In the process of discipline children need to know when they are behaving correctly.  Affirmation meets this need.  To affirm your child’s behavior is to indicate to him or her that it is proper and that you are pleased with it.  You are validating and asserting that your child’s behavior, attitude, and motivation is proper.  With affirmation comes the encouragement to repeat the behavior since it is pleasing to you as the parent.

Affirmation may take many forms depending upon the age of the child.  For the youngest, it may simply be a smile, enthusiastic words of approval, and a big hug from you.  Later, it will be a reasoned conversation of approval and a statement of how proud you are of him or her.  As a school-ager, it may be the granting of additional privileges and the opportunity for more independence.

Affirmation must be:

  • Genuine.  If all behavior is equally praised simply to appease the child, it will lose its affect.  Affirmation must flow from a parent’s heart of love and concern for the child’s character development, not simply from an intention to manipulate desired behavior in the child.  Your child will detect the difference.
  • Generous.  It has been said that parents must “catch em being good.”  It is tempting to enjoy the harmony of good behavior, and only bark when your child misbehaves.  Result: Your child misbehaves just to get your attention and pull you away from your consuming activities.  Children deeply desire a parent’s attention and affirmation, so behavior is generally better when the two are connected.  Be alert to affirm good behavior.

The process of discipline can be understood as a three-legged stool.  Each of the legs are critical to the function of the stool: Instruction, correction, and affirmation.  Instruction and correction without affirmation makes for a harsh impersonal relationship, devoid of encouragement.  Affirmation balances correction in a healthy, loving parent-child relationship.

The other three areas of the discipline process: