Play Nicely: The Healthy Discipline Program is a brief, population-based intervention designed to build parents' skill sets, strengthen parents' relationships with their children, and improve children's health. Rates of many health problems could be reduced if all caregivers learned how to respond to the following question appropriately: "Assume you see one young child hit another. What are you going to do?"
From a public health standpoint, we believe that all parents should be asked this question. First, the question addresses childhood aggression, one of the strongest risk factors for violence later in life. Second, it opens the door for discussions about healthy discipline strategies that can be used for other challenging behaviors.
Play Nicely, available as a multimedia program and a handbook, presents 20 options to respond to an aggressive child. Learners view options that are of the most interest to them. Introduce the program in one minute and see results in less than 10 minutes.
- Multiple studies confirm that Play Nicely is effective. After viewing five to 10 minutes of the program, parents change how they plan to discipline, and change their attitudes about physical punishment.
- The program works for parents from different cultural backgrounds.
- After viewing the program, healthcare providers have increased confidence in counseling parents about discipline, are more likely to recommend appropriate discipline strategies to parents, and have less positive attitudes toward spanking.
To identify parents with the greatest need for support, health care providers and other professionals can use the Quick Parenting Assessment.
The Play Nicely multimedia program is available to view online for free in English, Spanish, and Arabic:
The new beta version has updated material describing how the discipline strategies used for managing aggression can be modified to address other challenging behaviors, such as anxieties, not listening, habits, lying, tantrums, and ADHD. After viewing, please consider sending us feedback by emailing Dr. Seth Scholer (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Assume you see one young child hit another. What are you going to do?
Play Nicely: The Healthy Discipline Handbook offers 20 ways to answer this question. Even if you only have a few minutes, go to the “20 options” tab and review the discipline strategies that most interest you. You will quickly learn ideas you can use with children under your care at home or in school.
Developed at Vanderbilt University, the program teaches discipline strategies to use with children ages one to ten. The handbook is a culmination of knowledge gathered from testing the Play Nicely program for over 20 years. The program efficiently and effectively builds skills for parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals.
Play Nicely: The Healthy Discipline Handbook is the printed version of the program. Based on the Play Nicely multimedia program, the handbook, written at the eighth-grade level, is made of durable, high-quality paper with tabs.
Who can use the handbook?
- Parents and others who care for children aged one to 10 years.
- Healthcare professionals. The handbook can be introduced to parents in one minute, affects parenting at home, and reaches caregivers (e.g., fathers) who might not attend the clinic visit.
- Early care and school professionals. In preschools, primary schools, and other early education settings, this handbook is an excellent resource for teachers and parents. In high school, the handbook can provide health education to students before they become parents.
- Counselors. Use this handbook as a resource for parents in your practice.
- Researchers. The handbook is an ideal, low-cost intervention for population-based studies.
Why was the Play Nicely Program developed?
Inappropriate discipline and early childhood aggression are two of the strongest predictors of violence later in life. Exposure to inappropriate discipline also increases a child's risk for many other physical and mental health problems.
Rather than correcting future problems, it would be best for all parents to know healthy ways to discipline when children are young. Our goal with Play Nicely is to provide the most efficient and effective way to educate parents about healthy discipline strategies.
What is included with Play Nicely?
The Play Nicely program consists of a 50-minute interactive multimedia program and Play Nicely: The Healthy Discipline Handbook.
Who can use Play Nicely?
Play Nicely is an option for anyone cares for young children. The program has widespread applicability for parents, child care workers, teachers, health care professionals, counselors, researchers, lecturers and others.
The Play Nicely CD-ROM includes three separate tracks for:
- Childcare workers and teachers
- Health care professionals and counselors
Play Nicely's format also makes it useful to:
- Credentialing organizations
- Others who care for young children
- Parents: The Play Nicely program is a great option for parents of children aged 1 to 7. Parents reported that they felt more comfortable managing aggression after a Play Nicely presentation.
Childcare workers and teachers
Childcare workers, preschool teachers and elementary teachers will benefit from aggression management skills. Play Nicely can help adults help children's readiness for school; it is difficult to teach children who are hitting each other. Play Nicely increases comfort level and knowledge of managing hurtful behavior in young children.
Print the handout and give it to parents, teachers and child care providers. The handout includes English and Spanish versions.
At school or child care
If you would like parents, teachers, or childcare providers to view the program in your school or care center, contact the Office of Technology Transfer at Vanderbilt (email@example.com) to purchase a site license.
Health care professionals: Play Nicely has been shown to significantly increase professionals' comfort level and knowledge in managing childhood aggression.
In your clinic
We have found that many parents will not view the program at home. Our experience shows that parents will view the program in a clinic as part of the routine well child visit or in the Family Resource Center.
If you would like parents to view the program in your clinic examination room, waiting room, education room, or clinic resource center, contact the Office of Technology Transfer at Vanderbilt to purchase a site license.
The Play Nicely program navigation makes it useful for those who lecture on parenting, early child education, child behavior and health.
Consider Play Nicely as part of intervention programs designed to improve child behavior or decrease violence.
Consider Play Nicely for educational credit for child care workers and preschool teachers. To aid credentialing organizations, questions have been developed to assess knowledge.
Relatives, babysitters, Sunday school teachers, school bus drivers and others who care for young children may benefit from aggression management skills.
Who developed Play Nicely?
The program was developed at Vanderbilt University. Its content is based on material from many sources, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the American Psychological Association.
What are the important features of Play Nicely?
- It works because It is based on evidence.
- It uses a public health approach.
- It is brief. In some cases the program produces results in only five to 10 minutes.
- The online multimedia version is free.
- Implementation is simple.
What's on the Play Nicely CD?
Program content for the 40-minute Play Nicely CD comes partly from three organizations: the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. We obtained input from dozens of experts in the areas of pediatrics, child psychology and early child education. Due to their "front-line" experience, the author has given particularly strong weight to input from experienced teachers.
To teach the basics of managing hurtful behavior, Play Nicely consists of narration video clips.
CD content summary
- Separate introductions and narration for different learners
- Definition of hurtful behavior/aggression
- Importance of managing hurtful behavior in the early years
- Six major teaching points with video clips to enhance learning
- Teach children not to be victims.
- Learn 16 alternative responses to hurtful behavior. Build a large cognitive database to help choose appropriate options.
- Decrease exposure to violence.
- Show love.
- Be consistent when communicating with the child's care givers.
- Recognize warning signs and know when to seek professional help.
- Introducing the program takes less than a minute (see examples below).
- The person who introduces the program needs no formal training.
- The online version is free.
- The handbook's unique design includes tabbed pages for each of the 20 discipline options.
- Parents can view at home, in clinics, or other settings.
- Results in 5 to 10 minutes for most parents.
- Use the Pediatric ACEs Algorithm to screen for unhealthy parenting.
Instructions for viewing Play Nicely at home
Anyone can view the online program or order the handbook at home.
Consider the following script to introduce the program: "Assume that you see one young child hit another. What are you going to do? We would like all parents to learn healthy ways to respond to this situation. Here is a resource that works really well to teach some of the better options. There is a free online program and a handbook."
Instructions for viewing Play Nicely in pediatric clinic or early education settings
Go to the free online program and click on "20 options" in the upper right corner. Show parents the screen with the 20 options.
Consider the following script to introduce the program:
"We would like all parents to learn healthy ways to discipline young children. Assume you see one young child hit another. What are you going to do? There is no one right answer, but some are better than others. Click on options that you want to learn more about. Each option takes one two minutes to view. View as many as you like."
Instructions for introducing Play Nicely Healthy Discipline Handbook in the pediatric clinic or early education settings
In the handbook, turn to the page with the "20 options" tab. Show parents the list of 20 discipline options.
Consider the following script to introduce the handbook:
"We would like all parents to learn healthy ways to discipline young children. Assume you see one young child hit another. What are you going to do? Consider these 20 options. Choose one, and then turn to the tabbed page to learn if your choice is great, good, or not recommended."
The Play Nicely program works for parents from different cultural and educational backgrounds. In a randomized controlled trial, the Play Nicely multimedia program was viewed by consecutive parents in a pediatric clinic. Regardless of their background, parents in the intervention group who viewed at least four discipline options (5-10 minutes) were more likely to have changed how they plan to discipline their children compared with parents in the control group (all: 83 percent vs. 7 percent).
Research Related to Play Nicely
Scholer SJ, Martin HK, Adams L, Dietrich MS. A Brief Intervention in Primary Care to Improve Parents’ Discipline Practices and Reach Other Caregivers. Clinical Pediatrics. 2024
Begui JR, Scholer S, Polita NB, Baggio MA, Merino MFGL, Zani AV, Pimenta RA. Translation, cross-cultural adaptation and validity study of the "Play Nicely Program: The Healthy Discipline Handbook" for use in Brazil. Rev Bras Enferm. 2023
Burkhart K, Knox M, Hunter K, Pennewitt D, Schrouder K. Decreasing Caregivers' Positive Attitudes Toward Spanking. J Pediatr Health Care. 2018 Jul - Aug;32(4):333-339.
Hudnut-Beumler J, Smith AE, Scholer SJ. How to convince parents to stop spanking their children. Clinical Pediatrics. 2017.
Burkhart K, Knox M, Hunter K. Changing health care professionals' attitudes toward spanking. Clin Pediatr. 2016
Smith AE, Hudnut-Beumler J, Scholer SJ. Can discipline education be culturally sensitive? Maternal and Child Health Journal. 2016.
Scholer SJ, Hudnut-Beumler J, Mukherjee A, Dietrich M.S. A brief intervention facilitates discussions about discipline in pediatric primary care. Clin Pediatr. 2015.
Cowley-Malcolm, E. Perceptions of Samoan parents from a small town in New Zealand on parenting, childhood aggression, and the CD-ROM Play Nicely. Victoria University of Wellington.
Aragon Neely et al. The effect of primary care interventions on children's media viewing habits and exposure to violence. Academic Pediatrics. 2013.
Chavis et al. A brief intervention affects parents' attitudes toward using less physical punishment. Child Abuse and Neglect. 2013.
Scholer SJ, Hudnut-Beumler, J, Dietrich MS. Why parents value a brief required primary care intervention that teaches discipline. Clin Pediatr. 2012.
Scholer SJ, Reich SM, Boshers RB, Bickman L. A brief program improves counseling of mothers with children who have persistent aggression. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. December 2011.
Scholer SJ, Hudnut-Beumler, J, Dietrich MS. The effect of physician-parent discussions and a brief intervention on caregiver's plan to discipline: is it time for a new approach? Clin Pediatr.2011.
Scholer SJ, Hamilton EC, Johnson MC, Scott TA. A brief violence prevention intervention may affect parents' attitudes towards using less physical punishment. Family and Community Health; 2010: 33 (2):106-116.
Scholer SJ, Hudnut-Beumler, J, Dietrich MS. A brief primary care intervention affects parents' plans to discipline. Pediatrics. 2010;125:e242-e249.
Scholer SJ, Brokish PA, Mukherjee AB, Gigante J. A violence prevention program helps teach medical students and pediatric residents about childhood aggression. Clin Pediatr. 2008.
Scholer SJ, Walkowski CA, Bickman L. Voluntary or required viewing of a violence prevention program in pediatric primary care. Clin Pediatr. 2008.
Scholer SJ, Mukherjee AB, Gibbs KI, Memon S, Jongeward KL. Parents view a brief violence prevention program in clinic. Clin Pediatr. 2007.
Scholer SJ, Cherry R, Garrard HG, Gupta AO, Mace R, Greeley N. A multimedia program helps parents manage childhood aggression. Clin Pediatr. 2006;45:835-840.
Scholer SJ, Nix RL, Patterson B. Gaps in pediatricians' advice to parents regarding early childhood aggression. Clin Pediatr. 2006 Jan-Feb;45(1):23-28.
Scholer SJ, Reich SM, Boshers RB, Bickman L. A multimedia violence prevention program increases pediatric residents' and childcare providers' knowledge about responding to childhood aggression. Clin Pediatr. 2005 Jun;44(5):413-7.
Scholer SJ, Goad S. Feedback on a multimedia violence prevention program. Clin Pediatr. 2003 Nov-Dec;42(9):789-96.