Qualities of Positive Parenting
© Anne Geller, 2003
Respectful of Children
One of the values many if not most parents wish to install in their child the quality of respect for others. One of the most powerful ways to instill respect is to model it. Being respectful of others usually involves listening, considering others needs, interests and perspectives, and allowing others to have a point of view that is different than yours. Our ability to do this for our children can help them, eventually, learn to be respectful of others.
Too often we begin with the end. Our child comes to us with a hurt, an anger, a problem and we tell him what he should do, or worse, what he should HAVE done. At the end of a hard day or difficult experience (in a child's world), we want to know that we are being listened to and understood. With children we do well to help them understand their feelings as a first step. Labeling feelings of all kinds can help children understand themselves and others and is a foundational skill for that development of empathy.
On the basketball court, there are lots of lines. If I don't know where the out of bounds line is, I can't play the game successfully. Neither can our children. Having clear and communicated expectations can decrease anxiety in children because there are fewer uncertainties. The younger the child, the more reminders and preparations she will need about expectations. Gentle guidance is the goal here.
Facilitates Thinking and Responsibility
Positive parenting helps children both think through and take responsibility. Children may be taught specific thinking and problem solving skills. Young children can benefit by game playing like "What do you think might happen if…" Helping children understand cause and effect is an important thinking skill.
Consistent and Appropriate Follow Through
Here's a rule of thumb - avoid threatening a consequence or giving a direction that you're not willing to follow through on. You lose your credibility and children lose their clear sense of what's expected of them. If the rules of the game keep changing, then how am I supposed to play the game successfully? Here's another rule of thumb - when nurturing the positive, use lots of words, smiles and physical affection. When setting limits, use few. Follow through and consequences should be appropriate to the behavior and to the child's temperament and development (see below). Time out is often used as a consequence, but time out only helps a child understand what you're not happy about. It teaches nothing about what you as a parent desire from the child. At its best, time out may be used in a non-punishing way to help a child calm down or take a break from the undesired behavior or the attention it is getting. But after a child is calm, appropriate follow through includes helping the child problem solve, think of alternative choices and practice more desired behaviors in a way that build a sense of confidence and competence.
Focus on the Positive
Children will often behavior in ways that gets the best reaction, so give them your best, most animated responses when they're doing things you want to see more of. This can be anything from refraining from hitting an annoying sibling to bringing their dishes to the sink. When a challenging behavior occurs, be clear about the rules, but keep as neutral as possible. Over time this strategy usually serves to increase those behaviors you most appreciate.
Children are people too, but they're a different kind of people. Many times we think children should understand something or remember something, but often that's just not possible for them because their brains aren't ready to work that way yet. Two year olds are, for the most part, not capable of taking another person's perspective - which is why sharing is a difficult request to make of a two year old. Four year olds can be guided to understand another's perspective, but may need more help in developing skills to respond appropriately to that information. All children have unique temperaments and developmental capacities. Paying attention to and learning about a child's strengths and challenges can be both fascinating and can greatly impact the quality of positive parenting a child receives.