There is no shortage of parenting styles these days. But after working with thousands of families for over 20 years, I’ve found positive parenting to be one of the most effective—and my personal favorite.
Unlike authoritarian parenting, which places high expectations on children with little responsiveness, or uninvolved parenting, where there is little education or guidance, positive parenting is an empathy-based approach that involves techniques such as encouragement and problem solving – rather than yelling, hostility, shame or the utilization of rewards.
In fact, studies have found that when parents resort to constant yelling or whining, they usually end up feeling frustrated, angry, and then guilty. The children, in turn, may also feel frustrated and angry and continue to misbehave.
In the end, very little changes, and the cycle is likely to repeat itself.
What is positive parenting?
Parents who practice positive parenting do not use harsh punishment to correct problematic behavior. Instead, they proactively fulfill their children’s emotional needs through positive interactions, which can prevent many bad behaviors from happening in the first place.
According to Caley Arzamarski, a positive parenting advocate and psychologist who specializes in child therapy, positive parenting essentially encourages parents to “catch kids who are good” and provide more positive feedback, instead of always focusing on bad behavior .
Some parents worry that positive parenting is too fluff, arguing that children won’t learn to interpret and respond to negative emotions if parents don’t help them see them, which may not serve them well later in life not.
However, psychologists have found that positive parenting can boost children’s self-confidence and provide them with the tools needed to make good choices. It also nurtures their self-esteem, creativity, faith in the future and ability to get along with others.
As parents, we will make mistakes and lose our cool. This provides an ideal opportunity to apologize to our children and model how we can make amends when we mess up.
Here are five ways to practice positive parenting:
1. Spend one-on-one time together
Spending regular quality time with your children and modeling good behavior is by far the best thing you can do to help them develop self-confidence and healthy relationships.
Children are hardwired to need positive attention and emotional connection. When they don’t receive it, they seek it in negative ways, and parents are faced with power struggles, whining and meltdowns.
It only takes 10 to 15 minutes of individual time a day to see improvements. Reveling in moments of connection will also help you create a deeper and more meaningful relationship.
2. Set ‘when-then’ rules
Setting clear expectations is a core aspect of positive parenting. I recommend using the “when-then” method to encourage better behavior during the most challenging times of your child’s day.
Explain to your child that when the yucky part of a dreaded task is done, then the more fun things can happen. For example, they can use their iPad or play outside after completing their morning routine – brushing their teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast – if there is enough time before the bus arrives.
Stick to this practice, and your kids will quickly learn to move through the routine on their own. No fussing is required.
3. Say no to rewards
Studies have found that children who are often rewarded are likely to lose interest in the activity for which they are being rewarded, whether it’s music practice or playing with a sibling. They become more interested in the rewards, which means you may need to keep up the rewards to maintain the same quality of behavior.
Using encouragement is a better way to bring out the best in your children. But avoid phrases that point to their character or personality, such as “You’re the best player on the team!” or “You’re so smart!”
Instead, encourage the specific action. For example, if your child shows concern for someone who looks sad, point out what they did right, for example: “It was very nice of you to ask if your friend was okay.” Emphasize how the other person may have appreciated their kind gesture.
4. Say yes to appropriate consequences
When a child begins to act out, enforcing natural consequences can turn poor choices into learning opportunities.
Just make sure that:
- The child is actually capable of the expected behavior
- The result is fair and respectful
- You announce the consequence in advance so that the child has the power to make the choice (this makes it feel like less of a punishment)
For example, if your child refuses to put on rain boots on a rainy morning, explain the natural consequence: Their socks will get soaked and their feet will feel uncomfortably wet.
This allows your child to choose whether to wear boots or not – and learn on their own what the right decision is.
5. Focus on what you can control
You can’t always control your child’s behavior, but you can control your reactions. This mindset can help children take on responsibilities that you would otherwise nag them about, such as cleaning out their lunchbox.
For example, you can say, “I’m happy to pack your school lunch, as long as your lunch box is emptied and cleaned.” Then help them find ways to remember and follow through on their responsibility—perhaps with visual cues like a Sticky Note or a spot in the kitchen designated for their lunchbox.
And, if your child has to pack their own lunch, it will be a great learning opportunity.
Positive parenting is all about fostering respectful relationships built on clear expectations. When children feel a strong connection with their parents, they are more likely to behave appropriately and grow up to be resilient, confident, caring and responsible adults.
Amy McCready is a parenting expert, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and author of two best-selling books: “If I have to tell you one more time: the revolutionary program that makes your children listen without nagging, reminding or shouting” and “The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Competent, Grateful Children in a World of Too Much Right.”