Saturday, May 24, 2014

What is Persuasive Discipline?

To improve our ability in disciplining children, we do not need flamboyant techniques or procedures; we just need better communication and persuasion skills. Generally speaking, persuasion is the process of communicating with children using just the right words to get the positive outcome we want. Most specifically, in persuasive discipline, we use specific language patterns and ways of talking to shift the child’s attitude and mind-set from noncompliance to compliance. Here is a partial list of persuasion-based techniques that parents, teachers, and tutors can use to improve child compliance (for the complete list, see Reyes, 2013): 

Persuasion Technique 1: Assume that What You Want is True
If you talk and act as if what you want is true, your child will believe you. When we assume something, we are sending the message to the child that he or she already wants to do what we are requesting; for example, asking, “Do you want carrots or celery?” assumes that the child wants and will eat one of these two vegetables.

Persuasion Technique 2: Use Positive Directions
When we use positive directions, we get higher compliance than when we use negative directions. Negative directions tell children what not to do; “Don’t make noises” or “Don’t hit your little sister” are examples of negative directions. On the other hand, positive directions tell children what they need to do to comply. Work in changing the negative directions you give children into positive directions. Shapiro (1994) recommends that we write down the negative directions we typically say in one column, and then, in a second column, we change these statements into directions that tell the child in a specific way what he or she should be doing instead. Always describe what you want in positive terms; for example, “Talk in a quiet voice” rather than “Stop shouting!”

Persuasion Technique 3: Point Out an Acceptable Alternative
Positive directions guide children toward a more appropriate behavior or in the direction of an alternative behavior. Shapiro provides the following examples, “Making noises at the table disturbs other people during dinner. If you need to make noises, you can excuse yourself from the table and go outside for five minutes,” and “When you hit your little sister, you will have to go to time-out. Try hitting this pillow when you feel angry.” According to Schaefer (1994), when we point out an acceptable alternative, the child will be more likely to change the inappropriate behavior because he knows what he should do in addition to what not to do.

Persuasion Technique 4: Use More “Start” Messages and Fewer “Stop” Messages
It is easier to start doing something than to stop doing something. Apply this principle when you discipline children; instead of telling the child what to stop doing, tell the child what to start doing. For example, we can turn a statement like, “Stop playing with that toy” into “Please, hand me the toy.” A parent or teacher skilled in persuasive discipline is able to suggest alternative ways of behaving rather than constantly saying, “No” or “Stop that.”

Persuasion Technique 5: State Rules Impersonally
For example, you can say, “The rule in our house is no pushing your sister.” The beauty in using impersonal wording is that it puts the child in conflict with a rule; hence, the caregiver removes herself/himself from the conflict.

Persuasion Technique 6: Manipulate the Size of Your Request to Make it Look Smaller or Bigger
There are two ways of doing this:
1.     Break down your persuading or the “from smaller to bigger approach.”  Smaller requests are easier to understand and to comply with, so, get the child to make a larger commitment by asking for a smaller commitment first. For example, asking your child to read only the first ten pages of her chapter book, and once she complies, asking her to finish reading the book.
2.     Making the bigger request first or the “from bigger to smaller approach.” Here, you ask first for something bigger that your child may find excessive and will likely refuse. When she refuses, you ask for something that requires less effort and feels more reasonable to your child. In other words, you get a “no” first so that you can get a “yes” last. An example would be asking your child to read the whole chapter book, and when she refuses, saying, “Okay, just read the first ten pages of the book.”


Reyes, C.Y. (2013). Persuasive discipline: Using power messages and suggestions to influence children toward positive behavior. Charleston, SC: Create Space.

Schaefer, C. E. (1994). How to influence children. A handbook of practical child guidance skills (Second Edition). Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Shapiro, L. E. (1994). Tricks of the trade: 101 psychological techniques to help children grow and change. King of Prussia, PA: Center for Applied Psychology.

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Persuasive Discipline: Using Power Messages and Suggestions to Influence Children Toward Positive Behavior. To preview this book on Amazon, click here

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