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Theories & History of Positive Discipline

Positive Discipline is a trauma-informed, brain science-informed, developmentally-appropriate, and culturally responsive approach to parenting developed by Dr. Jane Nelsen. Dr. Nelsen’s best-selling book, and all Positive Discipline classes and activities are based on the theories of Dr. Alfred Adler and Rudolph Dreikurs, two of history’s most recognized and respected contributors to our understanding of human psychology.


As the founder of Individual Psychology, Dr. Adler first introduced the idea of parenting education to United States audiences in the 1920s.  As an extension of his advocacy for women, Adler also advocated for the safety and well-being of children.  He suggested that both punishing and rewarding children results in behavioral problems–ideas that while revolutionary at the time, led to safer, more just treatment of children and other vulnerable social groups.

Among other things, Adler believed:
  1. All behaviors (including misbehaviors) emanate from our innate social need to experience belonging and significance.  Belonging is the idea that each of us is part of a team, and significance is the idea that each of us is a valued member of that team.

  2. Relationships rooted in control over others lead to broader social inequality.  Coercion through punishments and rewards leads people to fear or please others and ultimately rob them of the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from doing the right things for our own right reasons.

  3. We all want to make positive contributions to our families and communities.      


Adler’s ideas inspired Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs, a psychologist who adapted Adler’s theories to classroom settings both in Vienna in the early 1920s and in the United States in the late 1930s.

Building on Adler’s theories, Dreikurs believed that:
  1. A kind and firm approach to teaching and parenting is the most democratic.

  2. Misbehaving children are simply discouraged children who have mistaken ideas about how to get their needs for belonging and significance met.

  3. Parents need to discover the beliefs behind their children’s behaviors which places primary focus on the parent-child relationship–what is commonly referred to in Positive Discipline as connection before correction.


The foundation for Positive Discipline was established in the 1980’s when Dr. Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott began exploring parenting models based on Adler’s and Dreikurs’ theories. Jane and Lynn went on to write best-selling books about Positive Discipline for all age groups of children. Jane Nelsen then developed and adapted the Positive Discipline model for schools. Today Positive Discipline is being used in homes, classrooms and organizations in the United States, and internationally in more than 55 countries.



Additional Resources:

Look below to learn more about the history and theories of Positive Discipline:


  • (Positive Discipline Association – U.S. and global training and research)

  • (Home of Adler School of Professional Psychology)


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