Positive parenting is a parenting approach, or parenting philosophy, that emphasizes respectful and encouraging discipline methods as opposed to punitive or fear-based discipline methods. Times of misbehaviors are used as teaching opportunities to instill important character traits such as responsibility, respect, and resourcefulness in our kids. This is done by parents modeling such behaviors and being both KIND and FIRM at the same time. Kindness is modeled by the use of responsiveness, empathy, and the sharing of power. Firmness is modeled by holding age-appropriate expectations and boundaries. It’s the balance of these two that allows kids the security to learn and grow into the successful adults they do wish to become.
Alfred Adler, an Austrian Psychologist who pioneered some of the popular positive parenting approaches believed that humans are on a life-long mission to feel both a sense of belonging and a sense of significance. Children first seek belonging and significance within their family systems and relationships with caregivers before they seek them anywhere else. They want to feel like they are loved and accepted, but also that they are important and have purpose. Attachment research has shown that children who feel this safety and responsibility with their primary caregivers will transfer that expectation to the outside world.
This is where parenting often becomes more complex because the issues children face in the outside world require more sophisticated responses. Even with a secure attachment, the stressors in a child’s environment will sometimes require them to use skills they don’t have yet. Parents can take a collaborative approach to these issues and through empathy, the sharing of power, and appropriate boundaries they can model and teach these more sophisticated skills as well. Punitive or fear-based approaches don’t teach these skills. Those approaches expect that kids have these skills already and try to provide motivation to use the skills. Which is why parents who rely solely on these methods continue to get frustrated that it only works for a short term.
All of this balancing is why parenting can be so difficult. The premise behind positive parenting is simple, but in practice it can be very difficult to recognize when an approach needs to be softened or when a more firm boundary needs to be in place. Collaborating with the other adults in a child’s life, such as teachers, coaches, pediatricians, and mental health providers can give parents sounding boards to explore the implementation of positive parenting practices. Parents can also receive support through positive parenting workshops, groups, or private consultation.
Emily Miller is Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator at the Center for Integrative Counseling & Wellness in Hingham, MA. To learn more about services she provides, visit www.emilymillercounseling.com.