Every parent has been there—a tired toddler wailing loudly in the checkout line, a third grader who simply won’t settle down and start his homework, a teen who only answers questions with an eye roll.
While family life and raising children can be an extremely rewarding experience, everyone faces parenting challenges and wonders what he or she could do differently. One effective approach is to practice positive parenting.
The basics of positive parenting can be summed up this way—it’s a focus on positive interactions between parents and children where parents reinforce good behavior by rewarding it. That doesn’t mean you’re giving your children a dollar or treat every time they display good behavior. It means when they act in the way you hope they will, you point out the behavior and emphasize that you’re proud of their choice and the way they’re behaving.
A number of studies have shown that positive parenting is effective even for children with significant behavioral issues. In fact, these and other studies found that a positive approach to parenting was more effective than an extremely punitive approach, such as yelling and handing out harsh punishments. Another benefit of this approach is that is reduces the level of stress that both parents and children experience, which helps protect against stress-related health problems such as headaches, anxiety, an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, and gastrointestinal issues.
How to Parent Positively
The goal is to be empathetic, constructive, and supportive of your children when disciplining them. How you do that will depend on your child’s age. For example:
- Distracting a baby or toddler can be a good way to interrupt a negative behavior like touching something they shouldn’t or having a tantrum.
- For elementary school age children, helping your child set achievable goals and celebrating successes as they work towards those goals is one good strategy.
- For teens, respecting their opinions not only lets them know they can talk to you about anything, it also shows them how to be respectful of others’ opinions and ideas.
These three strategies can help you take a positive approach to parenting your children at any age:
1. Find the Cause of the Behavior
Rather than just trying to correct a problem behavior like hitting, refusing to do chores, or staying out past curfew, consider whether there have been any changes in your family’s or child’s life that might be spurring the negative behavior. Is there a new sibling in the house? Has the family been under financial strain or has one of the parents started a demanding new job? Has a relative died?
If your children are older, sit down and have a calm, non-judgmental talk, asking what’s bothering them or causing stress in their life.
2. Look at Your Own Behavior
Children, no matter what their age, are products of their environment and often mirror their parents’ behaviors and attitudes. Do you have a short fuse? Do you approach things you don’t want to do with a grumble or sigh? Do you make excuses when you don’t come through on a promise?
Modeling positive behaviors will not only show your children a better approach, it will also have a positive impact on your mood and self-image.
3. Give Your Children Your Full Attention
You have a lot on your plate. You’re a parent, an employee, a daughter or son, a spouse or partner. And then there are all the distractions—cell phones, TV, computers.
Make it a habit not to multi-task while spending time with your children. Give them all your attention, listen to what they have to say, and engage in real conversation with them. It’ll not only strengthen the bond between you, it will help them learn how to focus and tune out distractions.