I am a firm believer in the benefits of raising kids with compassion and empathy. I believe that treating kids as we would like to be treated makes them stronger people, not weaker. I believe that the relationships we build with kids in childhood matter more than anything. Yet being a positive parent is not always easy.
There are times it seems incredibly hard to use a positive parenting approach, and sometimes the approach seems to increase rather than decrease tension. There are times it feels that we’re failing because we just don’t seem to have the skills to make it work. When it feels like you’re not getting different results despite doing the “right” thing over and over again, here are a few things to keep in mind.
We all get tired, anxious, and stressed, and these states have an impact on how we parent. We’re bound to yell more, or more likely to view our kids’ actions as misbehavior when we’re tired. Who wouldn’t lose it having to repeat the same thing over and over again while running late or trying to balance everything that needs to be done? The bottom line is that we’re all human.
Being a positive parent is not about being perfect. It’s about being aware of our strengths but also being aware of our weaknesses. It means working on our weaknesses, for instance by making a conscious attempt to dial down the yelling. Being a positive parent also means knowing when to apologize and what to apologize for.
Understanding we are all human also means understanding that kids are human too and that they will do things kids are supposed to do.
While adopting a positive discipline approach may improve your relationship with your kid, nothing guarantees that this approach will work all of the time and for every discipline issue. Don’t do the same thing over and over if you’re not getting the results you want. While a self-quieting space can do wonders for your kid, by no means does it work in every situation or with every kid.
Trying a different approach when everything you’ve tried doesn’t seem to be working does not make you a bad parent. The thing to remember is that effective discipline has common elements. Discipline is most effective when it occurs in a warm and loving environment.
The thing with labels is that they can quickly become limiting. Positive parenting means, first and foremost, being intentional in your parenting. It is not about following set rules laid out by someone else. Being a positive parent means being conscious that how you interact with your kid affects him or her. It means aligning your parenting to your kid’s temperament, and parenting in ways that are in line with your values and both you and your kid’s strengths and weaknesses.
Punitive methods are never the solution to misbehavior. They teach kids “not to get caught,” and increasing evidence suggests that punitive methods harm kids. While these methods might get you immediate results, all they will do over the long term is teach kids to lie because they teach them to see truth as an inconvenience. Kids who live in fear of punishment become sneakier and they also avoid confiding in you even when they should.
Being an intentional parent means being conscious that your kid's “misbehavior” is often driven by his inability to manage emotions. It means helping your kid learn to manage his emotions using an age-appropriate approach.
That said, non-punitive parenting is not synonymous with permissive parenting. Kids need to be aware that actions have consequences, and the consequences need to be appropriate and as closely linked to the behavior as possible. Recurrent misbehavior should not be ignored, nor should serious misbehavior that involves violent, aggressive, and dangerous behavior.
Being an intentional parent means making a conscious attempt to promote your kid’s overall wellbeing. It means being sensitive to her needs, treating her emotions as valid, and treating her as an individual in her own right.
An intentional approach is not the approach set out in books or other parenting guides. It is an approach guided by your own values and your own specific context.
When you’re feeling discouraged about positive parenting, think of the long-term benefits to help get you back on track. When we’re warm and responsive to our kids' needs and feelings, they feel better and act better!