Positive parenting focuses on raising responsible, caring, and resilient children using parenting techniques based on love and respect. Positive parenting is a balanced approach in which parents provide firm guidelines and warm support. More than a fad or trend, positive parenting is effective and helps you create a more connected and balanced relationship with your child.
Children have so many things to navigate in today’s world, from self-esteem issues tied to social media to rising rates of anxiety and depression. Parenting in a way that helps your child learn to manage emotions in healthy ways is more crucial than ever before.
What is Positive Parenting? Becoming a Guide for Your Child.
Parents often think their main role is to discipline their children so they learn to be good. As a positive parent, that perspective shifts to the belief that children are good, and yet, they also need guidance while their ability to navigate their emotions and brains slowly mature.
The original meaning of the word discipline comes from the Latin “disciplina,” meaning “teaching, learning” and is related to the word disciple. To discipline then is to teach — this is the role of a positive parent.
When we discipline our children, we want to empower them to change their behavior, not shame them or try to control them. We want our children to build up self-regulation skills within themselves, not conform to set rules or behave out of fear.
Positive parenting is a shift away from the parent as a “disciplinarian” or the traditional authoritarian parent to the parent as a guide or the authoritative parenting style. As a positive parent, you do set limits and correct for behavior, but this guidance is delivered lovingly and respectfully.
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.Seay, Freysteinson, Mc Farlane (2014)
The philosophy behind positive parenting is to raise kids who can regulate positive and negative emotions, remain calm when upset, and problem-solve within relationships.
Eisenberg, Zhou, and Spinrad et al. (2005) found that positive parenting impacts children’s temperament by enhancing emotion regulation. They found that parental warmth and positive expressivity predicted greater emotion regulation which over time predicted fewer externalizing behavior problems when they were teens.
Other benefits have been linked to positive parenting, such as better school adjustment, increased motivation, reduced depressive symptoms, increased self-esteem, increased resilience, and general positive youth development.
10 Tips to Get Started with Positive Parenting Today!
So how do you get started? Regardless of where you are on your parenting journey, it’s never too late to start using positive discipline and positive parenting techniques. Use these tips to get started and watch your relationship with your child become closer and more connected. Give it time. The adjustment will be worth it.
1. Get to the root of the issue; What is behind your child’s behavior?
Remember, all behavior is communication. There is always a root reason why a child is acting out, whining, or upset. Ask questions. Be a stress detective and help your child get to the root of their frustration. The more you can help your child understand what they are trying to communicate, the more you can prevent the bigger meltdowns and tantrums because your child’s needs are being met. The iceberg analogy is so useful for understanding this. See it here.
2. Correct the Behavior While Accepting the Emotion.
You can acknowledge and accept your child’s emotions while limiting behavior. Feeling hurt, frustrated, angry, or upset because your friend took your toy away isn’t bad — it is entirely appropriate to feel those things. But the behavior of hitting your friend over the head with another toy isn’t the best way to express those feelings. You can correct the behavior while still accepting the emotion. Positive parenting is not permissive parenting — positive parenting provides children with clear boundaries and a warm understanding of how your child may be feeling.
3. Work With Your Child and Set Clear Boundaries.
Parents often try to lay down the law, then feel guilty and become permissive. This back-and-forth creates confusion about expectations. Here is the key — you don’t need to be controlling or permissive; instead, move away from that and work with your child. Set clear boundaries; It is never okay to hit; it is never okay to hurt. Always follow through on your boundaries by helping your child stop and remove them from the situation. Then focus on the root cause of their behavior and help them figure out a better way. This is teaching your child life-long relationship skills. Read more about how to discipline without shame here.
4. Teach Your Child What To Do.
Remember that teaching appropriate behaviors is more beneficial than punishing unwanted behaviors. In fact, teaching and learning are what discipline means. Focus on teaching your child what to do instead of what not to do. For example, do a feeling break with your child (find out how here)instead of a time-out. Traditional time-outs isolate children with big feelings and don’t teach them anything. Working with your child to feel their emotions, express emotions, and problem solve will teach them worlds more and strengthen your relationship with your child.
5. Think About It from Your Child’s Perspective.
You can begin positive parenting approaches from the day your child is born. If your child cries, think about the root reason why. If you get upset, talk about your feelings. Apologize if you need to. Give them choices — do they spit out the peas or carrots more?
We often think about how what our child does affects us. For example, it can be very inconvenient when your toddler drops their nap. Think about it from your child’s perspective — what is their experience? They’ve moved beyond needing a full nap and want to explore, yet they will also be grumpy during this transition. This is a different developmental need. But they probably still need some downtime, so transition to quiet time. Working with your child’s needs is much better than fighting them or trying to control them.
Be responsive and sensitive to your child’s emotional and developmental needs.
6. Be aware of brain development and age-appropriate behavior.
Human children are born with surprisingly immature brains compared to all other mammals. Wouldn’t it make sense for human babies to be more prepared for survival? Humans are, first and foremost, a social species, so it makes sense that their brain is shaped after birth and throughout childhood based on their experiences within the social group.
Children’s emotion regulation system is not fully online until they are three-years-old and continues developing and organizing rapidly until they are seven-years-old. Then there is a whole second growth spurt in adolescence. Learn more about the development of regulation here.
Positive parenting provides a safe space for children to develop, make mistakes, express emotions, and learn how to work through social situations.
7. Ask Your Child to Reflect on Their Actions.
Instead of you telling your child that they should feel proud or that they should feel guilty — ask them how they feel. As a general rule, ask more and talk less. Wow, you shared your snack with your friend. I know you love that snack. How did you feel when you shared it?
Reflection is a powerful tool to teach self-regulation. Research shows that asking children to reflect can help develop brain connections. Read more on that and handling defiance in toddlers here.
8. Use Humor and Laughter in Your Parenting.
Children learn through play. If your child isn’t cooperating, try making the task into a game. Embrace playful strategies and games to help your child internalize regulation skills. Making regulation activities into fun games while, at the same time, scaffolding real regulation strategies will help your child develop without dampening their joy. Remember, it isn’t about controlling behavior or emotion; it’s learning to manage it. A little bit of humor will transform power struggles into games! See 7 self-regulation games here.
9. Use the Accept, Connect, Teach (ACT) Method of Positive Parenting
Use the three-step ACT parenting method in the moment to help you utilize the main positive parenting techniques. First, accept your child’s emotions that are often behind “bad” behavior. Second, connect with your child and help comfort them by calming their nervous system. And finally, teach them how to work through the situation. This helps you respond to your child intentionally rather than reacting in the moment. See more examples here.
10. Unconditionally Love Your Child.
Most of all, truly accept your child. Especially when they are at their worst. That is when they need your love the most. Don’t put conditions on your love or acceptance.
Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist and founder of The Neufeld Institute, says, “children must never work for our love; they must rest in it.”
Some common methods of discipline require children to work for our approval and love. “Don’t come out of your room until you can behave,” or “Don’t talk to me until you can use a proper tone of voice.” Statements like these tell children we have conditions for our acceptance and love of them.
When we expect our kids to meet certain conditions before we give our approval and positive attention, they cannot rest in the security of unconditional love. They are burdened with trying to be a certain way to keep the relationship close. With time children will learn they cannot come to their parents with hard things. Instead, Dr. Neufeld says the message should be there is nothing that can separate you from my love.
Positive parenting is an effective way to provide children with kind and firm guidance. Positive parenting sets the foundation for mutual respect and a strong parent-child connection that last a lifetime.