Tips for Parents: Making New Connections: Digging Deeper into the practice of Positive Discipline Parenting
Gruener, C.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is based upon a seminar hosted by Catherine Gruener. She provided resources, tips and guidance in application of Positive Discipline parenting, using Adlerian approaches with a Positive Discipline focus (Lott & Nelsen, 2012; Nelsen, 2006).

The following information is a summary of the key issues from the seminar, presented from Ms. Gruener’s theoretical integration, emphasizing Adlerian theory with a Positive Discipline focus.

What is Positive Discipline?

Positive Discipline is an approach toward parenting created by Jane Nelsen, refined in professional practice by Lynn Lott and Jane Nelsen, and broadened through the work of many members of the Positive Discipline Association (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1987; Lott & Nelsen, 2012; Nelsen, 2006). Positive Discipline is an encouraging and supportive approach toward children, based upon Adlerian theory and the work of Rudolph Dreikurs (the founder of the Alfred Adler Institute of Chicago, now called the Adler School of Professional Psychology) (Nelsen, 2006). Some of the key components of Positive Discipline include: Kind and Firm, connection, encouragement and taking time to train (Lott & Nelsen, 2012; Nelsen, 2006).

Kind and Firm

Kindness and firmness at the same time is a concept introduced by Jane Nelsen based upon the work of Rudolf Dreikurs and Adlerian parenting theory (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1987; Gfroerer, Kern, & Curlette, 2004; Nelsen, 2006). The concept enables parents to explore their parenting style while delineating the difference between Baumrind’s three parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive and authoritative (Baumrind, 1966; Lott & Nelsen, 2012). The negative results of kind-only approaches share many qualities of permissive parenting, whereas the negative results of firm-only approaches share many qualities of authoritarian approaches.

Authoritarian parenting styles focus on control, obedience and punitive measures (Baumrind, 1966). Permissive parenting styles use reason and manipulation, avail themselves for questions but not as active agents in shaping behavior, make few demands upon household responsibilities or orderly behavior, and do not encourage the child to obey externally defined standards (Baumrind, 1966). Authoritative parenting styles emphasis autonomous self-will (through sharing and soliciting information as well as affirming the child) and disciplined conformity (through setting standards for conduct) (Baumrind, 1966).

Nelsen emphasizes using the positive aspects of both kind and firm parenting approaches, and pulls the democratic parenting approach of Rudolph Dreikurs into the concept of Kind and Firm by incorporating trust, clear hierarchical boundaries, while coming from a place of love, respect, flexibility and nurturance (Lott & Nelsen, 2012; Mansager & Volk, 2004; Nelsen, 2006).

Dreikurs’ democratic parenting is based upon Adlerian parenting concepts which emphasize the “authoritative parenting characteristics that Baumrind identified as being most effective”: “importance of the parent-child relationship, communication skills, consistency and fairness, natural and logical consequences, perception of the goals of misbehavior, mutual respect, and democratic parenting strategies,” (Gfoerer, Kern, & Curlette, 2004, p. 384).

The Kind and Firm approach focuses on learning respectful interactions that maintain respect for self, the child, and the situation (Nelsen, 2006).

Connection and Encouragement

The primary goal of Positive Discipline is to support “more joy, harmony, cooperation, shared responsibility, mutual respect and love in their life and relationships,” (Nelsen, 2006, p. 288). Connection and encouragement are key components of the approach and participants are offered opportunities to explore and reflect upon these concepts and use in everyday tasks (Lott & Nelsen, 2012).

The approach includes the idea of “making sure the message of love gets through,” connecting with one’s own feelings, and connecting with our children (Nelsen, 2006, p. 43). Lott and Nelsen (2012) delineate the differences between encouragement, enabling and praise. Adlerian approaches emphasis that encouragement not only focuses on words, but encompasses understanding, empathy, compassion and guidance in supporting growth (Mosak & Maniacci, 1999).

Through connection and encouragement with ourselves and with our children, we can preserve a working attachment (Neufeld & Mate, 2006). Focusing too much on what is not working can invite feelings of shame, blame, anxiety and a whole host of negative emotions. Positive Discipline emphasizes that what is focused upon, happens more (Lott & Nelsen, 2012). Parents who feel more confident, do better (Robinson, Lanzi, Weinberg, Ramey, & Ramey, 2002). Children who feel better, who feel significant and who have a feeling of belonging, do better (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1987; Lott & Nelsen, 2012; Nelsen, 2006; Neufeld & Mate, 2006; Siegel & Hartzell, 2004). A working attachment, created through connection and encouragement, supports healthy interactions that can become the foundation of a healthy parenting relationship.

Take Time to Train

Family meetings can be a powerful Positive Discipline tool. They offer a space and time where all of the principles of Positive Discipline can come together. The use of democratic principles, appreciations or compliments, and positive problem solving, opens opportunities for modeling and teaching valuable life skills. Some suggestions for success with Positive Discipline family meetings are: stay connected, use kind and firm principles, do not shame or blame, keep problem solving specific and focused on solutions (Lott & Nelsen, 2012; Nelsen, 2006).


Application of these principles often requires thoughtful understanding of each concept, reflection on application, the willingness to try new behaviors, and the courage to learn from mistakes.

More information can be requested, along with the expanded references for these Tips by contacting Catherine Gruener, M.A., M.A., Gruener Consulting LLC,  

The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.

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