Some Thoughts on Chapter 1 of Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen


Some Thoughts on Chapter 1: The Positive Approach

The book Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen presents the author’s synthesis of the philosophy of Alfred Adler and Rudolph Dreikurs. This is called the Adlerian approach. The goal of this approach is to teach children self-discipline, responsibility, and cooperation. The author testifies that, in her own family of seven children, the implementation of the Adlerian approach has “increased mutual respect, cooperation, enjoyment, and love.”(pg. xxiv)

In Chapter one, entitled “The Positive Approach”, the author asks the reader: “Why don’t today’s children develop the same kind of responsibility and motivation that seemed more prevalent in youth many years ago?”(pg.8)
The author theorizes that there are two main reasons for this problem.

  1. “The first major change is that adults no longer give children an example or model of submission and obedience. Adults forget that they no longer act the way they used to in the good old days.”(pg.9)
  2. “Another major change is that in today’s society children have fewer opportunities to learn responsibility and motivation. We no longer ‘need’ children as important contributors to economic survival. Instead, children are given too much without any effort or investment on their part.”(pg.9)

The purpose of this paper is not to explain the Adlerian approach, but to comment, from a Christian perspective, on the two societal problems noted by Jane Nelson. It is interesting that the problems which the author notes are seen as being detrimental to the welfare of children not only in the philosophy of Adler and Dreikurs, but more fundamentally, in the teachings of the Bible.
The author states that, “When Mom quit modeling submissiveness, children stopped being submissive.”(pg.9) In I Peter 3:1 it is stated, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives,” and in verse 6, “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” (King James Version) In Ephesians 5:22-24, a similar statement is made: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” This “modeling of submission” proceeds, in the Christian view, from a willingness to order our human relationships according to God’s directions for us. It is not surprising to the Christian that real benefits should accrue from doing things God’s way rather than his own way.

It is important also to use the definition for “submission” which the Bible uses. Ephesians 5:21 states that, “Submitting yourselves one to another,” is to be done, “in the fear of God.” Any “submission” must take into account what the entire Bible, God’s Word, teaches on this subject. The wife submits herself to one who is commanded to love her whole-heartedly, unselfishly, and sacrificially (Ephesians 5:25-29). In I Peter 3:8,9 both husbands and wives are instructed, “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”

A summary of godly family relationships which incorporates the concept of “submission” is found in Colossians 3:18-21: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” According to these Bible texts, submission does not indicate inferiority, but a willingness to interact with others according to one’s God-given role. True submission is not opposed to mutual respect, nor is godly exercise of authority opposed to mutual respect. Loving relationships are required of wives, husbands, and children.

The second problem noted by Jane Nelsen is that children in today’s society have fewer opportunities to learn responsibility and motivation. Her generalized solution is, “We need to provide opportunities for children to experience responsibility in direct relationship to the privileges they enjoy.”(pg.10) This principle is taught in II Thessalonians 3:8, 10: “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you . . .For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” Christian parents, aware of this principle, can provide age-appropriate opportunities for their children to work in the home. It is unscriptural to treat children as if they are little princes and princesses who may demand service from their parents. If parents “sow” this improper behavior with their children, they will “reap” demanding, unthankful, lazy children: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) The parents have the responsibility to provide the character-training which their child needs in order to succeed in life and in spiritual matters. The Biblical directive to parents is: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6)

In the first chapter of Positive Discipline, the two problems noted by author Jane Nelsen:

  1. Adults no longer give children a model of submission, and
  2. Children have fewer opportunities to learn responsibility and motivation,

have been shown to be problems which the Bible addresses. It will be interesting to note, as I continue reading this book, if the author’s solutions to these problems are also in accord with Biblical principles.

2 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Chapter 1 of Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen”

  1. Amanda says:

    Great post! I can vouche for point number one. I’ve seen it in so many homes, even my own. If I disagree with a decision Josh has made
    and Joshy picks up on it, his entire attitude toward me goes sour instantly. I am so thankful for my little “mirror”. He is a very sanctifying influence. 🙂

  2. Tracie says:

    Hi, I’m wondering if you ever fininshed reading this book, Positive Discipline. It is required reading for my schooling. I was taken back a bit when she stated in chaper one that Mom quit giving the children a model of submissiveness. “This is progress.” Progress? Anyway, my searching led me to your site and I’d be interested in hearing your opinion on the rest of the book.
    Thanks so much!