Are you frustrated with your children? Being harsh or kind doesn’t work?
Here are guiding principles for more positive parenting.
1. Be sure your expectations for your child match her age and stage of development.
The first principle for more positive parenting is to recognize that young children are driven by emotions, not logic, so irrational behavior is totally normal. The part of the brain that enables us to think about and manage our feelings and impulses is not well-developed until five to six years of age. Expecting more from children than they are capable of can lead to lots of frustration for both parents and children.
Having appropriate expectations is critical to positive parenting because the meaning you assign to your child’s behavior influences how you react. If you think your child is purposefully breaking rules, you are much more likely to react in harsh ways that further distress your child instead of calming her. If you see these behaviors in the context of normal development, you are more likely to approach your child with empathy and appreciate these moments as opportunities to teach good coping skills.
2. Tune in to the meaning of your child’s behavior.
Getting to the root cause of your child’s actions can help you to respond in ways that are sensitive and effective. A tantrum in the grocery store might be caused by sensory overload, fatigue, or disappointment about not getting a cookie from the bakery. Biting might be a self-soothing strategy, a way to keep others at a distance, or an expression of anger. So, the second principle for more positive parenting – understanding the root cause of behavior can help you come up with discipline strategies that address the underlying issue and help your child build strong coping skills.
This means considering some factors that impact behavior:
What’s going on in your child’s world—has she experienced a recent move?
A new caregiver? A recent loss? Parental stress?
It’s also important to think about your child’s temperament. Is she a big reactor or a go-with-the-flow kind of kid? Is he persistent or does he get frustrated easily?
How does she react to new people and experiences—does she jump right in or need time to feel comfortable?
All of these factors influence children’s ability to cope with life’s natural stressors, such as adapting to new experiences, learning to wait, and managing daily transitions.
3. Don’t fear your child’s feelings.
Feelings aren’t “right” or “wrong”, and they are not the problem. It’s what children (and we adults!) do with our feelings that can be problematic. Ignoring or minimizing feelings doesn’t make them go away, they just get “acted-out” through behaviors (often negative) that can lead to more stress, not less, for your child…and you.
The third principle for more positive parenting is Naming feelings – it is the first step in helping children learn to manage them—a key factor for developing self-regulation.
4. Keep in mind that happy children aren’t always happy (aka limits are loving !)
Just because a child doesn’t like a limit, and is unhappy in the moment, doesn’t mean it’s not good for him. (I have yet to hear a 3-year-old say, “Thanks, Dad, for not letting me have those M&M’s before dinner. I know how important it is to eat my growing foods.”) Setting and enforcing clear limits is loving and is a guiding principle for more positive parenting.
Learning to accept limits leads to flexibility and the development of effective coping strategies: accepting a cheese stick instead of candy or finding another toy to play with when the one they want is off-limits. This ability to adapt is what ultimately makes children happy and helps them be successful in the larger world. Remember, just because your child wants something doesn’t mean he needs it.