6 Tips to Positive Parenting

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I had the pleasure of attending a small-group parenting presentation last night at the Cornwell Center at Myers Park Baptist Church. The topic: A Behavioral Approach to Positive Parenting. Since behavior is usually the issue most of us deal with when it comes to parenting, I was intrigued and besides, I’m no supermom, and welcome expert advice and prefer positive to negative when it comes to … well most things, but parenting imparticular.

The experts were Nicole Parks and Heather Burch from Butterfly Effects. Both are board certified behavioral analysts meaning they know behavior and how our behavior affects children and vice versa. So here a few of my takeaways that I hope you too might find useful. 

1. Discipline. Discipline has become correlated with punishment in our society, but really discipline in its Latin root form means to train to produce a specific outcome. In the case of parenting, that means leading and teaching kids to be better. So when we discipline we should be teaching, not just punishing, and offering examples of what we want our children to do rather than just focusing on what we don’t want. Our kids are a blank slate when they are born. They don’t know what is right and wrong, and unless we show them the better options, don’t expect it. 

2. Recognize the good behavior. Reaction and attention to bad behavior is attention. Kids crave attention. Try to give more attention to good behaviors rather than the negative and over time most kids (spouses and co-workers too) will routinely do the positive behaviors because it’s innate in the human spirit to want attention. If positive behavior gets you that attention, then people do more positive behaviors. For example, your child is quietly sitting coloring while you make dinner, something you ask them to do. Let them know that you like the picture they are coloring or simply sit down beside them for a second and take notice. Another example, two siblings are playing nicely together. Tell them that you like seeing how nicely they are playing or sharing together (that can go for friends at play dates too). 

3. Leave your ego at the door. Often times the behavioral struggles with children lead to high emotions … for parents as well as kids! Do you ever feel so frustrated you yell at your kids? That yelling is our emotions and ego feeling wound up because why won’t our kids just do what we want them to do. Detach from those emotions and keep a neutral tone, which leads me to the next takeaway.

4. Be consistent. So whatever it is you want your child to do, give them choices, and be consistent with those. Don’t waffle. Say what you mean. For example, your young child hates taking a bath, but ultimately they have to. If they are old enough to take a shower, give them a choice between shower and bath. If they don’t choose you choose for them, but stay neutral and present it as a choice for them without getting worked up. Now this definitely requires some patience, but that’s part of parenting. Then the next time the bathing issue comes up, stay the course and present the same choices and move forward.

5. Currency. I’m not talking money here, I’m talking whatever it is that your child loves the most, that’s what they want to earn. BUT you can’t give them that and then take it away. That’s punishment and not received in the best of ways. How would you feel if someone gave your $10 and then you did something wrong and they said you have to give them back $2 everytime you do that same behavior? Instead set up what the behavior that you expect/want from your child and let them know that if they do set expectation, they earn that reward. The reward could be five more minutes of cartoons in the morning before leaving if they are dresssed, etc. Don’t pay upfront!

6. 8:1. That’s the ratio of positive to negative comments and behaviors that researchers say people (not just parents) should strive for, meaning for every negative instruction, you should follow with eight nice things. Doesn’t mean you have to indulge with praise or go out of your way to do positive things. It can be as simple as giving an extra hug when they put on their shoes when you ask or saying, “nice job getting your shoes on by yourself.” (Worth trying with the spouse, friends, co-workers … world in general)!

As simple as these things sound, Burch and Parks emphasized that it can be hard to put into practice and results/change in behaviors take time. If you’re really struggling with a child with behavior problems, stay the course! It may not be easy, but most things worth having take work, dedication, patience and time. Kids are worth that, and hopefully that child will turn into a positive adult.