Keep Discipline Positive by Affirming Approximately Right Behavior

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

One way to keep a positive focus in your discipline is to look for approximately right behavior and affirm it. Don’t wait until things are absolutely right.

If you ask your child to clean up the toys but find that he’s only put away two things and left six out, you might say, “Oh, I see you put the blocks away, that’s great! And I like the way you lined up your trucks, now let me see you put the balls in the box where they belong.”

Affirmation Motivates the Heart

By affirming approximately right behavior you’re encouraging steps in the right direction. One little boy was learning to dress himself and Mom had a rule that he needed to be dressed before coming to the breakfast table. When he came downstairs with his shirt on backwards and his shoes missing, she still praised him. He was trying. Pointing out his shortcomings would have been discouraging. He had tried and was feeling good. Mom wanted to encourage his efforts.

If your teen is having a hard time finishing a homework assignment, you could be encouraging and point out how much she’s done, rather than focusing on how much is left.

Imagine that your child is on a path from a weakness to a strength. It is important to parent to your child’s strengths to address weaknesses. If you spend too much time focusing on where your child is now and point out the weakness, you make change more difficult. Rather, focus your words and your encouragement on the progress your child is making or on the destination or strength you’re trying to build. Those comments go a long way to produce internal motivation in your kids.

Rewards aren’t as Powerful as Internal Motivation

Some parents think that the best way to motivate kids is to give them rewards. Those external motivations are part of a behavior modification philosophy. Although tangible rewards may bring about some change, there are many other stronger forms of motivation that come from the heart. One of those is the inner belief that I’m becoming a stronger person, or the desire to please God and others. As you encourage children about their progress and their focus on the goal, you’ll be building the internal motivation they’ll need to continue on.

Paul affirmed approximately right behavior when he wrote in Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Paul was saying, “Be encouraged in the process because God is still working in you.” We give correction as a gift to our children as we affirm them in process, not just completion. Remember that training takes time and implies lots of work. You’re a coach and your child is in training. See Parenting Game Changer: Training vs Correction.

The reality is that everyone needs encouragement. Because children often fall short of expectations, many parents find it hard to make a positive statement. Sometimes parents think that if they give encouragement that their kids will slack off and feel like they don’t need to keep working to improve. The reality is that encouraging children by pointing out progress can actually motivate them to hang in there and press on.

Growth is a process. It takes time. Character isn’t developed overnight. Sometimes parents are motivated out of fear. They’re afraid when they see weaknesses in a child, that those deficiencies will dominate the child’s character and end up ruining life. Or, some parents correct because their children embarrass them or they’re afraid that others might think they’re bad parents. Fear has little benefit when it dominates parenting decisions.

Examine Your Own Heart as a Parent

Take time to ask yourself some important questions about your view of parenting. The person who allows fears to control parenting has a hard time living with children who are in process. Annoyance, defiance, or lack of cooperation in kids results in major trauma for parents. Those weaknesses are important and parents need to take firm action, but being firm and reacting out of fear are two different things.

As you influence your children to develop the qualities necessary for success in life, take time to point out how far they’ve come. “I notice that you’re responding much better to disappointment now. Do you remember how you used to yell and scream when you didn’t get your way? We haven’t had one of those episodes in a long time. I’m proud of you. You’re growing up and I’m liking the person you’re becoming.”

In the same way that focusing on character gives parents perspective as they develop strategies, emphasizing how far children have come on the path toward that character provides emotional strength to continue. That encouragement is necessary for kids but it’s also helpful for parents as they think about their children. Be careful about overemphasizing weaknesses or you may talk yourself into disliking your child.

The Christian Parenting Handbook

If you take time to emphasize how far your child has come and the progress made over the years, you’ll be encouraged by the person your child is becoming. That’s what real love is all about. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 from the eyes of a parent. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

One of the greatest ways to learn how to love is to have children. It’s then that we learn to love others in their uniqueness. We want to help them change, yes, but love keeps a healthy balance between who they are today and how they need to change. We want to communicate our love for them when they need correction and in their weaknesses too. When parents learn how to love, great things happen in them and in their kids. Of course, love takes time. Love is demonstrated in the process, not just in the perfection.

This idea comes from the Christian Parenting Handbook starting on page 75. This book has 50 heart-based ideas like this that will help you mold your parenting and help you focus more on the heart of a child. Remember that it’s in the details that real change takes place. This is a book that gives you specific hands on techniques and tools that mold a child’s heart. Learn more about this practical parenting resource here.


  • Amy Sauder
    Posted at 00:19h, 12 March Reply

    Awesome tip. This is so applicable to children of all ages.

  • Jodie Snyder
    Posted at 11:19h, 13 March Reply

    Thank you, I needed that tip today in the midst of lots of littles. Great perspective!

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