Almost every parent wants a positive relationship with their child. We want our kids to be confident, thoughtful and kind. But let’s be honest: parenting is not for the faint of heart. If you feel like half the time (or more) you have no clue what you’re doing, you’re not alone.
Here’s what you need to know about positive parenting and how to practice it with your kid.
Positive parenting is a researched-based parenting style that focuses on celebrating positive behavior more than correcting or punishing negative behavior.
According to research scientist Heather Lonczak, positive parenting is:
Positive parenting is not about adding to the constant pressure you already feel to be a ‘better’ parent. Parenting is hard enough without that. This is about giving you the tools you need to build a strong, healthy connection with your child.
Researchers have identified a number of benefits to positive parenting, including:
Positive parenting can even mitigate the negative impact of common family stressors, such as poverty or single parenting.
In other words, no matter your family situation, positive parenting can equip your child with what they need to thrive.
There are four key principles that set positive parenting apart from other parenting styles:
When it comes to discipline, positive parenting prioritizes brief and effective consequences for misbehavior. These consequences are designed to redirect rather than punish, teaching children the correct behaviors.
We’ll share some tips below for handling discipline in a positive parenting framework. But for now the important thing to note is that positive parenting never resorts to physical punishment. It’s ineffective at changing negative behavior long-term, and a wealth of research has shown that it may have long-term negative effects on children’s emotions and behavior.
There are a few simple things you can do to start practicing positive parenting with your child:
Pay attention to what your child is feeling. Sometimes when a child misbehaves, there’s something else going on beneath the surface. Try putting yourself in their shoes by asking a few questions:
Carve out one-on-one time with your child. Kids need positive attention. When they don’t get enough, they act out because negative attention is better than no attention.
The solution? Spend regular, individual time with your child. You could read a book to them, play a game together, or go exploring outside. It doesn’t need to be a big chunk of time. Even 15-20 minutes a day will make a difference. Just be sure to set aside any distractions (put that phone away) to give your child your full attention.
It could be a hug or a pat on the back (though don’t reserve physical affection for when they do something good). Be sure to give verbal praise too – and be specific. For example…
It’s also important to praise actions rather than personal characteristics. For example…
This way, if (or when) your child fails at something, they’ll be less likely to internalize it as a personal defect.
One good way to motivate your child is by using the “when-then” method, letting them know what they need to do before moving on to something they want to do.
It may seem like a subtle difference, but using “when-then” instead of “if-then” can help you set clear priorities without resorting to bribes.
Family rules are also helpful to establish. Set rules for what behaviors are expected in the house and remember to phrase them positively.
No parenting method can prevent every issue or produce perfectly behaved kids. So what do you do when your child misbehaves or fails to meet the expectations you’ve set?
Really, it’s best if you don’t think of them as ‘battles’ at all. Your child is not your adversary (even when it feels like they are bent on breaking you).
Some experts advise trying something called ‘planned ignoring’. It may seem counterintuitive, but there’s a surprisingly good reason for it. Kids act out to get your attention. Responding to every provocation essentially rewards your child for misbehaving, so they keep doing it. Try ignoring at least some of their misbehavior instead of giving negative attention.
There may be some behaviors you just can’t ignore: a flat-out refusal to comply, aggression or overt rule-breaking. Brief time-outs can be an effective strategy for encouraging compliance and improving emotional regulation in children aged 2-9 years.
Make sure your child knows the consequences for misbehavior before there’s a problem. The more you set clear expectations (see above), the easier this will be. Depending on your child’s age, giving them some control over what happens next can help redirect their behavior.
Some behaviors have natural consequences – forgetting to turn in their homework at school, for example. In these cases, you don’t necessarily need to pile on. The natural consequences may be enough.
Parenting is anything but easy, and there are no foolproof strategies for success. But by focusing on what you can control, letting go of the rest, and by practicing these positive parenting techniques, you can build a healthy, loving, mutually respectful connection with your child.
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