Posted on July 28 2023
Picture this - your child has been playing at the playground and it is now time to leave. You have told them twice already that it is time to go back to the car and head home, but they have refused adamantly. You are starting to feel frustrated and your child is also getting upset.
What happens next? What do you do or say to them?
Do you raise your voice and force them to go? Do you offer them a sweet treat to entice them?
Rather than choosing anger or bribery, another option is telling them firmly that it is time to leave, and offering the choice of either running to the car like a cheetah or galloping like a horse?
This way, you both leave the playground as planned but in a way that allows your child a little more fun while still following your boundaries.
This is an example of positive parenting or positive discipline in action.
Rather than authoritarian parenting, which places high expectations on children with little responsiveness, or a more uninvolved parenting style, where there is little guidance, positive parenting employs more empathy and nurturing and involves techniques such as encouragement and problem-solving — rather than shouting, hostility, shaming or leveraging rewards.
Kim DeMarchi, a certified parent educator and certified family coach and speaker, says positive discipline teaches children important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults.
According to Kim, who is a mother of twins, recent research says that children are “hardwired” from birth to connect with others, and those children who feel a sense of connection to their community, family, and school are less likely to misbehave.
She says, “To be successful, contributing members of their community, children must learn necessary social and life skills. Positive discipline is based on the understanding that discipline must be taught and that discipline teaches.”
In her classes, Kim aims to help parents reduce conflict, foster mutual respect, and create deeper communication and connections with their children.
But what if you try the above playground scenario and your child still refuses to listen, and starts to cry or throw a tantrum?
It’s easy to see a tantrum as nothing more than your child exhibiting disrespectful, and even bratty behavior. But young children are still learning how to communicate, and this includes learning healthy ways to communicate their anger, sadness, and frustration.
Rather than shouting back at your child (an ironic move since what you want to teach them is that they should not be yelling/tantruming), parents can allow them the space to express their frustrations while still making sure that they remain safe and act within set boundaries. This could mean letting them cry while carrying them away from the playground, offering comforting words to acknowledge their sadness at the end of play time but still confirming that play time is over. This way, they understand that you are not afraid of their big emotions, and that you as the parent are in charge.
Some parents worry that positive parenting is too fluffy or permissive, and worry that children won’t learn right from wrong.
But, psychologists have found that positive parenting can promote children’s confidence and provide them with the tools needed to make good choices. It also nurtures their self-esteem, creativity, belief in the future and ability to get along with others.
Studies have also found that when parents resort to shouting, they usually end up feeling frustrated, angry and then guilty afterward. The children, in turn, may feel frustrated and angry, too, and continue to misbehave.
“Positive discipline is about promoting respectful, supportive, and empathetic communication with children while setting very clear boundaries and expectations,” says Kim.
She acknowledges that implementing these methods can be tough for parents.
“I think learning any new tool and/or way of being is always the hardest part. It takes a lot of commitment to practice, implement and follow through on all the strategies to get them to become habits,” says Kim.
So what happens when it’s the parent who starts to lose their patience?
“Even in the most frustrating moments of parenting, we must remember that we are the adults! We must remember the greatest of lessons: we are modeling everything to our children. When we are upset and yell, hit, throw, that’s what we are modeling to our children. They will learn to do the exact same thing,” says Kim.
She suggests that a great tool all parents should learn is to pause.
“When we are about to lose our patience, we need to pause and take a breath before responding. Some helpful tools in the moment are to close your eyes, count to ten, take deeps breaths, walk into another room, get calm! Do whatever you must do to get calm and gain clarity before addressing your child. Ask yourself, ‘’What is my intention? It is to hurt, intimidate, punish, control? Or is it to teach? Am I being hurtful or helpful?’’ Only when the parents can bring calmness into the chaotic, can problems be solved,” says Kim.
But what about teaching children that their actions have consequences?
Kim says that rather than resorting to corporal punishment, there are natural consequences which allow children to experience the natural outcome of their actions.
“For example, if a child forgets his raincoat, they might get wet in the rain. They may learn to make better choices or remember things. There are also logical consequences which need to be respectful, related, and reasonable. For example, if a child repeatedly forgets to put away his toys, he may lose the privilege of playing with those specific toys for a very short period of time. One of the best consequences is having a family meeting with the child to have a problem solving discussion. Engage the child in identifying what the problem is, why it’s a problem, and then actively brainstorm solutions to the problem. This approach encourages critical thinking and cooperation. It feels supportive and non-punitive,” says Kim.
Some might also have the misconception that parents using positive discipline seem to give children too many choices.
“It’s absolutely true that parents using positive discipline give choices. The reason is simple. Everyone in this world needs to feel loved, listening to, appreciated, valued and powerful. When, they do, there is much less need to misbehave,” says Kim.
So the parent’s job is to give children opportunities to have some control, while still following the guidelines, routine, and rules set by the parent.
Kim says this could look like giving your child a choice between having peas or broccoli for dinner, wearing the dress or shorts to school, hopping like a bunny or flying like an airplane to bed, using the Barbie toothbrush or the Superman toothbrush.
“These choices, are a gift! It’s a win-win! They feel powerful and get a choice in each case and I as the parent get my child to eat their vegetables, get dressed for school, get into bed, and brush their teeth,” says Kim.
Using positive discipline doesn’t mean that your child will never misbehave, or that they will no longer test your patience as a parent. In fact, Kim says that when parents initially employ positive discipline techniques, their child might act out to test their resolve.
“Initially, most of the time, when you try a new method from positive discipline, your child’s behavior will improve. They are unsure of what’s happening and you may catch them off guard. Then, almost always, their behavior will disintegrate because they want their mommy or daddy to go back to what they used to do. So, children will do what they are so good at – push the boundaries and limits to see if you will go back to your old ways,” says Kim.
The key is for parents to be consistent. With time and consistency your children will know that you are true to your word and that they can rely on you to parent them. Not only that but they also learn effective communication and problem solving skills which will be useful well into adulthood.
Kim says the best benefit of positive discipline is that it improves the parent-child relationship.
“By far, the biggest benefit of using Positive Discipline with your children is having a mutual respectful relationship. Imagine your children having so much respect for you that they want to behave,” says Kim.
Learn more about Parenting with Positive Discipline Singapore 2023
Join Kim De Marchi and learn techniques for raising respectful, responsible and resilient children . A 2 day course happening on 19 - 20 August 2023, more details can be found here.
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Credits: Jep Gambardella, Tatiana Syrikova