When my kids were little, I had never heard the term “positive parenting”, but not because this particular parenting philosophy didn’t exist then.
In fact, Jane Nelsen published her successful book, Positive Discipline in 1981, over thirty years before I was running after two toddlers. And she based her research on the teachings of Dr. Alfred Adler and Dr. Rudolph Dreikurs, who introduced their theories to the United States in the 1920s.
While the idea of a positive parenting approach has been around for decades, implementing it has gained more popularity in recent years. As research has come out about the benefits, positive parenting has gotten the attention that many experts think it deserves. According to Psychology Today, there are advantages to positive parenting, including better grades, fewer behavior problems, better overall mental health, and a higher sense of self.
Looking back on those early years with my daughters, even though I didn’t have Nelsen’s book to follow, I instinctively leaned toward positive parenting. Much of this had to do with my Montessori background and how it influenced me as a parent, which I discuss thoroughly in this article.
I very rarely used timeouts, preferred natural consequences, and sought to understand why my kids were doing something. As much as I wish I’d found Nelsen’s book when my kids were little, I also think that positive parenting is something that is more instinctively natural in all of us. Now that my daughters are teenagers, it’s just as important… sometimes even more so.
Positive parenting is an effective way to help children and teens develop into happy, healthy adults. When parents have a better understanding of positive parenting, they have better relationships with their children, see better behavior, and foster an environment of healthy child development.
What is Positive Parenting?
Positive parenting is a parenting approach that focuses on encouragement, understanding, and mutual respect as the foundation of the parent-child relationship. Instead of using punitive punishment as a way to curb past behavior, positive parenting relies on approaches that seek to teach appropriate future behavior.
At the core of positive parenting is the idea that all children are born good and want to do the right thing. It seeks to understand misbehavior and offers healthy alternatives and ways through it instead of the more traditional reward and punishment model.
Ultimately, positive parenting utilizes positive reinforcement, understanding developmental stages, and open communication in order to foster self-esteem, emotional warmth, and positive outcomes.
The Benefits of Positive Parenting on a Child’s Personal Development
When you’re in the throes of a tantrum or other types of negative behavior, it can be difficult to keep your cool at the moment. We’ve all been there. When our nerves are frayed, it’s been a long, hard day, and your kid loses it… it’s hard to keep from yelling. That’s why understanding the benefits of positive parenting and how it works ahead of time can be helpful.
There are many benefits of positive parenting, including:
- Closer parent-child bond: The basis of positive parenting is mutual respect between the parents and the child. Parents set boundaries and expectations, with clear explanations, and work with the child to understand. As the dynamic changes, there is no need for yelling, hostility, or a power dynamic.
Open communication, empathy, and respect strengthen the relationship, increase affection, and create strong emotional bonds. Children thrive in a positive environment, where they don’t live in fear of harsh punishment, feel understood, and aren’t forced into compliance.
- Fewer behavior problems: Positive discipline leads to positive behavioral outcomes in children, which in turn leads to a deeper sense of self-worth, and kids who have greater long-term stability, and emotional well-being, and are more likely to reach their full potential.
Conversely, using punitive punishment as a response to bad behavior can lead to children with worse self-regulation, anxiety, and continued bad behavior. It fosters an environment of negativity where the fear of punishment is the guiding motivator. No surprise, this can inhibit a child’s self-growth.
- Higher self-esteem: When children are raised with a keen sense that they are good kids, they have a deeper love and appreciation for themselves. This inspires intrinsically good behavior versus doing something just to avoid a reprimand.
High self-esteem leads to greater resiliency and a strong sense of self, which are qualities that are important throughout adulthood.
- Higher emotional intelligence: Positive parenting welcomes all of the emotions of the child, encouraging them to name and acknowledge their feelings so they can better understand themselves, their behavior, and ultimately the world around them.
Children who are nurtured this way have higher emotional intelligence or EQ and grow up with more empathy, healthier social behaviors, and a better ability to regulate their emotions.
- Better problem-solving skills: Children who are raised in a positive environment are encouraged to understand the world around them more fully than their peers who aren’t parented the same way. When kids are offered explanations as to why something is the way it is, they’re more likely to make good choices and to better understand why.
Working through experiences, talking them out, and coming to a conclusion that makes sense creates deep thinkers who are adept at problem-solving and decision-making.
- Happier parents: Positive parenting relies on calm, consistent communication between you and your child. It involves understanding your child’s motivations and behavior as well as personal introspection.
No parent enjoys temper tantrums, but when you’re able to stay calm and work through those difficult interactions in a positive, healthy way, you’ll not only help your child, you’ll be helping yourself.
There are clearly many benefits, but can positive parenting encourage personal development?
Positive parents raise children who are deep-thinking and feeling beings, foster qualities that will be important over a lifetime, and prioritize self-growth. The personal development of the child is the core of the positive parenting philosophy. In short, positive parenting not only encourages personal development, but it’s also a guiding principle.
Why Positive Parenting is Growing in Popularity Over More Traditional Methods of Parenting
As more research, explanation, and understanding comes out about positive parenting, the more popular it becomes. While she doesn’t describe her parenting style necessarily as positive parenting, Dr. Becky Kennedy has been instrumental in catapulting similar theories to the forefront.
Dr. Becky is a clinical psychologist who went viral during the pandemic when she introduced the idea of focusing on “the parent behind the parenting and the child behind the behavior.” Her book, Good Inside, describes all children as being good inside and offers practical parenting advice that’s very similar to positive parenting.
More and easy access to information along with leaders in the field like Dr. Becky has increased the popularity of positive parenting. It’s also my opinion that caregivers are responding so strongly because it feels good and makes families happier.
Positive Parenting in Action: What It Looks Like
Understanding the general concepts of positive parenting is one thing, but knowing how to implement it is quite another. Let’s take a look at positive parenting in action.
- Start early. Being a positive parent means being a positive role model and that begins when your child is an infant.
- Understanding age-appropriate behavior. What might look like inappropriate behavior may actually be age appropriate. For example, it’s age appropriate for toddlers to throw tantrums because they have big feelings but they don’t have the language development to express them.
- Search for reasons behind negative behavior. There is always a reason why your child is misbehaving. Understand why by asking questions or looking at what happened just before the behavior.
If your child is struggling with homework, maybe they don’t understand it, need a snack, or frequent breaks. Looking for the why is far more effective than punishing them for it.
- Set clear boundaries and expectations. Be clear and upfront about what is expected in any given situation. The expectation might be that your child must finish their homework every night. The boundaries about how and when might change based on your child’s temperament. .
Positive parenting relies on being both kind and firm. It’s important to note that being kind isn’t the same as being permissive.
- Reinforce with when-then rules and natural consequences. Use the template of, “when this, then this.” For example, “When you have finished your homework, then you can watch a show.” And use natural consequences when necessary: “It looks like you’re having trouble focusing, so I’ll hold on to your iPad until you’re finished.”
- Catch your kids being good. Encourage and praise good behavior.
- Focus on what you can control. You can’t control your kid’s behavior, but you can control yours. Stay calm, patient, and present in order to be a positive role model and create healthy interactions.
- Ditch the rewards. Positive parenting emphasizes intrinsic motivation and the importance of long-term growth and development. Rewards are short-term and reinforce good behavior that isn’t intrinsically motivated.
- Timeout for parents, not kids. When you feel as though a situation is escalating, taking a breather to reset and refresh is essential. As an adult, you are showing your child how to handle stressful situations, and staying calm and rational is an excellent way to model the behavior you’re trying to cultivate.