Positive parenting is a way to set expectations, instill values and live together as a family in relative peace while maintaining a resilient and satisfying relationship with your child.
An essential part of a positive parenting is developing a strong foundation of trust, love and respect. It will be difficult to interact with your child effectively without a strong foundation. If you fear you do not yet have this with your child, don’t give up hope – its not too late to build one.
Building a Strong Foundation
Showing your love means spending quality time and playing with your child. This is not always easy for parents in a busy world. Quality time involves things your child enjoys and you may have to do some research into their likes and dislikes in order to figure this out. It may be as simple as showing interest in what they are doing at a given moment or as elaborate as spending a special day with them. What your child enjoys will change as they grow and develop, so it is a continuous process of observing and experimentation.
Show your respect through listening to and acknowledging your child’s feelings. When your child comes to you with problems, resist the urge to solve them for him or her. Be careful not to judge. Instead, support them in finding their own solutions. It is also wise to resist the temptation to talk down to your child or lecture them. If you wouldn’t talk to a friend the way you talk to your child, then you may want to take a closer look at the words you choose and the tone you take with them.
Earn your child’s trust through honesty. Kids learn by observation and can sense parents’ mixed messages. They will learn to mistrust you when they feel you are not being genuine. By the same token, remember you are a role model and like it or not, you lead your children by example. That is why it is important to practice what you preach with your child.
Reward Wanted Behavior
Rewarding wanted behavior works better than punishing unwanted behavior because it is motivating and positive. When your child is small, try to catch them doing something good every day and praise them for it. After age 2, you may start to use a simple reward system. Rewards can be anything that is motivating to a child and this will change as the child develops. If you unsure what motivates your child, you can use their preferred behavior to reinforce a new positive behavior. For example, you can reward them with TV time for finishing their homework.
Start by reinforcing actions that come close to the desired behavior and as the child achieves mastery, the criteria for the behavior can be raised and the frequency of the reward can be decreased. A child can start to earn tokens or tickets toward a reward. In this way, they get immediate reinforcement, but the reward comes later after they have demonstrated a number of repetitions or an array of desirable behaviors. You must stay in constant communication with your child about the reward system to make sure it is working correctly and sufficiently motivating to your child.
Do not bribe your child. A bribe is giving a reward before the child performs the wanted behavior or stops the undesired behavior. Rewards are different from bribes in that they are earned and given after they do what you expected of them.
It is preferable and more enjoyable for all parties to use rewards to reinforce wanted behavior. Still, there may be times when discipline is needed and it is important to be thoughtful about how it is used.
Set clear and reasonable expectations appropriate for the child’s development. Before age five children are not generally internally motivated to do what is right. Instead, they follow the rules in order to gain approval or to avoid consequences. They need to be taught what is right and what is wrong before they can be expected to make good choices.
If the behavior is unwanted, ignore it whenever possible. If ignoring is out of the question, be specific about the unwanted behavior and why you want it to stop. Don’t label the child as messy, bad, lazy, or selfish. Instead, point out the specific behavior and tell them why it is not acceptable to you. Tell your child what they can do instead of the unwanted behavior. Give them choices whenever possible. You can also try to find out what is reinforcing the unwanted behavior and remove it.
Spanking or other physical punishment is not a good option for several reasons:
- It teaches children to avoid getting caught rather than teaching them to do the right thing
- It creates fear which works against a foundation of love, trust and respect
- It teaches children it is ok to use violence to solve problems
- You could physically harm your child if you’re angry
- Spanking may be reinforcing to a child who wants attention
Time out gets a bad rap because it is often poorly implemented. If you plan to use time out, be sure you fully understand its purpose and how to use it properly or you are bound to be disappointed.
- Explain time out to the child well before you use it
- Choose the right location to place your child in time out
- Do not use time out in anger
- Place the child in time out for 1 minute for each year of age until about age 10
- Use a timer
If you’re angry, take your own time out – you need to be calm when using discipline.
Common Discipline Mistakes
Most of the common discipline mistakes involve inconsistencies such as:
- Being unclear about your expectations or changing the rules without notice
- Making promises or threats with no follow through
- Giving in to tantrums or whining
- Failing to reward appropriate behavior or accidentally rewarding inappropriate behavior
Other discipline mistakes may cause some damage to the parent-child relationship, such as:
- Forcing a child to apologize, share or cooperate
- Comparing one child to another or having them compete against each other for rewards
- Trying to shame or embarrass the child
If you are dissatisfied with your relationship with your child or you are struggling with parenting, it may be helpful to consult with a professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.
Please also visit my mental health resources website kansascitymentalhealth.com for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.