consequences. Besides, whose room is it? If it’s their room, why don’t you act accordingly? If it’s not their room, then where can they go to be in a space that is theirs? If the answer is nowhere, you haven’t thought it through. A room that stinks can be very unpleasant. Set good examples and be delighted with the good way your own clean and tidy room makes you feel—and make sure they know of these feelings, but not in a manipulative way. Install a spring on their door so it shuts automatically if the room is smelly. If you’re concerned about the hygiene problem, use an I-statement, not an “I notice” statement. Put the matter on the family meeting agenda if needed. But do not take control of a kid’s space (except where fire safety or electrical hazard or the letting in of flies and mosquitoes are endangering or degrading the family environment and the child is deaf to I-statements).

  3. They overdo advocacy of the use of “I notice” rather than I-statements—à la P.E.T.; I-statements are better because they communicate important feelings, not just observations, and “I notice” statements can create defensive reactions from implied accusation.
I-statements are better than 'I notice' statements because they communicate important feelings, not just observations
I-statements are better than 'I notice' statements because they communicate important feelings, not just observations