A few months ago, I invited a friend to attend my Positive Discipline workshop. She told me straight out that she did not believe in positive parenting. I told her I respected her opinion and we just talked about parenting in general.
What she said, however, really puzzled me. As I was very passionate about positive parenting, I could not understand why people would not like it (Yeah, I know this is sooo one-track mind thinking! Hahaha!). One day, it just struck me, she probably did not believe in positive parenting because she, like many people, just associate positive parenting with no spanking and no yelling and babying your child for all eternity. And with the abundance of teeners and young adults these days who feel entitled and who are very dependent on their parents, the idea of raising a spoiled child is just unacceptable to anyone who wants to be a good parent. I finally understood where she was coming from.
So let me first put this out here.
Positive parenting is NOT about not spanking and not hitting your child and giving your child everything. Positive parenting is about knowing your child deeply and being connected to your child. It is about making your child feel she belongs and that she is significant. It is about giving limits to your child, building an environment which promotes responsibility, encourages self-awareness, and basically grooms a child to be a productive member of society.
While the core of positive parenting is about connection, this post will tackle the “discipline” aspect of positive parenting to address common mistaken beliefs about it.
In a positive parenting home, a toddler who bumps a furniture will not be immediately scooped up by the parents. Parents who practice positive parenting will definitely not scold and hit the furniture and tell it that it was bad furniture for being where it was.
In a positive parenting home, a pre-schooler knows where his toy cars are kept and packs them away after playing. He is secured with the thought that his mom will not freak out and go on a yelling spree if he leaves his toys scattered but he knows, too, that if he does not pack away, he may not be able to play wth those toys for a certain number of days.
In a positive parenting home, a grade schooler knows his everyday schedule and does not have to be reminded over and over again what he has to do.
In a positive parenting home, a high schooler who forgets to bring his rubber shoes to school for PE will have to face the consequences of not being allowed to attend his PE class. No mom would cancel a meeting and no dad would fix his schedule to be able to bring the shoes to school. And for those who think this is extreme parenting, I firmly believe that it is better for a 14 year old to face the consequences of his actions and learn from it (in this case, no PE class) than for that 14 year old to grow up and turn into an adult who does not realize that he has to be responsible for himself (imagine not finishing a presentaton for a client and being fired).
It may seem like a big jump from forgotten rubber shoes to getting fired from work but I assure you that it’s not. The problem is we do not realize that the small things we do consistently shape our kids’ beliefs about the world and about themselves. Take the furniture scene above, for example. I have seen this a hundred times (did this, too, when I was young and I was taking care of my siblings) — a toddler or a pre-schooler bumps into a table, cries, the parents come to the rescue by pacifying the child, and then scold the table for being a bad table. Buuuuttt!! The table was not being a bad table. It was just being a table and doing what it was made to do – stay in one place. Scolding the table for being there and effectively erasing the child’s responsibility to avoid bumping the table promotes the belief in the child that he can do whatever he wants and if he gets hurt or does not get what he wants, it’s ALWAYS the other party’s fault.
Imagine a child who grows up knowing he is responsible for his actions, who feels he is capable of taking care of himself, who knows that he has influence over his life. Wow! He’d be a successful adult for sure!
It is true that positive parenting strongly discourages hitting and yelling. Why? The simple answer would be that hitting and yelling are not respectful. Kids may be kids and they may have come from us but they are human beings deserving of our respect.
One of my husband’s pet peeves is not having things in their proper places. And, if you know me, you know that I am not exactly the neatest person (Hahaha! An understatement!). If my husband strikes me, spanks me, yells at me, or gives me “the eye” everytime he sees my things scaterred around, I would easily be a physically and emotionally abused wife.
It can also be the other way around. I have my own way of doing things around the house. If I strike my husband (yes, even with just a small stick in his butt or a light tap on his hands) everytime he “forgets” how to do things my way, I sincerely doubt we would be as happily married as we are.
Thank goodness that we respect each other enough to know that we cannot hit or verbally abuse each other. The respect should be there for our relationship to fluorish. It’s the same with our relationship with our kids. Our kids have to respect us and we have to respect our kids.
Kids may be kids but they have the same (or even more than) emotional needs as adults. People who feel good do good (so many social science studies have proven this). Kids who feel good do good. Making them feel bad about themselves does not change bad behaviors. It just gives them negative beliefs about themselves. Hurt people hurt people and hurt kids will hurt their parents and their friends (Bullying, anyone?). So if we want kids to do good, we should make them feel good.
The path that led me to Positive Parenting
I remember studying Attachment Theory* in school. I was so convinced that it was the best child guidance theory ever (I still think it is, together with Adler’s parenting framework.). I was so enamored by it. I am not sure with others but I defined it as always being there for kids, giving them everything, praising, being their cool friend, etc.
When Amy Chua’s The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom book was published, I cringed at the parenting style described in the memoir. I could not imagine doing the same things with my kids. (For the record, until now I would not do the same things.)
Then a few years ago, an article from The Atlantic shook my world. Interestingly, it was published several months after Chua’s Tiger Mom. How to Land Your Kid in Therapy was written by Lori Gottlieb, a counselor who was shocked when she started seeing young adult clients who were so far from the textbook case of neglectful moms and absentee dads. Her clients had parents who were exactly how I wanted to be — supportive and attuned. The author was questioning why, despite the parents’ seemingly all out support, these young adults were getting into depression, did not know what to make of themselves, were not able to hold steady jobs, and were landing on the therapist’s couch. Maybe, Gottlieb said, their parents were doing too much.
Although I was never a fan of babying kids, this conclusion opened my eyes. I started reading more and I started to change some of my ways. Like, I lessened praising and made a conscious effort to encourage instead in spite of obvious mocking from people around us.
Shortly after, I sent my eldest to a Montessori school. I am so blessed to have found a school which tirelessly tries to inculcate to parents how important it is to honor kids and to let them be kids while at the same time, teaching them how to be responsible, capable, and independent. Discipline in their school consisted of natural consequences. Homeworks are not given but a list of age appropriate chores was distributed so parents can have a guide which chores the kids should do at home.
All these led me to positive parenting. When I had, what I refer to as my motherhod crisis, and I discovered positive parenting, it was an hallelujah moment for me! At last I found a framework which was balanced – it was not the terror-riden Tiger Mom style nor was it the give-everything-do-everything-my-child-is-always-number-one stereotypical Gen X parenting style. **
I am not saying that I have found the Holy Grail of parenting but this really, really works for me and for so many other parents. The great thing with positive parenting, you just need to apply the basic stuff and it does not really matter what age your child is in and it works wonderfully.***
I cannot think of anything negative to say about positive parenting except that it takes so much work on the part of the parents when you first apply it! LOL! Positive parenting is not lazy parenting. It will be much easier to just feed my 1 year old than to let her eat by herself. It will be less time consuming to make a bed by myself than watch my 4 year old son and 7 year old daughter struggle to fold a comforter which is a quarter of my son’s body weight. In times when I just want to give up, I try to remember that my long term goal is to raise independent, responsible, capable kids. So even if my short term goal is to leave right at that very minute, keeping my long term goal in mind helps me not yell at my son for taking so long in tying his shoe lace.
And the great thing is, my eldest daughter, in spite my throwing out of my earlier notion of how it is to be a supportive mom, finds me übersupportive now, much more so than when I was applying traditional discipline! She even writes me letters thanking me for my support for her and her brother.
As for my son, at our last family meeting, he was confident enough to tell my husband and me that he feels we don’t listen to him. And it was true – during the past couple of weeks, we have been caught up with so many things that when he asked us questions or wanted to tell us something, we usually gave token responses. When he told us that, I felt so guilty and yet so proud that he was able to vocalize how he felt. Given his personality, I don’t think he would be able to do tell us something as important as that if not for positive parenting. Moments like that make me so grateful and so proud that we are trying to maintain a positive parenting home. It makes all the sacrifices worth it.
The funny thing is, people sometimes think that because I’m a Positive Discipline Educator, I am like the perfect parent. Oh no, no, no, no, nah uh! Hahaha! I wish! Just this evening, my eldest disobeyed me. I really felt disrespected and I wanted to burn all her books. Hahahaha! I did not do it but I was sooo tempted. So no, being a Parent Educator does not mean that I have mastered this. But the thing is, when you understand, totally understand, the idea behind positive parenting and you have seen it work, controlling your temper becomes easier.
We all fear raising spoiled kids and this is why so many parents punish. We call this “tough love”. Oh! I agree we should give tough love. But what is tough love really? Tough love is giving chores. Tough love is saying no to too much screen time. Tough love is being a parent to our kids and not just being their cool friends. Tough love is not scooping them up literally and figuratively every single time they get hurt. Tough love is making them live up to their choices and decisions. Tough love is NOT spanking, NOT yelling, NOT shaming, NOT blaming.
I remember being 20 and sitting down on our stairs and asking my Mom what life really was all about. I had a happy childhood and we were happy as a family but I felt that something was missing. I was through, more or less, 1/3 of my life then and I asked my mom if life really was just like that. I could not believe that we go should through life and die without being able to do something great.
Ten years after that conversation, I had kids and I realized that, for me, that was what life really was about. Oh, my 18-year-old Gabriela self would cringe hearing me say this but really, I know now that my something great is raising my kids and the next generation in a manner that would make them contributing members of our country. And while there are days when I want to throw my kids out and just cry on the gutter, most days find me excited at the thought of raising them and having the opportunity to help my kids be the best they can be. And I am just over the top grateful that I have discovered positive parenting to help me achieve just that.
* This is different from Sears’ concept of Attachment Parenting.
** People might ask why I wanted a framework and why could I not just parent from my own heart. Probably because I am not so smart and my parenting skills and knowledge just come from how I was parented and how I have seen other people parent. I am not able to sit in a corner and focus and come up with theories by myself. Also, I strongly believe in having a village when parenting and reading, researching, and taking advantage of other people’s experiences comprise my virtual village.
*** As with any other thing, the earlier you start applying the principles of positive parenting, the easier it is to train the kids (and yourself). If you start early, misbehaviors will be prevented and not just “cured”. (Remember the old adage ‘An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure’?). Of course, if your child is already older, it does not mean that applying positive parenting will not help but it will be just harder to undo the old habits and the damage created by shaming-and-blaming parenting. Still, better to start late than never.