Am I Spoiling My Child? The 101 on Positive Discipline


By Nina Malanay

Positive Discipline has become a buzzword among young parents. With most of us having been raised in strict, authoritarian homes, today’s generation of parents are moving away from the traditional parenting styles where obedience to authority, usually through instilling fear and punishment, was the norm.

Positive Discipline, a child-centered parenting philosophy developed by Dr. Jane Nelsen, is rooted in a warm, secure and loving relationship between parent and child. It is a way of teaching and guiding children by letting them know what behavior is acceptable in a way that is firm yet kind. Emphasis is on building loving connections to make the child feel secure, safe and loved, and thus more receptive and more willing to cooperate. Discipline that is anchored in mutual trust and respect strengthens the connections between the parent and child and this, in turn, helps the child learn essential social and life skills that help develop internal control and self-discipline.

Dr. Nelsen identifies 5 criteria of effective discipline:

Belonging and Significance.

Effective discipline should help children feel a sense of connection. When children feel a sense of belonging and connectedness, they are less likely to misbehave and more likely to cooperate.

Mutually respectful and encouraging to both adult and child.

Discipline should be kind and firm at the same time. Adults must be firm by respecting themselves, upholding boundaries, and modelling kindness by respecting the child’s feelings and needs.

Effective long-term

Punishments stop misbehavior in the short-term but can have damaging effects on the child and on the parent-child relationship in the long-term. For discipline to be effective, it must provide opportunities for the child to reflect on what he is thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about himself and his world, and develop a plan about what to do in the future should a similar situation arise.

Teaches important social and life skills

Discipline means “to teach” and for discipline to be effective, it must impart social and life skills such as respect, cooperation, concern for others, communication and problem solving skills.

Invites children to discover their capabilities

Discipline should encourage the productive use of one’s personal abilities and independence to develop self-awareness, self-esteem and self-control.

As Positive Discipline gained popularity among parents and educational institutions, society has naturally become more “child-centric”. Coinciding with society’s shift to a more child-centered parenting approach is the observation that most kids are growing up with a sense of entitlement. Kids expect to be given material things and privileges without feeling the need to work for them and earn them. Young children have become expert negotiators, expecting things to go their way and are unable to cope when they don’t.

Inevitably, there is a nagging question that comes up more often than we’d like to admit: “Am I spoiling my child?” “Are we raising entitled kids?”

Critics of the Positive Discipline Approach attribute the self-absorbed culture prevailing among children today to their parents’ seemingly “lenient and permissive” parenting style. Is there truth in this? In our effort to protect our children’s self-esteem and raise them to become responsible, adaptable human beings who are adept at compromising, skilled at communicating and are effective problem solvers, have we, instead, raised a generation of over-indulged, high-maintenance brats who expect the world to be served to them on a silver platter?

Parenting at this day and age is tough and while we can point fingers and blame social media, mainstream TV and other factors, one of the most powerful influences on our kids is us – the parents.

The goal of Positive Discipline is to help children learn positive values and acquire the skills needed to navigate life in the real world successfully. Let’s not be discouraged by the critics of positive discipline. Because when it applied in the correct context and administered with loving guidance, it can be one of the best parenting tools in helping our children grow into responsible, respectful, and empowered adults instead of the entitled brats society perceives them to be.


Nina Malanay is a mother to two rambunctious, affectionate boys, aged 7 and 4. Her husband-slash-best friend died in a tragic bombing incident in 2013. As she tries to navigate through life with her boys as a solo parent, she hopes to rediscover herself beyond the many hats she wears – mother, teacher, writer, baking enthusiast, student of life – and move boldly into her future.


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