How To Guide Your Child’s Behaviour Without Using Punishment

Playgroup NSW

Categories: Parenting Tips

Child psychologist Dr Louise Porter teaches parents how to use the guidance approach in disciplining your child’s behaviour without punishment.

We held our Annual General Meeting (AGM) event on November 8th and it was an amazing success!

Our guest speaker for the evening was child psychologist Dr Louise Porter. Dr Porter discussed the benefits of the guidance approach in disciplining young children without using punishment. The feedback we received from our members on the night was extremely positive, so we decided to share some of her valuable lessons:

The guidance approach VS operant conditioning

In Child Psychology, there are two main basic approaches to effectively manage a child’s behaviour:

  • By using reward and punishment (operant conditioning). This teaches children to focus on what will happen to them if they do or don’t do a desired behaviour.

  • The guidance approach focuses on the idea that children need skills to behave well.  It teaches children to focus on what happens to other people when they do or don’t do a certain behaviour.

Children need consequences in order to learn how to be responsible. Rewards and punishments will only teach a child to be obedient. Our goal, as parents and carers, is to teach children how to become cooperative, kind and considerate of those around them.

In other words, children need to understand their behaviours have consequences not only for them but for people around them as well.

The guidance approach in a nutshell

The core belief of this punishment-free approach is that children need to learn certain skills in order to behave responsibly. Therefore, adults should teach children instead of punishing them for not knowing how to act considerately.

Here are some of the benefits of teaching your children skills they lack:


  • It helps them develop a moral sense and to discern between right and wrong. You will notice your children acting responsibly even without supervision. It teaches them to behave well not because they might be punished, but because they understand this is the right thing to do.

  • It teaches children to self-regulate their emotions, an important skill contributing to their emotional intelligence. Children who learn to cope with setbacks and frustration in life are going to become more content as adults.

  • It develops your child’s cooperation skills. We all know how important cooperation and communication is in interpersonal relationships, both as children and later on as adults.

  • It gives children confidence in their own skills, not a false sense of pride or an overestimated self-esteem. It’s how they will learn to become independent and make the right decisions by themselves.

Consistent behavioural research has shown this discipline style prompts children to become more cooperative, self-controlled, self-confident, independent and social.

How to guide your child’s behaviour without using punishment

  • Acknowledge instead of praising the desired behaviour. It will teach your child to self-evaluate as opposed to judging themselves. Instead of praising them, you can say: What do you think of that? How did that feel like? Are you happy with how you acted?

  • Give them space to calm down instead of punishing them with timeout. When a child is experiencing strong negative emotions like anger or frustration they need some time to calm down. Continue to communicate calmly when they are feeling overwhelmed.  Let them know you are giving them space to cool down (rather than using timeout as a punishment) or give them a soothing long hug.  You will know what works best for your child and how to comfort them when they are overwhelmed.  Once they are calm, come back to the issue and talk it through together.

Let’s try to put ourselves in our children’s shoes. It will surely change our perspective when it comes to the methods we use to discipline them. Teaching instead of punishing will contribute to responsible and kind children.


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