A mom of a 9-year-old boy came to me in tears. She was frustrated, exhausted and tired of the power struggles.
“He doesn’t do anything I ask," she said. "He never listens. When I take things away, he finds them. Nothing works.”
I let her vent for a while before I even considered suggesting some options. We all need to vent sometimes.
“Nothing works” is a refrain that I hear over and over again when parents approach me with questions about positive parenting. They’re tired of the arguments, they’re tired of feeling at odds with their own children, and they want to hit the reset button.
After she shed her last tear for the moment, this mom looked up at me and said, “This isn’t the mother I wanted to be.” She’s not alone. Not only do I hear those very words from many parents, but I also see parents struggling to figure out how to change the way they interact with their kids to avoid this cycle of negativity in the home. It isn’t easy, and no one is alone in this.
I find that one reason parents continue to use ineffective strategies is that they don’t know where to begin if they do hit reset. I also find that positive parenting is often confused with permissive parenting, and this causes parents to shy away from investigating positive parenting practices.
Permissive parents have a tendency to avoid blowups and hurt feelings at all costs. To that end, they aren’t big on setting and enforcing limits, and schedules aren’t particularly high on their priority list. It’s the “cross that bridge when we come to it” style of parenting.
Positive parenting, on the other hand, does involve limits and boundaries. What parents don’t always realize is that it is possible to establish healthy limits while maintaining and strengthening a positive connection with your child. The benefits of prioritizing this connection are huge. “With strong connections comes more cooperation, and with that, more joy and peace in the family,” explains Rebecca Eanes, author of Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide.
Check out this quick-start guide to get you on the path to positive parenting:
1. Gut check
More often than not, parents fall into certain patterns of dealing with discipline, because that is how they were raised. Parents often tell me that they yell because their moms yelled. They use sarcasm, because they were raised on it. They do what they know. That’s natural.
The problem, of course, is that some of those dated parenting practices don’t work. If you always get the same result (and it’s not the one you’re hoping for), it’s time to make a change.
Eanes suggests asking a few questions to get in touch with your own feelings about your parenting practices:
- How was your childhood?
- What are the relationships and events that shaped who you are today?
- What successes and failures have created your current outlook about the possibilities for the future?
The trick is to think about the ups and the downs. Time provides the gift of emotional space. The moments that might have caused hurt in the past do fade away as we choose to focus on the positive. When we explore those past hurts, however, we learn from them. We have the power to work through those feelings and find better solutions for our children. Take the time to think about the good and the bad as you consider how you can move forward in a positive light.
2. Look for triggers
All too often we get caught up in the behavior we see, instead of investigating the underlying causes of the behavior. “Choose consequences that fit the behavior” is advice that pops up over and over again, yet it never quite seems to solve the problem.
All behavior is communication. Kids don’t come into this world knowing how to regulate their emotions—we have to guide them. Handing out consequences in their moment of need doesn’t provide much in the way of guidance.
“When your knee-jerk reaction is to dish out punishment, you miss entirely what caused the misbehavior in the first place,” says Eanes.
I suggest that parents use a “trigger tracker” to help find the patterns of behavior that cause the most stress in the home. It’s a simple strategy, but it can help parents figure out where to problem-solve and how best to intervene. Following an outburst or tantrum, jot down the time of day, what was happening, any significant changes (new teacher, parent traveling, etc.), when the child last ate and sleep patterns from the night before. After a few days, a pattern will emerge and that will help parents find the triggers and empathize with the child.
3. Empathize and connect first
Hold your child close and whisper empathic responses. Convey understanding and listen to what your child needs in the moment. The thing about unconditional love, after all, is that exists even under the most challenging circumstances.
4. Focus on solutions.
Once your child is calm enough to talk, Eanes suggests remaining solution-focused in an effort to empower the child to become a problem-solver. While a toddler will need guidance and choices when it comes to seeking a logical solution, most kids over the age of 5 can think through solutions. Eanes encourages parents to ask the following questions to guide children:
· How are we going to fix this?
· We have a problem. Can you think of a way to solve it?
Shifting parenting practices requires time and patience. It doesn’t happen in a day. There will be ups and downs and moments of frustration for both the parent and the child, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t working. Talk to your kids about the changes you’re making. Work as a team to improve the overall communication in the home.
Together, you can make positive changes that lead to happier days.