We see so many different parenting labels these days that it can feel quite intimidating. There are the helicopter parents, the free-range parents, the crunchy parents, the snowplow parents, the unschooling parents, the attachment parents, you name it. But do we really need to be categorized based on our parenting choices?
Experts tell us that positive parenting practices that are responsive and supportive of the parent-child relationship are the most important factors for raising a happy and secure child. So, regardless of whether they are raising a child who is uncompromisingly vegan or one who will only eat white bread and chicken nuggets, all parents should develop an understanding of what positive parenting practices are and why they are so important.
What is positive parenting and where did the idea come from?
Back in the 1900s, most firmly held the view that children should be “seen and not heard,” and discipline usually involved a heavy hand. During this time, Alfred Adler studied human psychology and strongly believed that all children should be treated with dignity and respect. Today, most people tend to agree; however, it is not always practiced.
In simple terms, Adler saw positive parenting as being both compassionate and firm. It was this view that led Jane Nelson to develop the positive parenting methodology. In 1981, she wrote and published a book titled Positive Discipline. Since then, this methodology has been used by parents and educators across the globe. Extensive research has supported the view that positive parenting practices certainly produce better outcomes for kids.
Positive parenting is the continual relationship of a parent(s) and a child or children that includes caring, teaching, leading, communicating, and providing for the needs of a child consistently and unconditionally.
There is now a wealth of information and advice available for parents to help them engage in positive parenting practices. The consistently held view is that positive parenting involves:
- Being affectionate
- Providing a safe environment
In addition to this, positive parenting (also known as the authoritative parenting style) involves consistently meeting a child’s needs, whether physical or emotional. Having empathy for your child and providing a secure emotional connection is foundational to their healthy development. In fact, much of positive parenting is about having a respectful parent-child relationship that will help build a child’s self-esteem and allow discipline to be about teaching rather than punishing.
Why is positive parenting so important?
Studies tell us that parents who use punishment and an authoritarian parenting style are more likely to have children with low self-esteem, poor mental health, and greater difficulties in school.
Furthermore, it has been proven that this style of parenting often results in poorer long-term outcomes because the child is learning to behave “because I said so” or out of fear rather than because they understand that certain behaviors aren’t appropriate for moral reasons.
This then becomes an issue as those children grow into adults who lack the essential moral and ethical understanding to help them develop positive relationships with others and know how to interact and behave in a way that society expects.
How to parent positively
Here are several steps parents can take to master positive parenting practices:
- Connect with your child. Positive parenting involves aiming to understand when your child is upset or struggling. When behavior is seen as communication, caregivers can be sympathetic and supportive and help their child through the situation rather than react to the behavior. Comforting, encouraging, and spending quality time with children will help you build a strong connection and enable you to be more responsive to your child’s needs and feelings.
- Be firm but kind. Establishing rules and boundaries that are age-appropriate and fair is crucial. Explaining your expectations ahead of time and being clear about consequences will help set your child up for success. It’s important that kids understand the reasons behind the rules, so clear and effective communication is a key aspect of positive parenting.
- Be a positive role model. Children learn so much from what they see. One of the best ways of teaching your child to behave as you want them to is through role modeling. By speaking calmly and kindly as much as possible and finding ways to embed beliefs and morals into everyday life, you will help your child learn how to communicate, behave, and respect others.
- Redirect behavior. When we see undesirable behaviors, redirecting the child’s energy elsewhere can be a highly effective strategy. Changing the environment, making substitutions, or showing the child a more desirable behavior can help you both navigate some tricky situations in a positive way.
Guiding and teaching children is much more effective as a parenting strategy than punishing. These techniques can really support you in developing and maintaining a strong relationship with your child, which will become especially important as they move into those difficult teenage years. If you have established a strong foundation of trust and respect, your child will know you are available to help, support, and guide them through this challenging stage of life.
What happens when I get it wrong?
I’ve had several (ok, many) parenting moments in my life that I am certainly not proud of. On occasion, I have yelled, used threats, and shamed my child due to my own loss of control in moments of frustration and anger. I know and understand how I should respond in order to be a positive parent, but when emotions are running high and the amygdala is in the driving seat, I forget and just react.
In striving to be a positive parent, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Knowing that we will at times make mistakes is a reality we simply need to accept. That being said, when we have responded to our child in a not-so-positive way, it’s important that we go back and repair the relationship by acknowledging our mistakes and apologizing so that both our children and we can move on. Also, apologizing when we have made a mistake is vital to model so that your child can learn this important skill.
I find comfort in the fact that a reputable study on emotional development found that when mothers responded to their babies in the “right way” 30% of the time, it was considered good enough in terms of the child developing a positive and secure attachment.
We know that all parents will get it wrong at times, no matter how proficient they are at positive parenting. The important thing is that you reset and try again to find another way to get it right. I guess what I’m saying here is don’t beat yourself up over any parenting failures, forgive yourself, move on, and continue doing the best you can.
Where to get support for positive parenting
The Triple P parenting program is designed to provide a toolbox of ideas to help parents and caregivers respond to their children in positive ways. The three Ps actually stand for “Positive Parenting Program.”
Families all over the world have found success in using this program as a guide to help them manage behavior, set rules and expectations, and feel confident as parents. There are various programs available, and some are even offered online. You can find out more about Triple P here.
Regardless of what our own childhood experiences were like, we’re all capable of mastering tools and strategies to help us connect better with our children and be more responsive parents. When the relationship is strong and you feel confident in what you’re doing, it makes for a much happier household. So, no matter what type of parent you are—helicopter, crunchy, or free-range—strive to be a positive one. If the experts are right, you certainly won’t regret it!
- The Power of Positive Parenting by Matthew R. Sanders and Trevor G. Mazzucchelli will guide you on how to create a safe, nurturing, and positive parent-child relationship to lay the foundations for healthy child development.
- Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide by Rebecca Eanes has foundational principles and practices to help to build yourself, your child, and the family as a whole from the inside out.