How to Correct Your Child in a Really Positive Way

Use this simple trick to use positive discipline to get your child to obey and understand what you are wanting him to do.

Happy child looking at his dad

Correcting children in a positive way, or using positive discipline, sounds very nice and happy, but it isn’t always easy to think of ways to be nice and happy when your child has done something she shouldn’t.

On Becoming Preschoolwise has an excellent suggestion for correcting your children in a positive way.

“As often as possible use the negative of the virtue, not the negative of the vice”

On Becoming Preschoolwise (page 178)

Sound confusing? Let me clear this up for you.

Using the Negative of the Virtue

Basically, when you use the negative of the virtue, it means you correct your child by using the word you want them to do.

Did your child lie to you? Instead of saying, “You lied to Mommy” you would say, “You didn’t tell Mommy the truth.”

So instead of saying “lie” (what you didn’t want to happen), you used the word “truth” (what you did want to happen).

Get it?

Other examples of things you would say:

  • “That was not nice” instead of “That was rude.”
  • “Keep your hands to yourself” instead of “don’t hit.”
  • “Walk in the house” instead of “Don’t run.”

Read: Using Encouragement as a Discipline Tool

How to correct your child in a positive way pinnable image

Why Use the Virtue

Why is manner of speech this important?

Preschoolwise points out that preschoolers are gaining such a large vocabulary. The words they hear daily are going into their little heads and will come out of their little mouths.

This got me thinking. Our children mimic us. They talk like us, walk like us, roll their sleeves up like us…they want to be just like us.

So the words we say to them will soon be said to others. While certain phrases don’t necessarily sound bad coming from an adult for some reason, when you hear it coming from your child, it puts that word in a new perspective.

I remember when my children were 4, 2, and 10 months. Something I said a lot was “Dang it.”

Well, that isn’t so bad. It is better than other alternatives out there.

But when my sweet little two year old Kaitlyn said, “Dang it!”, it startled me and made me think about it. It didn’t sound so good coming from her lips. In fact, I didn’t like it.

The words we say as parentse will be repeated–and with gusto.

Imagine your sweet Bobby playing at the park with Billy. Billy gets in front of him and goes down the slide first.

Would you rather hear, “That was rude!” or “That wasn’t nice!” come from little Bobby?

Imagine your child’s voice. I am guessing most parents will prefer the latter phrase.

That will only happen if you model it.

Your children soak up your instruction like little sponges, even when you don’t really think they are paying much attention.

How to Correct Your Child in a Positive Way pinnable image

I remember one day hearing three year Brayden explaining to Kaitlyn that she needed to share something with him because that would show love and it is important to show love to your family members.

Brayden responded very positively to me when I talked about showing love in that way, but it was surprising for me to hear him explaining the situation to his little sister.

Another benefit of stressing the positive of virtue as a good idea is it tells the child what to do rather than just what not to do.

“Don’t be noisy!” is not as clear to a child as “Be quiet!”

Children lack so much life experience. Adults can hear an instruction and be able to apply past learning and do what is really wanted.

Children don’t have that. They also don’t have as large of vocabulary and opposites are not always obvious. We literally practice opposites with children so they can learn to identify them. We can’t expect them to understand the opposite of every word we say.

So you tell a child “Don’t yell”, she doesn’t know that the opposite to that is to be quiet. She knows not to yell. She doesn’t know it isn’t okay to not talk really loudly or to sing at the top of her lungs.

Read: Teach Kids What Obedience Looks Like


This simple trick really helps set your little one up for success. You want your kid to behave a certain way, so why not just help him out and tell him what that is rather than tell him one thing not to do and expect him to know what it is he should do.

Give it a try the next time you are correcting your child and see how it goes.

Related Posts

This post originally appeared on this blog in February 2010

13 thoughts on “How to Correct Your Child in a Really Positive Way”

  1. Hi Valerie! my daughter Savannah is now 14 weeks old, we are feeding on a 3 hr schedule beginning at 6am and a DF between 9-10pm. her current bedtime is 8 or 830pm. my ?s are:1. when McKenna was 14 weeks & going down for a nap, did you do anything else besides swaddle her and lay her in her crib? did you spend any time cuddling with her, using a pacifier, rocking her? you said at that age she was taking about 20 minutes to fall asleep, not being fussy, just taking awhile. i am under the impression you use no props- if so, do you think it only takes her 20 minutes being swaddled and laid down in her crib because that is what she is used to, or just her personality? if you think it is conditioning, at what age would you start decreasing props for a baby that seems to require it for sleep?currently, i use a variety of all the above i listed, which i know BW does not recommend. but, the reason i do is my daughter will simply fuss and cry for the majority (if not all) of her sleeping time, and then would typically fall asleep within 30 minutes of the next scheduled feed, and THEN i am faced with the dilemma, do i let her sleep (and if so how long?!?) or do i wake her and she will be exhausted during the feeding? …so, we have used lots of props since her birth. at her current age, she has not given many "tired" cues and in the past 1-2 weeks she has been taking less and less naps altogether, partly because she has fought the props and taken so long to get to sleep, and made us think maybe she is not tired? but of course within 30-45 min of the next feed i can tell she's exhausted. which leads me to my next question, 2. do you think less daytime sleep can disturb night time sleep? savannah has been sleeping thru the night (6-7 hours since 1 month old and 8-10 hours up till 13 weeks). despite the DF, the past week, she has begun waking up almost nightly for a 2,3, or 4am feeding. during the day she has seemed very tired during her feedings but i'd say mostly nursing well. i am wondering if her lack of sleep for daytime naps is causing her to not sleep well during the night? i'd have thought it was the opposite, but after reading your comments about if you went to far over McKenna's waketime (by even 5 or 10 minutes!!) she would take a shorter nap. so i am pondering if that principle applies to the big picture.Question 3. if the answer to #2 is YES, (ie. not just a random growth spurt..and if it IS a growth spurt, i cant understand why she has NEVER woken up for a middle of the night feeding until now!) then we need to buckle down and make sure she is getting more naps. since realizing this possibility, i have done more Parent Directed Napping (hehehe) for the past 2 days and she has been napping more overall. but, this takes up a lot of my time GETTING her to sleep (20-30 + minutes.. you know, she falls asleep and i dont want to put her down in her crib too early and have her wake back up, so she sleeps a little longer in my arms and i have to guess when is the 'right time' to put her down in her crib. if i guess wrong, she will need me to hold the pacifier in her mouth (she still cant suck on it on her own) for 1-5 minutes to soothe her back into sleep. so i suppose question #3 is, is the sleep so important that i need to continue using all the props and devoting all the time that Seems necessary to ensure she gets her naps (and thus possibly restoring her uninterrupted night time sleep), or do i let her stay awake indefinitely until she is obviously tired, or, do i lose the props and lay her down and let her CIO?thank you Val and any others who may have insight. i am a first time mom and really struggling here, this blog has been a real blessing and more than anything, i want to direct my daughter in what she needs but unfortunately she still cant talk! hehe!

  2. Hi Summer, I'm going to jump in here and give you some of my thoughts to start with because I know Valerie might not be able to respond for a while. To answer question #1 I know that Val used Baby Whisperer's 4S's (she has a post on that)and didn't use any sleep props. I didn't know about Baby Whisperer when my son was younger and so I used a pacifier and I rocked him to sleep. I can totally relate to worrying about putting him down too soon and having him wake up and then having to start the process over again. In hind sight, (and for future children) I won't use any sleep props. The sooner they learn to fall asleep on their own the better. According to Baby Whisperer it usually takes babies 20 minutes to fall asleep once they know how to do it on their own. In my opinion I'd get rid of the sleep props as soon as possible. It might get worse (as in less sleep for a little while) before it gets better but the sooner you do it, the less time it will take for your little one to learn to sleep without the prop.To answer #2 Yes! Sleep begets sleep (until the toddler age and then it is possible to have too much daytime sleep) If she isn't napping well during the day than chances are she won't sleep well at night.To answer #3 I'd say it's time to let her CIO. It will disturb her sleep temporarily but like I said before, in the long run things will be much better.As a side note, if you are concerned about it being a growth spurt, try to get more calories into her during the day. If possible, try to get her to nurse just a little longer at each feeding, or add an extra feeding to the day for a little while. Also keep in mind that four months seems to be a turning point for some babies. Some babies who are great sleepers seem to have issues around four months old. It could be that the sleep props worked before but now they are interfering with her ability to self soothe and to fall asleep on her own.Disclaimer: I'm not nearly as experienced as Valerie. I only have one son who will be 2 in March. But I have read Babywise several times through and I've been following Val's blog for about 18 months now. Hopefully some of these ideas will be helpful to you.Good luck and stick with your Parent Directed Naps! It sounds like you are on the right track!Val, I hope you don't mind that I answered Summer. Please feel free to correct anything I've said!

  3. janelle, i REALLY appreciate your quick response and advice and welcome the thoughts of any other moms! it really helps to hear someone else's story. thank you!

  4. update: janelle, your advice was Very Helpful! there are so many blogs i want to read on here and only so much time to research every day, thank you for your patience with me. as of today, we have been paci free for 4 days and thats going GREAT! she went from falling asleep in 45 min to 5-15 min!!! i feel like i am putting her down after an appropriate wake time since it takes less time to get to sleep also. but of course, now theres a new problem, isnt there always. she FALLS ASLEEP QUICK AND WAKES UP EARLY FROM NAPS, and waking in the MOTN. she is now taking 30-45 min naps and screams in her crib if i leave her to CIO till the next feed. AND since feb 2nd has been wanting MOTN feedings off and on. she is not at the dreaded 4 month sleep problems yet and already having sleep problems!! i have been feeding her at night when she wakes and even initating an extra dream feed, but now 10 days later her MOTN wakings are the same but she doesnt seem to eat much if i feed her early. so i am thinking if there was a growth spurt, its over but she's still crying and not STTN or well for naps. i am keeping a detailed log to look for patterns now, but i am thinking it may be time to do CIO after midnight but it just feels so cruel for her to spend so much of her life crying. am i missing something??

  5. Hi Summer,I'm so glad to hear that she is falling asleep quickly! As for the night wakings and the short naps Valerie has two really good posts on that. They are under the blog label (right hand side of the screen) called Sleep Problems. They are the fourth and fifth posts in that section. They are called Nightime Sleep Issues–Revised and Updated and Naps: Troubleshooting–Revised and Updated.Take a look at these posts and see if they are of any help. My guess is that she is in a bad cycle of being overtired. It's like she's too tired to sleep well. With my son I did have to let him CIO after midnight and he stopped waking in the middle of the night after 3 nights. However, every child is different. With my son I knew that if I went in to soothe him at all it would just make things worse. Also, according to Baby Whisperer, fixing sleep problems is like taking 2 steps forward, then back 1 step then 2 forward, etc. for a little while. So you are probably headed in the right direction! Your little one is still learning how to sleep on her own and is trying to work out all the kinks. Good luck and keep up the good work!

  6. val, dont cringe! this is my last comment (for awhile!!) after much, much research on your blog index, i am seeing that i need to pick your brain less about "what to do" and more about "how to think". i am seeing that my DD is not showing any bad/ undesirable patterns.. rather, just some inconsistencies. i am such a black and white person, i like to be told "do this" and expect "x". unfortunately, my daughter has more than one response to me doing the same thing! such is life. i looked on your index and the search bar, maybe you can direct me to more reading on what to do when my DD is seeming to backtrack. for instance, what questions do you ask your self when McKenna normally sleeps well for a nap, but wakes early, and you've ruled out environmental things and you dont believe its a growth spurt? how do you decide when to start CIO at night (after the DF?) how do you decide the difference between avoiding a bad habit and accommodating what your child needs? do you think a child over 4 months old could legitimately need MOTN feedings if they have a great history of STTN? and do you have any blogs on what to do when the parents leaving the house and these activities keep the baby from napping? and how to help the child stay on schedule even though they arent at home? maybe its not possible :(i am realizing how insecure having my DD makes me. when she does what i "think" she is "supposed to", i think, 'oh good, i'm doing well as a mom'. but when she cries, i feel like its my fault. especially when its extended crying. and one more question. when you are making a change (like, CIO for MOTN feedings, or CIO when waking early from a nap), how long do you stay consistent before you say, this isnt working, and try something else?i will do any and all suggested reading. i ordered babywise 2, even though my DD isnt 5 mo yet. thanks for pointing me in the right direction and letting me vent!!!!! interpreting the needs of a baby who cant talk is really hard 🙁 🙁

  7. Summer, 1. We started life with the 4 S's. By 14 weeks, I swaddled, then I stood with her and sang her lullaby (I am a Child of God) then I put her down. We do the exact same thing now.The Babywhisperer says it can take 20 minutes for the average baby to fall asleep. I don't really buy into that. I believe some might need that long, but I think for most people, if you time things right, they should be asleep within 10 minutes. That includes adults.2. Yes, less day sleep disrupts night sleep. There is a post titled "sleep begets sleep" that will delve into that more for you.3. At that age, I would definitely move to training her to fall asleep on her own without props. As a newborn, I think sleep is most important, but she is at an age now where she needs to be able to sleep on her own. There are lots of ways to go about this. If you choose CIO, be sure to read through the CIO posts first.

  8. Janelle had some great points. She is right that around that age, many babies who have been doing great with props seem to now have them be more of a disruption than a help. Thanks Janelle!

  9. Summer,The posts Janelle directed you to outline what I think through when the child is suddenly not sleeping well.For CIO at night, we never have done that, so I don't have experience in that department.With the bad habit vs. needs, a lot of that comes with experience. But see the labels "flexibility" and "context" to get some examples in that department.4 months needing to eat…possibly. I think it is possible. There is a post titled "going out" and also the church label can give you ideas on going out. When you go out, plan on it disrupting the schedule. That is fine. It happens. You can get back on track.See also blog label titled "progress is a spiral"Finally, make all these questions a matter of prayer. That is what I do. The Lord will direct you in what is best for your baby. He knows her best 🙂

  10. val, i have read the posts you mentioned. you said you didnt do CIO at night. it sounds like from your other blogs you used the swing after an hour of unsuccessful CIO. did you do that at night as well? did you ever feed in the MOTN just so everyone could get some sleep? i read a more recent blog about how breakfast is at the same time regardless of AM waking. is that true for mckenna or just your older children? at what age did you stop doing MOTN or early morning feedings? if you didnt feed what did you do?i am asking in the context of believing your baby is NOT in a growth spurt. but even then, for a baby that is over 3 months old, wouldnt you just add in an extra feeding during the day? when reflecting on my questions, i am especially interested in what you did with Brayden. my LO does not care for the swing much and certainly will not fall asleep in it. PS we are still paci free and even have given up the swaddle as it didnt make any difference.thank you very much,Summer

  11. Summer,I didn't use the swing at night. I always just fed the baby when baby woke. I didn't ever have an excessive waking problem, so it wasn't a big deal for me.Breakfast was/is always at a consistent time for McKenna, as well.I didn't ever stop the feedings, the baby just started sleeping through consistently.With Brayden, I always fed him as soon as he woke up because I wanted to keep the EWS cycle. I don't know if that was the best way to go about it, but it is what we did.With McKenna, when she woke early I had a feed immediately policy also because it was rare for her to wake early. We never had extensive waking early problems.


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