December 2, 2012

Keeping the Holidays Cheerful through Positive Child Discipline

Doyle,-Rondi-NEW-colorBy Rondi Doyle
Director of Community Relations
Child Abuse Council

The sights, sounds, treats and time with family and friends are what make the holidays magical. These same joys can also lead to holiday mishaps for families with children. Luckily, there are positive ways to reinforce good behavior that can make the holiday season brighter for you and yours.

According to Dr. Robin Goodman and Dr. Anita Gurian, of the NYU Child Study Center, the best parenting method includes a “moderate” style of discipline. Instead of giving in to the pressures of wanting to constantly please your child during the holidays, Dr. Goodman and Dr. Gurian offer a few suggestions to help navigate any holiday mishap.

1. “Use language to help solve problems.” Help your child express their feelings. If they are upset and hit their cousin for not sharing, ask them why they are upset and help them to express anger in words. This will help them to understand the importance of using their words to solve problems.

2. “Ignore poor behavior.” Discredit the spectacle. If your child is playing with their turkey dinner, ignore it, and encourage good behavior by commenting on how nicely another child is eating their food. This demonstrates satisfaction in good behavior, and encourages your child to follow suit.

3. “Reward good behavior.” Encourage good behavior. If a child is sharing, share some time with them later by showing you are pleased and offering to read a holiday bedtime story or to play in the snow as a reward. Spending time with your child as a treat will provide lasting memories and reward positive behavior.

4. “Follow natural consequences.” Let children learn from their mistakes. Do not become frustrated when a child has eaten too many cookies, but realize that they must learn their own lessons and experience the resulting consequences. An upset tummy is a natural consequence, which prevents cookie gluttony in the future.

5. “Keep things positive” Avoid negative responses. If your child has been festive and decked the halls, with crayons, instead of saying ‘no,’ show them better options. Providing fun paper and explaining that wall art makes it hard for you to clean up will help to discourage that behavior.

6. “Negotiate” Give your child a choice. No one likes being forced to do something, so it’s better to negotiate a positive outcome. Ask questions like: ‘when you finish cleaning your room would you like a cookie or a visit to see Santa?’ By giving your child an option, they feel more involved and are less likely to rebel.

7. “Pick your battles” Prioritize your concerns. It is reasonable to be strict when it comes to honesty and rule-breaking, but if they want to wear their reindeer antlers to the grocery store, it is not worth fighting about.

8. “Prevention” Look for creative ways to avoid conflict. Think ahead, if you know your child will fuss for goodies while holiday shopping. Make shopping a game. Give them a list with pictures and make it a scavenger hunt. By including the child in the process, they will be distracted by the fun game and less likely to fuss over toys in the window.

A successful moderate disciplinary style can help keep the holidays bright and everyone happy. Flexibility and understanding that children must learn and grow from their mistakes is key to positive discipline. The holidays are a time when you can use gift giving, magical experiences and treats to help your child develop life skills that will encourage good behavior in the future. Let the holidays be a tool to help your family have a more peaceful holiday season.

For more information about the Child Abuse Council’s prevention and education programs, you can visit us at or contact me at

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