Over time, there has been a change in philosophy about how to raise children. Many of the grandparents of today were, as children, raised in a very strict environment where “children should be seen but not heard.” That philosophy gave way to an era of permissiveness, which often led to chaos in the household. In recent years, there’s been an emphasis on building self-esteem.
But the reality is that we need a blend of all of these approaches to raise our children to be responsible, respectful, and to have high self-esteem. I call this “positive parenting” and I’ll break down my tips and thoughts into 3 parts:
Today I’ll outline the general concepts you should try to practice every day, and next week I’ll share with you what you can do when your best efforts with those concepts don’t quite work out as planned, as well as a little advice for you as a parent or caregiver.
As parents, we need to have realistic expectations. Parents need to recognize that some behaviors we may deem as “negative” are age-appropriate. We need to expect, for example, that 15- to 18-month-old children will throw tantrums, and this is perfectly normal for that age. Children 18- to 24-months old will hit and bite, and 3-year-olds have a hard time with sharing. If we understand that these behaviors are age-appropriate, our frame of reference on how to manage them also shifts.
Parents also need to know that children fall into different personality types when it comes to new or social situations, and these, too, are perfectly normal and not of concern. The three broad personality types are: 1) the easy-going child, who can seemingly sit quietly for hours and contentedly take in everything around him or her, 2) the “slow to warm up” child who may cling to a parent’s leg for several minutes but then will engage, and 3) the more challenging child who will only sit for 10 seconds at a time before taking off like a shot.
We need to name feelings. It’s important to provide children with the names of their feelings so they can better express those feelings verbally as they grow. Parents should practice reflective listening (“I see that you feel _____”) and by doing this, acknowledge and name the feeling their child is experiencing. However, while parents should absolutely accept the feeling, they should not necessarily accept the action or behavior that accompanies it, especially if it is negative. For example, “Johnny, I can see how angry you are at your brother, but tell him what you want with words, not with your fists.”
One of our jobs as parents is to be Role Models for our children. The more we can provide and reinforce positive behaviors and positive verbal interactions with others, the more our “little sponges” will do the same.
Provide positive reinforcement whenever possible. Don’t let a single great moment of positive behavior go uncommented! You want to reward positive behavior – catch your child doing something good and provide acknowledgement. Another rule of thumb is “2 yes’s for every no, “ meaning that, for every time you need to say “No, don’t…” to your child, you should say “Yes, that’s great…” twice as often. Also, your comments should be as specific as possible – don’t simply say “Gee, you’re such a good girl” but instead say “Gee, it’s so nice to see how caring you are with your little sister.”
“I” messages are important to set the right tone and reasons. If you tell your child “You need to pick up your room” without reason or context, a child will often jump to interpret that to be a judgmental statement, that maybe there’s something wrong with the state of his or her room and by extension, with him or her. If, however, you rephrase the message to “I have a lot of errands to do today, so I really need you to clean up your room,” it provides context and removes a possible misinterpretation or judgment from the way your child perceives the request.
Teach your children how to problem solve in a positive way. Don’t you feel more invested in a solution if you had a hand in crafting it? Well, so do our kids. Especially as children get older, it’s important to engage them in finding solutions to family problems or concerns. One great way to do this is to hold family conferences where problems can be aired and ideas to fix them can be discussed and agreed to. Make sure your child’s opinions and ideas are given the same respect and attention as those of an adult. Prompt your child – “What do you think about this?” – so that they feel like their opinion is sought and valued.
Be very clear and consistent on the rules and limits you set for your children. Limits and rules are very important, as they help a child build a sense of security and responsibility. Children really do not enjoy open-ended behavior; they want definitions of what is appropriate and not appropriate. The rules need to be fair, realistic and well-defined ahead of time. The expectations for “good” and “bad” behavior must be very clear, and parents need to enforce them constantly and immediately. You also need to separate the deed from the doer. Body language is also very important – 60% of the message comes from body language and not verbal responses – so you want to establish eye contact with your child, keep your tone appropriate (the right words, if delivered in a harsh tone, will not be effective), and sometimes a gentle touch helps.