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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
How are we going to fix this?
We have a problem. Can you think of a way to
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