Natalie is a child psychology enthusiast. She spends her time helping parents find easy ways to parent and enjoy their journey.
Parenting has no manual, and every mom and dad wants to know how they can raise healthy, happy children. Over the last decade, the adaptation of positive parenting as the ‘secret’ to enjoying raising loving children who empathize with others, are creative problem solvers, and who form strong, meaningful relations has increased.
If you have young kids, parenting can be a struggle as you try to balance work, your sanity, and the wellbeing of your kids. Let us consider this:
You had a stressful day at work today, and everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. As if that was not enough, you had to battle hours of traffic, and your car broke down, so you ended up using an Uber to get to your little one’s school in time for pick-up.
You pass by the grocery store to buy supplies for dinner, and that’s where all hell breaks loose. Your little one hangs on to a doll she wants as she screams, begs, rolls on the ground, and shouts. Obviously, the two of you are attracting attention and not really the kind you would want.
What do you do?
What is positive parenting?
It is easy to think of fluffy unicorns and rainbows when you first hear the term positive parenting. In fact, some people imagine parenting that does not involve consequences for poor choices or discipline for misbehavior. Alternatively, you may imagine that the outcome involves everyone being happy, hugging, and sharing an ice cream.
While this is the outcome you would want, the contrary is true. This parenting style is anything but fluffy. It is using clear expectations and holding children accountable to realistic standards while guiding them to become resilient.
In simple terms, it is raising children to become responsible all-around adults, without incorporating punitive discipline methods such as spanking, time outs, and grounding but being firm in the limits and boundaries set.
Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist, classified four parenting styles in the 1960s. Baumrind defined an authoritative parent as one who is responsive to their child’s emotional and physical needs, providing boundaries and guidelines, and gives the children some freedom to make decisions and learn from mistakes.
In the past, children were meant to be seen and not heard, but the concept of authoritative parenting has changed that. Children deserve to be heard, respected, and treated with dignity. They have feelings; they get hurt, think, and are more capable than you think.
In our scenarios, for instance, the little one has a lot going through her mind. She simply wants a doll so she can have a great time combing its hair and feeding it water.
Is her method to ask for it correct? Absolutely not! Tantrums should not be used to get your way.
In a scenario such as this, you can rely on positive parenting elements to guide you on how to calm the storm and reach an amicable solution without burning the store down with more screams.
Elements of Positive Parenting
1. Heal your painful past.
When you become a parent, one of the things you promise yourself is to give your child the very best and to avoid the blunders you felt your parents made with you. But as time progresses, you realize that you are making blunders of your own and repeating some of the mistakes you swore not to carry forward.
For a child to grow, learn, and take risks, they need to know that you are on their side. It is impossible to connect with your child when you have not healed your past. Your child’s indiscipline does not cause your anger and anxiety; your experiences as a child do.
Every parent needs to start from the point of forgiving their painful past if they are to leave it behind. Whether you want to admit it or not, how you were parented influences how you parent your kids. For instance, when your child throws a tantrum, you may be tempted to yell at them, give them a time out, spank them, or lock them in their room to think about what they did.
All these are forms of punishment your parents probably used on you when you were little. Abrasive tantrums are communication that a need is not being met. But because your needs were not met when you had a meltdown, you are unable to meet your child’s needs as a consequence. Not because you don’t want to, but because you don’t know how.
Luckily, you are an adult now, and you can view situations from an adult point of view. Go back to the event and look at it as an adult would and rewrite its meaning. Your parents meant well, and they probably did not know any better. By rewriting the meaning, you give yourself a chance to move forward and create better parenting foundations for your child.
2. Connect with your child.
When you heal your painful past, connecting with your child becomes easy. Connecting with your child refers to walking with your child during the hard times and being there for them when they cannot control their big emotions.
You understand your child’s emotional struggles and guide them through it as opposed to reprimanding them for losing control. For example, you can connect with the little girl who loses control at the store by telling her, “I understand you are upset you can’t have the doll”.
Allowing her to cry it out as you hold her is connecting. Giving her time to put the doll back when she is calm is connecting.
Connection does not necessarily involve indiscipline on the part of a child. You can connect by doing the following activities regularly.
- Have snuggle time
- Hugs and kisses before separating with your child—for example, before bedtime
- Physically touching your child, like holding hands during a walk
- Scheduling special time with your little one
- Having family time where the whole family enjoys being together
- Adjusting to our child’s emotional level
- Not withdrawing even when your kid drives you away
When you connect with your child, your focus moves from bad child to bad behavior. And instead of criticizing negative behavior, you can concentrate on helping your child achieve emotional control and the behavior they exude when they lose control.
3. Use your child’s development stage as a guide.
A toddler’s needs and those of an elementary schooler are very different. Besides the age difference, every child is unique and will require handling in different styles. However, children within the same age bracket have similar development expectations.
Infants, for instance, are learning to trust you and the world, while toddlers are learning to love and assert themselves. Using your child’s development stage as a guide gives you a more relaxed time meeting their needs. And when your child’s needs are met, they are happier and less likely to misbehave.
Foundations of Positive Parenting
Despite their development stage, you should remember these three positive parenting foundations.
i) A child’s primary goal is to belong and feel significant.
Your child will feel that they belong when they feel that they are wanted, cherished and there is a secure connection with you. Your child should feel emotionally connected to the important people in their lives and be sure of their role in the family.
A child feels significant when they feel they can make a difference in the family by their contributions. Your child must also exert some power over their world. If your child does not find positive ways to exercise power, they will without a doubt use negative techniques, the very behavior that drives you crazy.
ii) Every behavior has a goal behind it.
No behavior is random. But unfortunately, children cannot articulate the motive behind their behavior. At least not yet. You need to understand that misbehavior is a symptom, and addressing the root cause is the only means of achieving lasting results.
iii) A child who misbehaves is a discouraged child.
When your child misbehaves, it means that their belonging and significance are not met. Kids do not know how to use positive ways to get their emotional needs met, and will almost always result in negative behavior. If your child’s discouragement continues for a long time, they begin to believe that misbehavior gets them attention. Recognize misbehavior as a sign that something is wrong and you will notice an improvement in your child’s behavior.
Does positive parenting work for everyone?
Like most parents, you may feel like you have tried everything and for once, just this once, you want something that will work. By understanding the elements of positive parenting, and foundations surrounding it, you are better equipped to parent your child, no matter your current circumstances.
Let’s solve the parenting puzzle we started with. What should a positive parent do?
Because of the dynamics involved, you are probably at the verge of blowing your sanity fuse. The first thing you need to do in such a heated moment is to calm yourself and take hold of your emotions.
You can take a few deep breaths if this will help you. Once you are calm, put yourself in your child’s shoes. If you were three years old and your mom said no to something you wanted, how would that make you feel? How would you throw a tantrum? What need would you want to be met, significant or belonging?
Once you establish this, connect with your child and comfort them, so they know you are there for them even when you do not approve of their behavior. Once your child is calm, you will be better placed to reason with them and keep the boundaries you set.
What happens when things don’t work?
Let’s be honest; things don’t always go as planned. You can follow the simply strategy laid out, but your little one decides she will have none of it. What do you do?
- Don’t lose your cool. Two angry people are likely not to come into an agreement.
- Be consistent. Giving in is easy, but it is also teaching your child that if they hold their ground, you will give in.
- Be patient. Patiently want for your child to calm down without reprimanding them.
- Have a team time out. Take your child out of the store and sit with them until they are calm.
- Don’t lose your cool. This has to be emphasized. It’s not easy to remain calm but fight the urge to blow up and take as many deep breaths as you need.
Positive parenting still requires work. When you change your parenting style, remember to give your family a few months to adapt to the new style before you see changes in all areas. Some things will change quickly while others will not. Consistency will be your game plan during these months. No matter how challenging it gets at first, remember the long-term effects are worth every effort you make.