Positive parenting practice has been such a gift in my parenting journey. If you ask me in person, I will go on and on about the little actions I see in my children every day that make the hard work so worth it. It is inspiring to know that while I am navigating the ups and downs of raising my kids, I am consciously taking steps to impact my children’s behavior and emotional health in a nurturing and productive way.
But, it’s not easy. It’s not about training our child to act a certain way. It’s about retraining ourselves to understand our own behaviors, and how our behaviors and actions impact our children’s behavior. And let’s face it, re-learning our OWN behavior isn’t easy. Here are a few reasons why it is hard...but totally worth it.
- You repeat yourself...a lot. This is mostly in the toddler years, but saying “chairs are for sitting” seven thousand times before they catch on can be rough on your sanity. But this is the process of teaching, and teaching is a fundamental element of Positive Parenting. So, get ready to embrace becoming a broken record!
- You mess up a lot. “JUST SIT DOWN”! Oh man, there we go...off the positive train. But you have told your little one seven thousand times (see above) that chairs are for sitting...what else can you do??? Probably yell. I mean, that’s not ideal, but it will happen. The truth is mistakes are opportunities to learn. We should be repeating this to ourselves over and over. You will make mistakes in your parenting journey. You will probably yell. You will probably not use the best words every time. You will use M&Ms to get your kid to put their coat on. You won’t be perfect, and your children will make mistakes too. But it’s okay. Create a culture in your household of embracing mistakes and learning from them. Reflect on your actions and decide what you will do differently next time...and give yourself a break.
- Talking to your children needs to be a conscious effort. They are humans. They are small, sometimes crazy humans, but they are humans and they deserve the same respect that we expect them to give us. Make eye contact, get down on their level, and talk to them. Don’t bark, don’t demand, don’t dictate from across the room. Talk to them. Discuss things, explain the reasoning for your expectations, and connect to ensure they understand what you are asking them to do..or not do. In our busy, multi-tasking lives we often get so caught up in the next thing, that we don’t realize what we are doing in the present. Slow down, connect, and be mindful about how you talk to your children.
- You have to re-think your perspective. Why is this so important to me? What is my child’s perspective? This is not about being permissive when it comes to behavior. This is modeling respect to earn respect. My favorite example is one from Jane Nelson’s book, Positive Discipline the First Three Years. Think about a situation where you want your child to hold your hand as you are walking through the parking lot, and they don’t want to hold your hand back. Your focus is making sure they don’t get hit by a car. If they fight it, they may get frustrated, pull away, etc. You get frustrated because you prefer a whole child and not a flat one. But what happens when you stop to think about their perspective? Maybe it's uncomfortable to walk with their hand stretched up in the air (have you tried it)? Maybe they don’t feel as stable on their feet when holding one of your hands up high. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask things of your children. It just means that if they resist, before you react, it’s important to think about what the situation is like for them. Rethink the situation from both perspectives and come up with a way to elicit an outcome that works for both of you.
- You have to teach a behavior before you can expect it. This one is the hardest to remember, but the most important. Our tiny humans to not come into the world knowing that it is not appropriate to throw food. They don’t come into the world understanding their own emotions. Everything they know is something they learned from you, or the world around them. The very root meaning of the word discipline is “to teach”. So first, before you can expect them to know, you must teach them. And don’t forget...your words, your actions, your behaviors are teaching them every day. Even when you are not conscious of the situation, or just going about your life, they are watching and learning. Don’t be angry or frustrated with “little you” comes out. That’s all they know! So, roll with it. Work on being a good person who uses kind words and actions, and they will learn to be that way too.
And in the end, when you are just exhausted, and can’t find your words, and wondering if it’s ALL worth it….you hear your child speak to someone else with the same kindness and understanding that you offer them. KINDNESS is worth it! When you watch your child navigate a disagreement among friends with grace and understanding. EMPATHY is worth it. When you power struggles are minimal in your home, and cooperation is your culture. COOPERATION is worth it. When you have a positive, healthy, and mutually respectful relationship with your child it’s totally worth it.
So keep it up! It’s hard, and you will make mistakes. But, that’s what it’s all about. Do your best, and keep at it. You will be SO pleased with the (positive) consequences.