Five alternative discipline strategies that actually work


Reward charts, time-outs and the old naughty corner. These may be age-old methods to discipline unruly toddlers, but a new school of thought believes they’re not best for your child – or you. 

Welcome to the world of positive discipline, where there’s no shouting, no punishment, the word “no” is used as little as possible — if at all— and no child gets spanked, ever. 

Here’s the best part: it works. Of course there’s a catch (there always is): whereas shouting at your toddler or sticking her in the naughty corner is quick and immediate, it takes far more time, patience and conscious effort to practise positive discipline. 

But the results are well worth the effort in the long run, according to Mayim Bialik, the US-based parenting author and actress with a PhD in neuroscience, who maintains that positive discipline is good science. 

“It can work for every child and every parent, if only we invest the time and energy to make it happen with consistency, authenticity and love,” she says. How exactly you “do” positive discipline differs from child to child. 

Like all parenting hurdles you have to cross – from weaning to sleeping and potty training – you have to try out a few methods until you find the one, or the mix of two or more, that works best for your toddler and you. 

As expert blogger Melanie Mayo-Laaks writes on Mothering: The Home of Natural Family Living: “Every child and every situation is unique, so [positive discipline] tools are not one-size-fits-all but rather ideas to lean on to expand your parenting toolbox.” 

Here are five new tools to add to yours:

1. Glitter Bottle Cool Down 

Imagine you’re in a rage so bad you can’t control your emotions. It can be overwhelming, scary even. Now imagine someone picks you up, dumps you in a room and leaves you there, trapped and all alone. 

That’s what the traditional time-out effectively does. An alternate approach is to use a time-out – or, rather, a cool-down – as a time for everyone, you included, to calm down and gather control of emotions. 

And what better way to do that than to sit quietly with mom or dad nearby and watch pretty glitter shimmy down through liquid in a bottle? 

By the time all the glitter’s settled, your screaming toddler should be relaxed, focused and ready to resume the day. There are a few different ways to make the glitter bottle timer – visit Pinterest for ideas


“On a sensory level, the glitter bottle uses the sense of vision to help a child self-regulate [manage his emotions]. 

When you focus your attention on something, it’s a high level of self-regulation, which will moderate the lower level behavioural state…that goes with outbursts and tantrums,” explains Meg Faure, Cape Town-based occupational therapist and co-author of Baby Sense, a book about how the sensory world affects children’s behaviour and development. 

2. Time-ins

Psychologists today warn that timeouts are “symbolic abandonment” giving children the message that they will be left alone with their big, scary feelings at a time when they most need the people who give them comfort and safety: mom and dad. 

A better way to deal with tantrums or to discipline bad behaviour is to use a time-in, where you sit with or near your child in a quiet chill out space until she has calmed down enough to manage her emotions, control her behaviour and, if she is able to, talk about it.


“Time-ins are a way to reconnect and balance the parenting scale.” So says Celeste Rushby, a Cape Town occupational therapist specialising in babies and toddlers, and a mother of a five-year-old and and twin two-year-olds. 

“It is very important to keep this scale balanced: on the one side of the scale there needs to be clear, firm, predictable age appropriate boundaries.

These boundaries need to be consistent so that children know exactly where they stand so they don’t have to keep testing where the boundaries lie and can therefore feel safe within them.

On the other side of the scale, they need to have their love tanks filled at all times. That means no calling them negative names like ‘naughty’, ‘clumsy’ or even ‘shy’.

It means putting aside daily quality time with each of your children individually. This scale needs to be balanced at all times. If it tips either way, you will have behavioural issues.” 

3. Positive talk 

Saying “no” every five minutes gets frustrating for you and your child, who feels like a big wall of “NO!” is slammed in front of her every time she tries to explore or do something new. 

Talking positively instead may sound easy, but for most of us who are conditioned to discipline with negativity it requires a complete mind shift. 

The trick is to focus on what you would like your child to do and offer this as an option, along with a reason for your request. For example, instead of shouting, “No, don’t touch my phone!” you could say: “Can you please help Mommy and put her phone down onto the table so that it doesn’t get broken?” 

Most times an eager to help toddler, who now feels empowered and involved, will happily obey your request. Bear in mind though that talking positively doesn’t mean you’re never allowed to say “no” – it just means you say it as little as possible. 

Nor does it mean your child can do what they want to, when and how they want to. Setting firm, clear boundaries but enforcing these through positive talk is a key part of positive discipline. 

The bigger aim here is to teach your child to respond positively to reasonable requests that make sense to her, instead of teaching her to mindlessly obey every instruction. 


“Positive talking, as part of positive discipline, teaches children self-control. Children learn the benefit of doing what is right. 

It helps children develop their own value system,” says Dr Elaine Wilson, a parenting specialist from the United States and author of Guiding Young Children Series: Disciplining Your Children Without a Punishment. 

4. Two-tone parenting 

Most of us instinctively change our tone of voice to discipline our children. The trick of two-tone parenting is to consciously use a light, playful tone when your child’s behaviour is fine and then switch to a serious tone when it’s not. 

If used correctly this should ensure you never have to shout! For example, if your child is behaving well then maintain a happy, bouncy tone.

If she’s not, switch to your serious tone and simply say, “You’re not listening.” If she then listens, switch back to the bouncy, happy tone and say, “Good, you’re listening,” and carry on as you were. 

If not, repeat the serious tone until she does. It takes patience and some getting used to, but it beats a hoarse throat at the end of every day. 


“Using this method means you will never have to shout or get angry. And let’s face it, getting angry doesn’t do anyone any good anyway, but calm parenting has beautiful results,” says Celeste. 

5. The five rings method 

This one’s interesting because it focuses on modifying your behaviour, not your toddler’s. It’s a simple concept: start each day with five rings (or bracelets, elastics, rainbow loom loops, or whatever you’re comfortable with) on your right hand.   

Each time you have a setback, move one of the rings from your right hand to your left. A setback is when you lose your patience, shout, say “no” as a reflex instead of necessity or generally react negatively instead of positively. 


“Parents must be the role model, and if we have emotional issues that haven’t been dealt with our children will reflect them back to us.

We must work on ourselves first to create the foundations for consistent behaviour and reasoned discipline,” says Colleen Jack, a Johannesburg-based life coach who works with female entrepreneurs and those returning to a demanding career after raising kids. 

She has two children of her own and is an advocate of “gentle parenting” with positive discipline.

Spanking: Against the law? 

There was outrage in 2013 when South African Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini confirmed that her department was working on a draft bill which, if passed, would make it illegal for parents to spank their children — in or out of the home.

The bill hasn’t yet seen the light of day, but if it does come to pass it wouldn’t be out of step with what the world’s most progressive countries are doing.

Sweden started the trend back in 1979 and, at last count, 35 other countries had banned any form of corporal punishment of children, including spanking.

But what harm is there really in a smack or two? Plenty, according to a mass of studies done into physical punishment of children over the past 20 years.

Child development experts reviewed key studies conducted over two decades in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and found that they all came to the same conclusion: physical punishment not only doesn’t work, it can change your child’s behaviour for the worse and potentially harm her long term development.

“Virtually without exception, all these studies found that physical punishment was associated with higher levels of aggression against parents, siblings, peers and spouses,” wrote Dr Joan Durrant and Dr Ron Ensom, members of the Canadian review panel.

They added that the studies also showed physical punishment is related to later life mental health problems and use of drugs and alcohol, and that it may change areas in the brain linked to performance on IQ tests.

Would you try these discipline strategies? Tell us about your experience with alternative discipline by mailing to and we might publish your letter. 

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