The Win-Win Discipline Model for Parents


Teaching and parenting share multiple joys and challenges in helping children grow and develop. One of the most notable challenges is discipline and development. What are the best ways to help reinforce positive behavior, and mitigate undesirable behavior? How do we do this without setting either ourselves, or the child up to fail? What do we do when we’ve laid down the line and are still being challenged, or when we reach the “end of the rope” and have already tried all the consequences we can think of, but continue to face a child who is unwilling to budge?

Meet Dr. Spencer Kagan’s Win-Win Discipline theory. The Win-Win Discipline theory is usually associated with classroom teaching, but can be of immense value to parents as well, and in some cases, might completely change the tone of discipline in a household. I have personally used this model not only with students up through Grade 12, but also with my tiny tots, and have found it to be very effective in both cases.

For the purposes of this explanation, “educator” refers to the role of the parent, as well as the teacher.

The approach adopted by an educator using the Win-Win Discipline theory aims at diffusing conflict by reframing an issue from a competition between the educator and the child, to an issue that the educator is helping the child solve. In other words, instead of a scenario becoming the educator vs. the student, it becomes the educator with the student, vs. the problem. In parenting, this places us on the same team with our child, even when we have to discipline them, instead of on an opposing team.

Summary of the Win-Win Discipline Model

This model operates on the premise that all discipline issues can be categorized as one of the following: aggression, breaking rules, confrontation and disengagement. Dr. Kagan suggests that all forms of disruptive behavior come from one of 7 causes, called positions: attention-seeking, avoiding embarrassment, anger venting, control seeking, energetic, bored, and uninformed.

The Win-Win Discipline approach seeks to identify which of these positions is behind the child’s behavior and then find a viable consequence or solution, always working on the following premises:

  • The educator and the child are on the same side
  • Solutions can be shared (the educator can work together with the child to find a solution)
  • All disciplinary measures should be leading the child to growing in responsibility and in the desire to change their behavior for the better.

Win-Win Discipline includes a four step process on the part of the educator:

  • Identify the behavior (i.e. what type of “disruption” it is).
  • Identify the “position” (What is causing the behavior?”)
  • Establish an immediate consequence that will be an effective response to both the behavior and the position.
  • Establish a follow up plan.

For more information and illustrations regarding this model, read Kagan Spencer’s own summary: “What is Win-Win Discipline?”

Benefits to Applying the Win-Win Discipline Model at Home

Although the majority of specific Win-Win Discipline materials designed by Kagan are tailored toward a classroom environment, the theory itself can be equally helpful for parents. Here are a few of the benefits:

1. Win-Win Discipline forms a very strong bond between the child and the educator.

If you’ve been a teacher, you have probably experienced the difference between the students that view you as an adversary, and those that see you as a mentor and turn to you even when they are “in trouble.” Win-Win discipline goes far in establishing this second type of relationship. Even though children implicitly know that their parents want what is best for them, they can still fall into an adversarial relationship fueled by fear of punishment. How the parent approaches discipline largely determines what sort of parent-child relationship is established.

2. Win-Win Discipline leaves no room for competition.

When the parent dictates a punishment and the child digs their heels in, the situation has changed from a simple disciplinary issue to a competition. If the parent gives in, they lose; the child wins. If the child gives in, the parent “wins”. But disciplining a child should be about growth, not winning or losing. Why should either the child or the parent have to leave feeling down or rejected? Win-Win Discipline sets up a scenario where BOTH the child and the parent “win”. The child feels strengthened and empowered by the parent’s guidance to face and handle the situation at hand. It makes a parent-child team facing reality together. Establish this sense of support and togetherness on the family level, and positive growth coming from the child’s own internal desires and supported by the parents will become an integral part of your family culture.

3. Win-Win Discipline transfers responsibility to the child.

Win-Win Discipline requires active participation on the part of the child. The child has to play a role in determining how they need to resolve an issue that occurred. Rather than the parent assigning a punishment that the child proceeds to do, the child is involved in the process of determining what consequence is necessary for his action. This in no way lessens the authority of the parent; it simply increases the responsibility undertaken by the child, and requires the child to understand, internally, what they did wrong and how/why they need to remedy the situation. They no longer face a “punishment” imposed from without, but a consequence stemming from their own behavior. Giving the child a choice regarding what consequence they face is one way of allowing them to take responsibility for their own discipline.

4. Win-Win Discipline focuses on identifying and resolving the root cause of an issue.

When you have absolutely no idea why your child is behaving a certain way or resisting you, go through the types of disruption and positions to help determine what could be behind your child’s action. Also, think about surrounding circumstances. Sometimes your child is reacting to something that occurred previously, but is only just surfacing. Identifying possible positions that could be causing your child’s behavior can help you discover this.

This is essential to the long term development of the child. Responding to the action alone may help the child form a specific habit, at least in front of the parent, but responding to the root cause will lead to long term progress, helping the child develop internal values and preventing future disciplinary issues by resolving the child’s position.

Finally, identifying the root cause is also necessary if you want to find the most effective disciplinary technique. For example, if Child A did something because they were just too energetic, running around the block twice to get out some energy might be effective, but Child B, who acted out of anger, might need some time alone.

Win-Win Discipline helps diffuse emotions and focus on critical thinking.

Faced with traditional forms of punishment, emotions usually run high on one or both sides. Feelings of rejection and resentment form easily. After all, the parent is “making” the child do something the child isn’t inclined to do. The Win-Win Discipline technique diffuses these emotions through the collaborative approach it takes. The parent becomes part of the solution, rather than the perpetrator of unwanted consequences, and the discussion revolves around the nature of the situation and how the child can resolve it.

While all of the classroom methods associated with Win-Win Discipline might not apply in the home, the basic philosophy of being on the same side as the child, identifying and addressing the position causing the disruption, and transferring responsibility to the child can be applied everywhere, and is flexible enough to allow you plenty of room to tailor your approach to the needs of your own family and child.

2 thoughts on “The Win-Win Discipline Model for Parents

    • Thanks, Daniela! I’m glad you found it helpful. I agree – kids are much more perceptive than we realize, and the approach we take can make a big difference in their own way of perceiving and reacting to things!

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