Friday, June 8, 2012

Positive Parenting

The Road to Positive Parenting
This blog is dedicated to sharing fun and stimulating ideas and activities for pre-school aged children and babies, as the header states, but today I would like to digress from the norm and share something with you about my parenting journey.

Our daughters, Eden and Ava, are happy, thriving, sweet and funny children, but sometimes also headstrong, disobedient and demanding. Even so, they are wholly loved and adored by my husband and I who feel mind-blowingly blessed to have these amazing little people in our care. Any time they have had a 'bad day' behaviour-wise, they have had a fantastic week to balance it out.
Until Eden approached her third birthday.
We seemed to have skipped the 'terrible two's' only to run headlong into the 'tantrum three's'. Our Angel-girl started to go to pieces at the slightest provocation, and although she is more inclined to drop to her knees and cry than she is to yell and thrash, it is nonetheless heart-wrenching, patience-testing and exhausting for us all! Hubby and I do our best not to yell, threaten, coerce or bribe our kids, and we try our hardest not to lose patience or act like an adult having a tantrum! There's always been a lot of deep breaths, suppressed sighs and time out (for me, not the kids: I head into the pantry for five minutes of breathing space). We began to feel like we were up to our necks wading through mud, and repeated conversations to the effect of "there must be a better way to handle this" began to be nightly events.

Points of Note
I had heard a little bit here and there about a form of parenting called Positive Parenting (also called Positive Guidance or Positive Discipline), and thought there would be no harm in looking further into it. I am SO glad I did! Now after some thought and hesitation, I would like to share a bit about it with you. It can be a lot to take in (as with any parenting-related topic), so I've tried to break it down into a few key points:
  • Positive Parenting focuses on building extremely close, loving relationships between parents and their children, and using that relationship as the foundation from which we guide, teach and build our children's self-esteem.
    The upshot of this is that these children are more likely (read: extremely likely) to internalise their parents guidance - as in, you raise children who actually want to behave.

  • Positive Parenting relies on LOVE as the motivator for our kids to 'behave', not SHAME. A child who behaves badly is probably feeling bad. The last thing we want to do is make them feel worse and perpetuate the feel-bad-act-bad cycle.

  • The Positive Parent aims to be warm, loving and compassionate in the face of negative behaviours or attitudes. When we respond negatively, harshly, or we distance ourselves emotionally from our kids when they do something wrong, it sends the message 'I will love you only when you're well-behaved' – even though that is not our intention. Positive Parenting aims to identify the cause of the bad behaviour (frustration, hunger, overtiredness, inability to communicate, etc), and equip our kids to deal with the root cause without having to 'act out'. We engage with our misbehaving child – not to “reinforce bad behaviour” (as I've heard so many times!) - but to reinforce our love and approval of our child, regardless of their behaviour.

  • Discipline does not equate to punishment. The word 'discipline' actually means 'to teach', and that is what the Positive Parent does. We teach our kids appropriate behaviour and acceptable responses to triggers.
    For example, Eden was feeling frustrated when we were visiting friends, and instead of telling her off for shrieking and stamping, I encouraged her to use her words to tell me how she was feeling and since the source of frustration was something we could not change, I asked her to clap her frustrations out or dance them away. She did, and seconds later – seconds! - she was totally fine. For the rest of the afternoon, she would clap when she felt those frustrations building. Tantrum averted!

Something I have personally learned along the way is that Positive Parenting is hard to do. It is not a quick fix, and does not aim to change your child's behaviour immediately, the way punishment or 'consequences' might, but its effect is long-term in a way that punishment and 'consequences' are not. I always think of it this way: I am not raising children, I am raising adults (thank you Mum, who used to say the same about me!). For my husband and I, our long-term aim is to have close relationships with our children and to see them grow into confident, honest, morally responsible, compassionate adults. With that aim in mind, we have found Positive Parenting to be the way for us – difficult as it is at times. Although then again, anything worth doing usually is.

Recommended Reading
Obviously, these points are the bare bones of Positive Parenting. If you would like more information, check out this site called Aha! Parenting! written by Dr. Laura Markham, an experienced psychologist and mother of two. Dr. Markham has extremely practical advice and real-world applications for Positive Parenting, and does a great job of explaining the concepts convincingly and thoroughly. She also has a number of e-books available for purchase (I have not read any of them yet), or you can opt to have daily/weekly advice sent to your email address (which I have done).

I would also recommend Amanda Morgan's highly regarded e-book “Parenting with Positive Guidance”. Scratch that, it is a must have. I always hesitate to say that, but really, it is. Buy it, buy it now. It is available from Amanda's site Not Just Cute (you'd get change from $10AU), and is extremely readable, accessible and sensical. Much like what you would expect from a mother of four, primary and pre-school teacher who has a Masters degree in Human Development. Hubby and I make a habit of reading her book together at night. If you're anything like me, preferring to have an actual book on hand to refer to without having to fire up the computer, you can get the book printed and bound for a couple of bucks – I used Officeworks, but plenty of printers offer the same service. Whatever you decide on that front, buy it, buy it now!

There are of course other sources of information on the topic, but these are the top two which I constantly refer to, and are great starting points for anyone interested in learning more.

Thank you for reading this 'special edition' post, as long as it was. Have a great weekend, and remember, we are all doing our best, so well done! ~ L.

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