By: Jenny Andjelkovic

How often have you been in a situation just like this one? Your sweet, cute child is standing before you – tears streaming down their face, bottom lip quivering. But in this moment, you don’t see sweet or cute at all – you only see RED! Two seconds before this moment your child was running like a tornado through the house chasing after the dog and had just managed to slam into a side table with a glass top that consequently crashed to the floor and shattered.

“What were you thinking? You weren’t thinking!” You shout. “How many times have I told you not to run in the house!? Time out!! Sit there and don’t move while I clean up this GIANT mess!” You barely recognize your own shrill voice and now your child is sobbing uncontrollably, looks terrified, full of shame and is completely shutting down. You start to worry about how scary you seemed when you lunged like a monster and grabbed her arm a little too tightly, but you waffle about whether it is ok - even good – natural consequences?! You start to feel like you lost your mind a little and when you start to find it again, the regret slowly creeps over you.

Parenting Goals: You Are Not Your Parents!

According to the American Psychological Association (Adapted from A. Kazdin, The Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2000) “Parenting practices through time and around the globe tend to share three main goals: 1) ensuring children's health and safety, 2) preparing children for life as productive adults and 3) transmitting cultural values”. But measures of health and safety, definitions of a “productive adult” and our priorities and values tend to shift and change over time and among different environments and cultures. As a result, our methods to teach manners and skills to our children - and our strategies to gain cooperation have evolved as well.

At certain times in our history - a parent’s main concern for safety may have been basic survival. In more recent generations, proper manners, education and keeping children “in line” may have been the priority to keep children away from danger and fitting into cultural norms. In the past, the focus was often more about maintaining control to avoid unsafe situations and to mold children into the kind of adults parents wanted them to be.

Unfortunately, we have learned that if we use fear tactics through threats and punishment, the focus for the child becomes more about avoiding the punishment than about changing behavior. Behaviors such as sneakiness, lying, acting out, withdrawal, and loss of self-esteem are the unwanted side effects of punitive discipline and undermine all our best parenting efforts. Research points out that these kids often practice ways to avoid being caught once they gain any amount of freedom and often never develop their own strong moral compass. Worse, putting a child on the defensive or making a child feel fear and shame sets off that fight or flight response which can get in the way of clear thinking and ultimately important learning that encourages good decision-making skills. Numerous developmental and educational psychology studies have been conducted and show that punitive parenting breaks children’s spirits and damages our relationships over time. This parenting style results in an unhappy and stressed family unit, even more misbehavior in the long run and makes it harder to ultimately achieve our parenting goals.

Parenting for Today: Positive Parenting

Children need a guide, a teacher – not a dictator. We need to remind ourselves that independent children are what we WANT! Happy, kind, independent citizens of the world who can think for themselves and make well thought out decisions when we are not around is what we are working toward. To achieve our mutual parenting goals in a more modern world, parenting philosophy has had to make quite a shift from the dynamics of the past. We know so much more about the dangers of punitive discipline, and we’ve gained valuable data about motivation and learning over time.

We know that a high-quality parent-child relationship is critical for healthy development and that a parent can be both firm and decisive AND empathetic. Today parents achieve their goals through more flexibility and cooperation and seek to build the child up without diminishing through positive parenting; a research-based approach that is focused on building resilience, encouraging happiness, and developing emotional intelligence.

“Positive parenting is the continual relationship of parent/s and a child or children that includes caring, teaching, leading, communicating and providing for the needs of a child consistently and unconditionally” (Saey et. al, 2004 came up with this universal definition based on the review of 120 pertinent positive parenting articles).

Parenting positively requires a parent that manages behavior with realistic expectations, leads by example and serves as a strong role model. It is a long-term mind-set that results in making family and home a comfy safe space and prime learning environment for the child. Parenting is never permissive - though it is warm and thoughtful and meant to empower the child. It is always non-violent and includes an abundance of affection. It features regular open communication and is based on empathy and unconditional love. It has a focus on consistent positive rewards for accomplishments, but it requires clear boundaries and planned consequences, respectful of developmental stage, over punishment to teach limits.

Above all else, in positive parenting, it is important to accept and validate all of your children’s feelings. Feelings are neither wrong nor right in this philosophy, but it is what we do with our feelings that matter most. As positive parents, one of the most important things we can teach and encourage is the development of emotional intelligence so children can ultimately self-regulate and make good behavior choices on their own.

It really works!

How do you learn? What motivates you? Research shows that punishment may work in the short term but can have lasting negative effects and is not an effective tool for learning. Learning theory supports that connection and positive communication promotes problem solving skills, encourages intrinsic motivation and lasting internal changes, offers autonomy and supports self-regulation – all critical tools to empower our kids to make safe and smart choices!

The proof is in the pudding! We are finding out that kids raised in this way grow to be the most resilient, well-adjusted, responsible, happy adults. They feel more loved and respected than their peers raised in a punitive or permissive environment and as a result, they are ultimately more cooperative, compliant, empathetic, have higher self-esteem, and better problem-solving skills. They are shown to be more achievement oriented, display greater initiative and rank higher academically than their peers. Children raised with positive parenting are more capable of positive communication, are more influenced by their parents’ longer term and as a result become more independent, self-controlled adults with more successful relationships over-all.

Rewind: Putting it into practice!

We have ALL been there wondering if we could have handled a situation differently with our children - and believe me – we will all be there again. Making mistakes and learning from them is just a normal part of the parenting journey. What if instead of reacting impulsively, instead of yelling and screaming we choose to react with empathy? How different things might be if we pause first before reacting to take a big breath and reset. What does positive parenting actually look like?

What if when my daughter broke the table - I had crouched down, put a hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes. What if instead I said to her “Oh no! You broke the table. You must be so upset right now. Me too – I’m so worried you could have hurt yourself!” Why do you think we have our rule - no running in the house? What do you think you can you do to help me right now?” In positive parenting we would work together to solve the problem, we would clean up the mess together and then we would brainstorm some ideas for her to help get a new table. In this model I would show forgiveness. What if I gathered myself and gave her a hug and even said “Are you ok? I’m so glad you are ok. I know you didn’t mean to break the table.”

This response will more likely leave my child open for apologizing and more importantly for learning from the mistake. She might be able to process her own emotions and figure out how to solve the problem instead of feeling shame and shutting down. And most of all - if she does something wrong again, later. . . she might be able to admit her mistakes and she will even be more likely to come to me for help if she needs it.

It’s easy when we put it this way, but the truth is we will still get mad and react in a way we might not always be proud of. That is not always the worst thing! Our kids need to know that we have feelings too and that there are natural consequences and that sometimes we don’t behave the way we know we should, and we can fix that. We will still hear the words of our grandparents or parents fall from our mouths from time to time, but we can admit our mistakes, apologize, and forgive ourselves so we can move on - just as we hope for our children to do.

Join us to learn more about specific positive parenting methods at each developmental stage!