Science says that inductive discipline is one of the most effective and positive discipline approaches that a parent can use to manage their children’s behavior. In this article, you’ll learn:
- What inductive discipline means
- How to adopt inductive parenting
- Inductive parenting style examples
A group of researchers sought to understand how parents’ discipline approaches influenced behavior. Their objective was to identify the approaches that led to externalizing problems (disruptive, delinquent, hyperactive, impulsive and aggressive behaviors).
241 children aged between three- and 10-years-old participated in the study. The children’s behavior was rated by their teachers, and they were observed over several years. The study found that the children whose mothers privileged inductive discipline at age three had fewer behavioral issues at age 5.5.
These mothers rarely used physical discipline, and they privileged a more democratic parenting style.
Other studies have found that children raised by parents who privilege inductive discipline are more empathic and display more prosocial behavior.
On the contrary, the children of parents who privileged power-assertive discipline were more likely to develop externalizing problems. For example, one study found that children who were physically punished were more likely to display behavioral issues.
What does inductive discipline mean?
In the 1960s, Martin Hoffman and his colleagues had parents, teachers and peers rate 7th grade children, then these ratings were compared to parents’ privileged discipline approaches (based on both parents’ and children’s reports).
The researchers identified three discipline approaches: power assertion (based on power and authority over one’s child), love withdrawal (non-physical expressions of anger, disapproval, silent treatment, etc.), and induction (focus on the consequences of how one’s actions affect others).
They found that inductive parenting was the most effective discipline strategy, and that children raised using this approach had fewer behavioral issues, greater empathy, greater prosocial behavior, greater critical-thinking skills, and so on.
Inductive discipline refers to a discipline style that involves reasoning and discussion. In other words, parents explain their rules, actions, values and expectations, as well as the consequences of their children’s behavior.
The objective of inductive discipline is to encourage the development of self-discipline by helping your child to understand the impact of their behavior and to adopt socially-appropriate behavior.
Inductive parenting seeks to help your child behave as expected, even in the absence of threats and harsh punishments.
One of the major characteristics of this type of parenting style is that rather than impose rules on children, parents are willing to discuss and explain those rules and the consequences if they are transgressed. They are warm and responsive, and children know that their parents are not just out to “punish them”.
Inductive parenting style examples
A common characteristic of inductive discipline is that it privileges positive discipline approaches that avoid conflict. This is a parenting style that is frequently used by authoritative (democratic) parents, with a focus on high expectations on the one hand, and warmth and responsiveness on the other.
Parents are aware of and embrace their role as an authority figure, but they are also aware that they are dealing with children who are still learning.
Several characteristics are associated with inductive discipline. Here are eight things that you can start doing today to adopt inductive parenting:
1) Explain the reasons for the rules you set
Inductive parenting involves explaining rather than imposing rules on your child. The more your child feels like they have been treated with respect, the higher the chances that they will abide by the rules set.
For example, explaining to your child that they need to be home by a certain hour because coming home later is dangerous and worries you is likely to be more effective than imposing a certain limit without explaining your reasons.
The good news is that it is possible to adopt inductive discipline even with toddlers. For instance, simply telling your baby “Don’t touch. It’s hot. You’ll get burned” or “Get down. It’s too high, you’ll fall” is a good example of inductive parenting.
Remember that with toddlers, short instructions work best.
2) Explain the consequences of your child’s behavior
Inductive discipline is not a permissive style of parenting. It involves setting clear rules and clear consequences if those rules are not met. For instance, in the example above, your child should know what the consequences will be if they come home later than the agreed upon hour.
But consequences can only work if they are consistently applied. If behavior for which there were consequence yesterday is ignored today, your child will receive mixed signals which will prevent them from understanding exactly what is expected of them.
Remember that natural and logical consequences – whenever possible – always work best. For example, if your child never finishes their homework correctly because they are on their video game, a natural consequence would be allowing them to play video games only after their homework is done properly.
3) Help your child understand how their behavior affects others
Inductive parenting revolves around empathy for others and helping your child understand how their behavior affects others.
Inductive discipline therefore involves inductive reasoning, meaning, helping your child understand that others would feel the same as them in the same situation. This can encourage them to learn to think before they act.
A good place to start is to help your child reflect on how they would feel if someone acted in the same way toward them: How do you think he feels… How would you feel if the same thing happened to you? How would you feel if somebody treated you the same way? Remember the last time that … did …. How did you feel?
4) Adopt growth-mindset parenting
Carole Dweck says that helping your child develop a growth mindset will make it easier for them to overcome failure and setbacks. Focusing on the future, and on solutions, is an easy way to help your child shift from a fixed mindset that views events as fixed and unchangeable:
- “What do you think you can try next time?”
- “How will you react next time?”
- “What will you do differently”
- Pick your battles
Not everything is an issue. Don’t make everything an issue. What really matters to you? What are your non-negotiable values? Being clear of what you expect from your child will make it easier to identify the areas in which you can be more flexible.
Be willing to negotiate if the issues involved concern your negotiable values.
5) Let your child participate in determining the consequences of their behavior
Discussion and compromise are central features of inductive parenting. As your child grows older, letting them participate in determining the consequences of their behavior can be a highly effective discipline strategy that can help reduce conflict.
For example, when setting rules, you can ask your child what they think would be a fair consequence if those rules are broken.
6) Help your child strengthen their emotional intelligence skills
We now know that emotions drive behavior. In other words, what we often describe as “inappropriate behavior” is usually the sign of your child’s inability to manage difficult emotions. Strengthening your child’s emotional awareness is therefore an important component of inductive discipline.
A child struggling with big emotions such as anger and anxiety will act out, become aggressive or go into a meltdown in an attempt to deal with those difficult emotions.
But if they are taught to identify different emotions, understand how those emotions feel in the body, and come up with effective coping mechanisms that feel right for them, they will gradually learn to deal with their difficult emotions by themselves.
The Emotions Kit proposes an extensive collection of resources and tools to help you communicate with your child about emotions.
7) Give your child more decision-making autonomy
Inductive parenting involves giving your child greater decision-making autonomy. The more they feel that the decision made is their own, the higher the chances that they will respect what has been decided upon.
For example, letting your child decide when to do their homework or what age-appropriate chores to do will reduce conflict.
Research has shown that encouraging independence can increase children’s resourcefulness and problem-solving skills.
That said, it is important to provide some form of structure if you allow your child to participate in the decision-making process.
For young kids, this could mean providing several options and having them choose between them (would you like a banana or an apple for your dessert? Do you want to take your shower now or after your snack?).
With older kids, this could mean setting some form of limit: “you can do your homework whenever you want, but it has to be finished by 6 p.m”. Remember to outline the consequences if your child does not do what is expected of them.
Final thoughts on inductive discipline
There is ample evidence that inductive parenting can do parents and their children a world of good. It can reduce conflict, help your child develop the skills they need for self-discipline, help them learn to think before they act, and so on.
Discussion is a central feature of this discipline approach. Inductive parenting is not a one-sided affair where you explain your rules, expectations and values to your child.
Like in any good discussion, you must also be open to their views: why did they behave as they did? What do they think about the consequences of their behavior? What do they consider to be appropriate consequences for specific behavior? Do they think that the rules set are fair?
Asking these questions can help you decide whether you need to negotiate or, on the contrary, make your explanations clearer to your child. Inductive discipline will completely change how you view and react to your child’s behavior and help them to better internalize socially appropriate behavior.
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Parents use of inductive discipline
Parental discipline and affection and children’s prosocial behavior: Genetic and environmental links
The interplay of externalizing problems and physical and inductive discipline during childhood
Parenting styles and learned resourcefulness of Turkish adolescents
The Development of Inductive Reasoning: Cross-sectional Assessments in an Educational Context
Parent discipline and the child’s moral development
Dear Dr. Pelini,
Thank you for publishing the article “Inductive discipline: what it is and why it matters” It is excellent, very helpful for parents and children. M.
Thank you for stopping by, and thanks for the lovely comment 🙂