This seems like a loaded question these days, but what’s positive parenting? Proponents of positive parenting believe it is the only way to raise healthy children, skeptics wonder if positive parenting is simply taking the easy way out and allowing children to rule the household.
So what’s positive parenting?
Positive parenting isn’t a style or a method of parenting. Positive parenting is the ‘simple’ act of guiding children in a respectful and positive manner so children can be raised without fear of shame or corporal punishment. It is confident and loving. It is calm. Above all, positive parenting is respectful.
Sounds easy enough, but any parent knows, parenting is the toughest job in the world. There is nothing simple about it. Things are rarely predictable. Parenting is messy, unrewarding, repetitious and soul-sucking some days.
Everyone wants to parent positively. We don’t wake up and decide to parent our children in negative ways. No one plans on shaming their kids into behaving. No one goes out of their way to mess up their kids. We all want what is best for our kids; we all want happy well-adjusted kids.
But parenting in real life rarely looks like it does on the pages of a book.
Before we have kids, we imagine we’d parent a certain way. We wouldn’t put up with certain behaviors and we’d be ‘cool’ with others. The thing that seems counter-intuitive is that parenting is less about our kids, and more about our own strengths, weaknesses, triggers, hopes, dreams, neediness.
After we have kids, we realize we have very little control. Our hopes, our dreams, the sweet notions we had about parenting are immediately thrown out the window when we are covered in spit up and we haven’t slept in days.
By the nature of it, parenting is, in fact, less about our kids and more about our reaction to our kids. Of course, parenting does depend on the kids we are parenting, our circumstances and our resources, but your environment, your education or your income does not guarantee good parenting. Only parents can control how effectively they parent.
Parenting is tough and the stakes are high.
We are born into parenting with a unique set of weaknesses, strengths, beliefs, and desires. Every parent was raised with his or her own ideas regarding what is or isn’t healthy, what is or isn’t normal, what is or isn’t funny. We each have our own temperament, moral compass, and family histories. We’ve lived through a lot. Many of us have survived abuse, abandonment, and fear. There is a lot of stuff crammed into our psyches. Some of it positive, some of it painful.
Another reason parenting is difficult is that parenting typically involves two people, whether you live together or live apart. That adds another dimension. You’ve got your baggage and your partner’s baggage to carry around.
Everyone’s ideal vision of parenting differs, therefore, people’s ideas of what constitutes positive parenting may differ.
That is exactly where the gray area sets in.
Positive parenting can be easily misunderstood, whether you are a proponent of positive parenting or you consider positive parenting a slow path to snow-flakery, there is a lot of misconceptions on both sides.
Some consider lack of spanking the minimal commitment to positive parenting. Some consider lack of shaming essential.
The other camp would counter that firm and dedicated consequences can be the quickest and kindest way to keep your children well-behaved and safe.
So, you want to parent positively. Where is the best place to start?
Make peace with your own childhood.
What’s positive parenting got to do with your childhood? For starters, your parents weren’t perfect. The sooner you can accept and forgive their imperfections, the sooner you can ‘level the playing field’ so to speak. By forgiving your parents for their mistakes, you can come to parenting without the need to prove someone right or someone wrong. You come to parenting on your own terms: calmly, intentionally with insights and without knee-jerk reactions.
Forgiving your parents doesn’t let them off the hook. Forgiveness heals. Forgiveness is for you. It offers freedom from the past. Forgiveness results in healthier boundaries for your kids. It means you are no longer tethered to the pain. Ultimately, forgiveness means you can end reacting to memories and triggers. You can be whole, deliberate and grounded as a parent.
To do this doesn’t always mean you need years and years of therapy (though sometimes it does). Sometimes, this simply means accepting your parents’ imperfections.
They did their best. You’ll do yours.
Examine your childhood beliefs and ideals.
What’s positive parenting got to do with childhood beliefs? It seems like very little, but when you start to examine what triggers you or what makes you reactionary and why you’ll see you’re carrying around an awful lot of beliefs from your childhood. Are you out to prove you are better than someone? Are you intolerant? Why? What is the thing you can’t stand watching your kids do? Why? When do you get embarrassed? Why?
Take some time to get to know yourself better. Clear the decks. Look at your humor, your religious beliefs, your temperament. Take yourself to task. Some of your issues are no longer relevant. Examine why you are the way you are. Maybe you can let some outdated beliefs go.
If you are rigid, judgmental and harsh in nature, deal with your baggage, because it is hard to raise happy kids if you are inflexible and authoritarian.
If, on the other hand, you need to be needed, are unable to say ‘no’ and are crushed at the thought of your child being disappointed, deal with your baggage, because it is hard to raise happy kids if they have no rules, no manners and are unable to bounce back from disappointment.
Understand positive parenting includes discipline and disappointing your child.
It includes telling your children ‘no’. It includes setting boundaries. It means setting high, but achievable expectations. It does not mean you overly indulge or helicopter your child. It does not mean you allow them to do whatever they want, whenever they want. It does not mean you are a doormat or a victim of their demands. It does not mean you wrap them in bubble wrap and remove pain from their lives.
Just like adults, children want to know what it takes to succeed. You wouldn’t take a job without knowing the expectations. Kids need clear, consistent expectations, too. Positive parenting means communicating expectations and setting boundaries so kids know what they need to do to be successful. Being unclear, inconsistent or not providing boundaries sets kids up for confusion and frustration.
Likewise, removing inconveniences, difficult personalities or disappointment also leads to frustration and self-doubt later down the road. Positive parenting allows our kids to become emotionally resilient. They only way they can do that is to trust themselves, to remember that they have what it takes to get through the tough times.
Positive parenting isn’t an excuse to allow kids free reign of their lives.
Children need boundaries to feel safe. Even toddlers can be given expectations. Enforce the boundaries. Calm, fair discipline applied over and over again make kids feel safe. They know what to expect. They can control themselves (or not) and they learn consequences. It is safe.
Positive parenting means your kids are able to handle a myriad of social situations. This sometimes means insisting on self-control and delaying gratification. Manners matter. Being mannerly, including learning to wait their turn or not interrupt is key to being liked. The more liked they are socially, the better they feel about themselves. Instilling the joy of helping others and gratitude goes a long way towards happiness in life. Positive parenting means sometimes your child comes last.
While no child likes to be given limits, when you consistently show up for your kids by disciplining, listening and laughing, your kids will trust you have their backs. They will feel safe to grow and expand. They will know you want what is best for them. A free-for-all lifestyle in the name of ‘personal expression’, isn’t a positive experience for a child. It leaves them feeling terrified. Fair, loving boundaries with consistent consequences is parenting positively.
Positive parenting means you are willing to be unpopular.
Positive parenting does not mean your child should be happy 24/7. It means that you, as a parent, are willing to forgo what your child wants in the moment for what is best for them in the future. Parenting positively may mean your child cries, throws a tantrum or screams at you. Positive parenting isn’t about removing things that disappoint or anger your child, positive parenting is about guiding them through disappointment and anger in a way that will ultimately empower them.
Positive parenting means parents allow their kids to feel a rainbow of emotions.
Kids need the safe space to learn how to deal with uncertainty, fear and disappointment. Not allowing your kids to experience all emotions, including anger, rejection, loneliness, sadness or embarrassment doesn’t prepare them for adulthood. Helping kids wade navigate the mucky feelings like not being invited to a party, as well as the joys of winning a game give them the muscle memory they need in adulthood to face their challenges.
There is room for all emotions in life. Our job as parents is to respectfully allow our kids to feel and manage those emotions. Building resiliency in children means they must develop emotional maturity. As painful as it is for all involved, including parents, guiding our kids through tough times is more effective in raising happy kids than removing pain.
Positive parenting isn’t just about the child’s experience.
It is about the parent’s experience as well. Yes, it is about having high expectations, but you must forgive yourself if you fall short.
We must remember as parents we are role models for our kids. It is unrealistic to think every day of family life will be rainbows and unicorns. Anyone who tells you they’ve parented day after day for 21 years without fault is lying. The most positive thing you can do for your kids is to model healthy behavior. The last thing kids need is a parent who lives in a constant state of panic and self-loathing based on unrealistic ideals. Life happens. It is messy. We aren’t perfect. Give yourself a break. Forgive yourself. Laugh. Embrace the mess.
We are all born hard-wired for pain and disappointment. The best parents not only respect, support and forgive their kids, they respect, support and forgive themselves.
The more love and structure and laughter and curiosity and joy and forgiveness and self-acceptance we can model for our kids the better. If you mess up, apologize. If you keep messing in the same area, get help. Figure it out. Hold yourself to high standards, but do not be seduced by perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a trap.
What’s positive parenting got to do with perfectionism? Perfectionism can be a bi-product of over-the-top positive parenting. Positive parenting is respectful guidance. Positive parenting isn’t about achieving perfection. Striving for perfection is unhealthy. It has no place in parenting. It is impossible to parent positively if you model impossibly high standards for yourself. Your kids are watching.
Why model behavior that screams, ‘Unless you’re perfect, you aren’t lovable or unworthy?’
End the perfectionist cycle. Don’t burden your kids with your need to be perfect. Don’t pass that trait down to them. They are watching. Forgive yourself. Have some fun.
Being a happy, confident, self-assured and forgiving parent is as important to positive parenting as is providing a safe environment for children.
You matter. Your relationships matter. Your feelings matter. Be kind to yourself. Your children will learn to be kind to themselves.
Model self-love and your children will learn self-love. Model boundaries and your children will respect them. Model remorse and forgiveness and your children will do the same. That is positive parenting.
What’s positive parenting?
In conclusion, positive parenting is a lifestyle for parents and kids, based on respect, safety, inclusiveness, acceptance, and forgiveness. It doesn’t mean a pampered life void of discipline. It does mean trial and error and laughter and tears. Somedays you’ll get it right, somedays you’ll cry yourself to sleep and that’s the real beauty of positive parenting. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
I’m T-Ann Pierce, a transformational life, and mindset coach, who helps good parents become even better parents. If you still have questions about how to use positive parenting with your child, contact me at 847.730.7531 or drop me a note at https://t-annpierce.com/contact-me/.