Positive Parenting: 2 Steps for Success
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
There are many facets of positive parenting, and it's nearly impossible to explain the entire philosophy in one post. Of course, philosophies are important, but concrete guidance for parents is also necessary to help facilitate successful positive change, which is why we have written Positive Parenting in Action.
If I were short on time and needed to explain positive parenting to someone, I think it can be done in 2 simple, basic steps, or ideas.
1. Expect a lot from your child.
Positive parenting is not permissive parenting. I have high expectations regarding behavior, manners, helpfulness, cooperation, etc. High expectations are good for a child's esteem and character, as long as he is given the tools and knowledge of how to meet those expectations in a loving and respectful way. Falling into the permissive trap of not expecting much from your child for fear of breaking your connection or making him feel "bad" only leads to a child who doesn't expect much from himself. Of course, within the realm of this, we have to understand what is age appropriate for our children. We can't reasonably expect an 12-month-old to sit through an hour-long dinner or a 2-year-old to manage his emotions well all the time, but we can expect them to do what we know they are capable of.
It is a huge misconception that positive parents allow our children to run willy-nilly through restaurants and stores, never provide boundaries, and don't discipline our kids!
How do you get your child to meet your expectations without punishments or bribery? The key is in #2.
2. Let him know you believe him entirely capable of meeting those expectations.
We know that a child's self-concept determines his behavior. We also know that self-concept is largely formed, in the early years, by his parents and caregivers. He sees himself the way you see him. What messages are you sending? I was out with my family over the weekend and overheard 2 parents in 2 different stores chatting with other adults in their child's presence. One parent called the child "mean" and other other parent said her's was a "wild child." How do you think those children are going to behave? Now I know sometimes parents say those things in jest, but if those children are constantly getting that message, they will come to believe that they are mean or wild. Give your children positive labels. "You are so helpful!" "You are kind!" "What a great big sister you are!"
"Cleaning up is a big job. I know you can handle it."
"I love how you say 'thank you'. You have good manners."
"You have a lot of homework? Well I know you'll crush it! I believe in you."
How you speak to them becomes their inner voice. I believe Peggy O'Mara said that.
For more on building a positive self-concept, click here.
What might this look like in action? What if your child still refuses to cooperate, even if you said you have faith in her that she will get it done?
Well, of course hearing the message once isn't going to take root. She needs daily affirmations that she is capable, good, loved, kind, enough. And even if she does have a wonderful self-concept, she's still a human being. Let's not forget to allow for her humanity. I know that sounds like an absurd statement, but trust me, many parents don't allow for their children's humanity. If you ask her to clean her room and you know she is capable of doing so, yet she refuses, you have options. I'm not going to suggest you let her live with the mess. Some would suggest that, and it's reasonable if you can deal with messes, but I can't and I'm not going to get started down that path. It needs cleaned, she's capable of cleaning it, I expect it to get done. So what are my other options? I can offer to help her clean it. Offering help isn't a weakness. If I expect her to sometimes help me with my dishes, I can, in turn, lend a hand in helping her clean her room. Another option is to set a time limit on it. "You may finish your game first. I need the room cleaned up by 8 p.m." She's got things she wants to do. This isn't an emergency. We think if they don't jump up and obey us immediately, we've gone astray, but as long as she gets it done, it gets done, right? I can't tell you how many times I've put off the laundry until just before bed!
What about a toddler who bites his baby brother? Well, you know he isn't capable yet of controlling those impulses, but that doesn't mean you let him bite the baby. Once you check on the baby, take the toddler to a time in or a calm down corner and tell him, "I can't allow you to bite. Biting hurts. I know you would never want to hurt your brother. I'll help you." Notice how there was no "How could you be so mean!?" Instead, I told him that I know he'd never want to hurt his brother and that I would help him. He didn't want to hurt his brother. He got angry and acted on impulse. So now I'll help him learn how to manage his impulses. We'll talk about anger and strategies for dealing with it, and we'll talk about repairing the relationship with baby. It takes a lot of practice to get control of those impulses, but the more we reinforce their positive self-concept and give them tools they can use to handle themselves, the more successful they'll be.
For an in-depth look at the philosophy of positive parenting, please see these posts:
Positive Parenting: What, Why, How?
Positive Parenting is NOT Permissive Parenting
Nonpunitive Discipline ≠ Lazy Parenting
What's the Deal with Consequences
10 Things that are More Important than Discipline