This is part three of a four part series on Positive Discipline (or positive parenting). For the past few weeks we have focused on a few key areas of positive discipline. So far we have discussed the importance of conducting self-evaluations and providing structure and limits. Please feel free to send questions in the comment form if you are looking for more specific information.
Although there are many different ways to parent children, there are three distinct parenting styles:
Authoritative parents are firm, loving, and kind. They provide structure and set rules, but are not overly strict. They have reasonable expectations.
Authoritarian parents are strict, controlling, and inflexible. They expect obedience without questioning and are often insensitive to their child’s emotional needs. They don’t often explain or even establish rules, but always apply consequences when a rule is broken.
Permissive parents are indulgent and fear imposing their will on their child’s developing personality. They do not set rules and do not use consequences. They even attempt to avoid any natural consequences for fear that their child might have hurt feelings. Although they avoid structure and limits, they often become frustrated with negative or defiant behavior.
The research on positive discipline, which is derived from positive psychology, shows that it is effective. Most authoritative parents lean on positive discipline (whether or not they label it as such). Positive discipline means providing structure and limits in a loving environment. It means using praise and encouragement to increase positive behaviors while promoting independence and self-esteem. The benefits of positive discipline are as follows:
- Promotes positive behavior and self-control
- Encourages responsibility
- Improves parent/child relationships
- Increases self-esteem
- Promotes a calm, loving environment
Who doesn’t want that?
Here’s what we need to do:
Provide praise and encouragement
I once wrote an entire post about the power of praise and was brutally attacked by a few angry readers who think that kids receive too much praise these days. I often say that you can’t hurt your child when you offer them praise, but you might hurt them if you forget to do so. Kids look to us to let them know how they’re doing. There is a reason that they run into your arms when they’ve achieved something great…it feels great to be acknowledged. And it’s much more fun to be praised for positive behaviors than to be consequenced or constantly redirected for negative ones.
Praise and encouragement are two different things. While some experts in my field feel that praise is less effective than encouragement, I consider them equally important.
Praise means telling your child how you feel about his actions. When you praise your child, you are telling him that he did something great. Praise means sharing your positive feelings with your child (ex: “I’m very proud of the way you got across those monkey bars all by yourself”). When you praise your child, they are likely to repeat the behavior (there’s a reason my kids love to help with the dishes!).
Encouragement means helping your child recognize what he has accomplished (ex: “wow, you must be so proud of the way you built that tower. It’s really tall and sturdy”). When you encourage you child, you help him realize that his hard work is paying off and he should take pride in that. Encouragement inspires kids to keep trying to achieve their goals.
Model positive behavior
Like it or not, kids take most of their cues from us. Model appropriate anger management and problem solving skills. If you resort to yelling every time things get stressful, your kids will do the same.
Kids need to know they belong and feel like they are significant. Asking them to help you out with reasonable responsibilities makes them feel important. My kids love sorting laundry, loading the dishwasher (the safe items, anyway), and sweeping. They take pride in helping me out.
Charts and rewards
People often tell me that they don’t believe in bribery when it comes to children. There is a big difference between bribery and providing incentives. Bribery means providing a specific reward for immediate behavior that meets your needs (ex: “If you stand in this line and don’t move, I will give you a candy bar”). Incidentally, I believe a Tic Tac is a small price to pay for kids who help me shop and get in their car seats without issue. But that’s me.
Reward charts are meant to correct a specific behavior (ex: going to sleep without asking for 7 glasses of water) or promote positive behavior in general (ex: being friendly vs. teasing). Providing intermittent rewards means catching your child being great. If “no teasing” is a work in progress, providing a sticker and praise when you catch your child playing well with his sibling will increase the likeliness that he will repeat that positive behavior. The key making reward charts work is simplicity. Parents often come to me with very complicated systems involving levels and amounts of TV time earned or lost based on those levels. I rarely understand them. If I don’t understand them, neither do your kids! Choose one behavior to work on at a time (kids will go into reward chart overload if there are too many charts or behaviors at once). Try to evaluate the situation and find the behavior that causes the most negativity at the time and start there. You can always move to another behavior once the first has improved. Provide one sticker each time your child is caught being great or each time your child meets the goal (as in the case of sleeping independently). When it’s easy to understand, they know what to expect. For younger children (toddlers through Kindergarten), provide a larger reward after 3 stickers. For older children, provide a larger reward after 5 stickers. *Make sure the reward has meaning to your child!
Modify the environment
It can be hard to follow rules and stay on task in an environment that isn’t kid-friendly. Take the time to make sure that your home is safe (given the ages of your children) and child proofed. Provide structure so that your kids know what is expected of them.
There will be times when consequences are necessary. Physical aggression should never be ignored, for instance. Make sure that the consequences you provide have meaning for your child. Taking away TV from my son is meaningless. He generally doesn’t pay attention anyway. But giving a toy time out when he refuses to apologize to his sister after pushing her in an attempt to get that toy generates a much different reaction! I generally don’t suggest taking away TV time. In my house you either earn it or you don’t. The point is, if you really have to use a consequence for something, make sure it matters. Otherwise, it just leads to anger, resentment, and the same pattern of behavior.
Most of the time, using positive reinforcement (whether it’s praise, encouragement, or rewards) improves behavior without resorting to consequences.
Do you use positive reinforcement in your house?
Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Consultant in Los Angeles, CA. She has a four year old daughter, two year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog at http://practicalkatie.com/and can also be found on Twitter.