Positive Parenting

Parenting can be rewarding, effective and fun.

Positive parenting means teaching children how to behave, using teaching methods that are socially acceptable. This means not using methods that are hurtful either physically or emotionally.

Disciplining children in ways that do not use physical punishment helps them grow into healthy, capable and caring people.

A "positive parent" is: father holding child on shoulders

  • Loving
  • Understanding
  • Reasonable
  • Protective
  • A teacher
  • A role model

Challenging behaviour and discipline

Understanding a child's behaviour is the first step in preventing challenging behaviour.

It is not realistic to expect a young child to do what you say all the time. It is normal for a child to test a rule by breaking it. Young children are developing their own sense of right and wrong, and they need help to learn and follow rules.

Children misbehave when they are tired, hungry, bored, over-stimulated, lacking exercise, anxious, confused or frustrated. Young children are normally impulsive and may hit, bite, yell, kick, whine, pinch, break things or act out in other ways to express their frustration and anger. Anger is a normal emotion and is OK; harmful behaviour is not.

Children need supportive and loving help to teach them to behave in socially acceptable ways. Use positive discipline to teach and guide children to behave, be safe, feel safe and get along with others.

Never spank! This type of discipline does not teach a child anything about better ways to behave. Spanking teaches the child to fear, hate, resent and distrust you.

Teaching your child discipline takes time and patience!

Positive parenting skills - feeding your children

Feeding children successfully depends on parents doing their job of feeding, and kids doing their job of eating. It also depends on a parenting style that is not too controlling and not too permissive, but somewhere in between.

A positive parenting style is one that provides structure and consistency, sets limits and enforces rules. It's also sensitive to children's cues, trusts kids' abilities and is flexible.

Positive parents provide backup, support and opportunities for their children to solve problems and learn. They don't try to do everything for their children and they don't give their kids everything they ask for.

Some examples of a positive parenting style:

  • Allow kids to choose what and how much to put on their plate.
  • Don't make a different meal for a child who decides not to eat what's been prepared.
  • Says "milk is for dinner, pop is for treats".
  • Says "you can try Brand X (the sugar breakfast cereal advertised on T.V.) during our vacation, but the rest of the time we'll eat the more nutritious brands".

Some examples of a parent who is too controlling:

  • You have to stay at the table until you finish your vegetables.
  • You have to clean up everything on your plate.
  • I gave you a serving of spaghetti - you can't have any more.

Some examples of a parent who is too permissive:

  • Gives a snack whenever their child asks for one.
  • Makes special food and meals for their "picky" eater.
  • Buys whatever their kids ask for at the store.

Parents who are successful with feeding their children are likely to be successful with other aspects of parenting too.

Expected behaviour - how to respond

Your child's behaviour has a lot to do with his age and stage. It's connected to what he can do, how he learns and how he sees and experiences the world around him.

If you know what to expect from your child at various stages, you can discipline him in a way he can understand.

Baby / Infant

An infant under one year of age cries to make his needs known. You should let your baby learn how to soothe himself, but continue to comfort him if he is sick, hurt or upset.

An infant learns by touch, taste, smell, sight and sound; that's why they get into everything. Say "no" if your baby does something you don't want him to do.

Note: Don't use techniques such as time-outs or consequences; babies are too young to understand them.

Preschool: 1 - 3 Years

Toddlers are curious and want to explore. They become easily frustrated by rules and limits you have set, but that is also how they learn to solve problems.

With a child at this age, parents need to create a safe environment where the child can explore. Give your child attention, redirecting him when necessary and offering choices. If nothing works, use a time-out to discourage unwanted behaviour such as biting or hitting. Always explain briefly why the behaviour is unacceptable.

Toilet Learning

Learning to use the toilet can be a real challenge for both toddlers and parents. It is a major step for young children, but remember that they learn and develop at different rates. Be patient and follow your child's cues.

To learn more about how to help your child learn this skill, visit the Caring for Kids - Toilet Learning website.


Tantrums are a normal part of a toddler's development. At this time, they are learning skills and developing a wide range of emotions very quickly. Sometimes, this new learning can be frustrating for a toddler. When the child's frustration reaches levels they can no longer manage, they may have a tantrum.

When a toddler has a tantrum he may:

  • Pound his fists.
  • Hold his breath.
  • Bang his head, kick and bite.
  • Run around or throw himself on the floor screaming and yelling.

Tantrum prevention tips:

  • For a week or so, keep a record of the times and reasons for the child's tantrums. Look for things that might have triggered the tantrum and try to avoid those triggers. For example, was he overtired, excited, hungry, not able to do something he wanted, or was there a change of routine?
  • Stick to the child's daily routine, including mealtimes and naptimes.  Toddlers have small stomachs so they need regular meals and nutritious snacks between meals.
  • Daily exercise is important for both of you. Run in the yard, go for a walk or visit a park.
  • Make your home toddler-safe so you don't have to say "No" as often. Set clear and consistent limits.
  • Whenever possible, offer choices. The more a toddler feels in control, the less likely he is to have a tantrum.
  • Show the toddler how to express his feelings when he is not having a tantrum.

During a tantrum:

  • Relax, take a deep breath and count to 10. Stay calm and speak softly. Controlling your own emotions will help the toddler calm down.
  • Move the toddler to a safe place so he can't get hurt.
  • Hold them: some toddlers may be calmed by being held.
  • Distract by offering them a toy or singing a song.

After a tantrum:

  • Do not punish: tantrums are a normal part of being a toddler.
  • Praise and encourage success: say something like, "You did a good job calming yourself down."
  • Hug and comfort him, and tell him how much you love him.
  • Spend time together: play quietly or read to your child.
Remember: tantrums are a normal part of a toddler's development. If your child has a lot of tantrums, or if he is still having tantrums after the age of four or five, ask your public health nurse or doctor for advice.

School Age: 4 - 9 Years

School-age kids are forming lots of opinions about themselves and the people around them. This is the stage when their natural curiosity about differences in appearance and cultural backgrounds really begins to come into play. Teach them to value racial, cultural and physical diversity.

Active & Safe Routes to School

Now is when you can teach your school-age child about health and physical activity and safe neighbourhoods. Join Active and Safe Routes to School, a joint program between schools and the community to promote healthy and safe walks to school.


Bedwetting can be frustrating for a child and for parents. Many children are dry at night by five or six years of age. Some are not.

A child might wet the bed for many reasons, including:

  • Growth and development
  • Routines
  • Heredity

For more information on bed-wetting, visit the Caring for Kids - Bedwetting website.

Bullying Prevention

This is a good time in your child's life to be taught about bullying and the consequences of bullying. For information and resources, visit the Bullying section of our website.

Youth: 10 - 14 Years

Pre-teens and early teens bring their own challenges to a family. As they grow more independent, they spend more time away from their parents.

Watch for every opportunity to have open discussions with them. This is a good time to talk about healthy body image, alcohol and drug use and friendships.

Bullying prevention

Continue to remind your child that bullying can have serious consequences. For information and resources about bullying, go to the Bullying section of our website.

Positive parenting links and resources

Many parenting programs in our community offer support and effective strategies for being a positive parent. For more information on positive parenting, visit the KW Counselling Services website.

Useful brochure

Temper Tantrums


Best Start Positive Discipline Campaign

Early Childhood Development

Caring for Kids: KidsLink

Family and Children's Services

Early Years Waterloo Region

Caring for Kids

Domestic Violence

Alcohol and Drugs


Positive Parenting in Waterloo Region - Highlights

Positive Parenting in Waterloo Region


The Explosive Child: a new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children, by Ross W. Greene (New York: HarperCollins, c1999).

Kids Are Worth It, by Barbara Coloroso, 1998.

Secrets of Discipline for Parents and Teachers: 12 keys to raising responsible children, by Ronald G. Morrish.

Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin and Roslyn Duffy.

Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka.

Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook, by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka.


1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, by Thomas Glen Ellyn Phelan (IL: Child Management, c1990)

More 1-2-3 Magic : Encouraging Good Behaviour, Independence and Self Esteem, by Thomas Glen Ellyn Phelan (IL: Child Management, c2000)

Secrets of Discipline: 12 keys for raising responsible children, by Ronald G Morrish.

Yelling: Threatening and Putting Down: What to do instead

Discipline: Teaching Limits With Love (I Am Your Child Series)