Make 1-on-1 Time a Priority
When starting on your Positive Parenting journey, the very first thing you should do is find time every day to spend focused one-on-one time with each of your kids. You can call this “Special Time”, or whatever label makes sense for your family. The important thing is to label this time, so your kids understand that they are going to get your full, undivided attention for a specified amount of time every day. It should be at least 10 minutes per day, and you should do an activity your child chooses.
Start small. Find just 10 minutes each day (per kid) and focus on engaging with them. It won’t take long for you to see the impact of this very small-time investment. Your kids will behave better and contribute more when they feel a sense of belonging.
This quality time is important for kids of all ages. Sometimes older kids will resist hanging out with their parents because it’s not cool. But find things they enjoy and be persistent. Eventually, you’ll find something that works. Kids will begin to look forward to this time with you and start planning their activities.
If you only implement one of these positive parenting techniques, make sure it’s this one. It’s so powerful that it can change your home’s dynamic.
Give Specific, Labeled Praise for Positive Behavior
Praising your child for their accomplishments and being specific about what you like will lead to higher self-confidence and more positive behavior. Giving general praises like, “Good job!” will not be as effective as, “Good job on getting your chores done on time”. An even better praise would be, “You really worked hard on your homework tonight and you must be so proud of yourself”. This will encourage your child to think about how their own accomplishments make them feel and will motivate them to more positive behavior.
Give Your Kids Power
Let your kids make choices regularly. Giving them the power to choose will give them a sense of belonging and significance. It will also make them feel like they are a valued member of the family. And letting kids dress themselves, choose between the red cup or the blue cup, or decide if they’ll eat spaghetti noodles or penne noodles for dinner will not impact their day at all, but will allow them to feel some control over their day.
Offer choices any time you feel you might experience a little pushback. For young kids, it can be to offer choices at bedtime. It sounds like this, “We need to sleep now, do you want the nightlight on or off? and do you want the door open, or closed?” By making a choice, your child is not only agreeing to the initial statement of ‘We need to sleep now, but also has some choice in the matter. It makes kids feel powerful, but bedtime is not an option. For an older child you might say that it is homework time, but would you rather do it at the kitchen table or in the living room? Or Would you prefer to have a snack before homework, or after homework?
Focus on Routines
Human beings, kids especially, thrive on routine. When you know what comes next there’s very little to think about or be anxious over. For kids, routines build trust and help develop strong relationships with caretakers. When all the basic routines are in place to take care of all their needs, they are free to focus on the ‘work’ of being children (which is learning through play). Develop routines for all the repetitive processes in your life. Start with bedtime, morning get-ready time, and mealtime. Once you have routines in place and follow them consistently, you’ll get much less pushback from your kids, and those key transition times will go smoothly and quickly.
Look Beyond the Misbehavior
The next time you experience mischievous behavior, stop to consider the cause of the behavior. Usually, behavior has a purpose. Ask yourself questions, did we miss our special time today? Could she be hungry? Did he not get enough sleep last night? Was there an unusual, stressful situation that popped up today? More times than not you will realize that there’s an outside factor that’s influencing the situation. When you’re able to recognize that your child is HAVING a hard time, and not just trying to GIVE you a hard time, it’s much easier to handle the situation with love, empathy, and grace. If the purpose of the behavior is attention-seeking, see below for the ignoring technique.
Get Plenty of Sleep
This doesn’t seem like much of a positive parenting skill, but it’s an important topic to cover. Sleep is a grossly under-recognized stressor for kids. There’s ample research indicating that children today are not getting enough sleep. Children must get the right amount of sleep to function and develop properly. You might notice that behavior, attitude, and focus improve drastically once your child is getting the right amount of sleep consistently. A nightly routine can be really helpful in helping kids be ready for sleep.
Implementing “Rest Time” or “Quiet Time” can help ensure young kids get enough rest. This is a 60 to the 90-minute period around mid-day where everyone gets a break. Kids can play quietly, read books, or ‘rest their eyes.
Spend Time Playing as Your Inner Child
Allow your inner child to come out when you’re engaging with your kids, especially during your one-on-one time. This means you might have to get messy with paint, play pretend with monster trucks, or make a mess in the kitchen to make chocolate sprinkle cupcakes. This is how you’ll build strong relationships and develop lasting memories with your kids.
Some parents resist this positive parenting tool because they hate to pretend play. Tea parties and superhero battles aren’t for every parent, but you can find an activity you both enjoy with a little exploration. Let your child be in charge and guide you. Try baking, coloring, or doing puzzles.
Are you still struggling with this one? You’re not alone. Many parents have a hard time finding their inner child. They just want your time, so don’t overthink it.
Use Your Calm Voice
Practice using your calm voice every single day. This is an essential positive parenting skill and it’s surprisingly difficult to master. Many of us have spent our entire lives raising our voices when our blood pressure starts to rise. Developing calming techniques, communicating your feelings and needs in a productive manner, and displaying emotional maturity is key to your success. Let your kids see you using calming techniques like deep breathing, counting, taking a break, and even doing yoga or meditation regularly. Your kids will emulate your behavior. And you will be rewarded with less yelling and more problem-solving from your kids.
Stop Playing Referee
Mediating arguments between your kids is exhausting, especially when you were not there when the conflict began. Stop participating as a referee or peacemaker for your kids. Share your decision with your kids ahead of time and inform them of the consequences should conflict occur.
A great positive parenting strategy is to put the kid ‘all in the same boat, meaning the consequence will apply to ALL parties. For example, if they cannot decide who gets to choose the TV show for their 30 minutes of screen time, then they don’t get screen time at all. It can be helpful to role-play some conflict resolution skills before implementing this ‘all in the same boat’ rule.
Create Effective Consequences
Consequences are a basic principle that kids need to learn. Through this positive parenting tool, you can create related consequences for behaviors you want to discourage, or you can let natural consequences occur and let kids learn lessons from life themselves. The key is that consequences need to be related to misbehavior. They should also be realistic, developmentally appropriate, and revealed in advance of the misbehavior. If you don’t follow these guidelines, the consequence will feel like an unfair punishment, and your little one probably won’t learn from it. It is also important to make your commands direct, and specific. Saying, “Please put away the blocks” will be much more effective than, “Will you please put away the blocks?”.
Here are a couple of examples of effective consequences:
- If you do not do what I asked, you will sit in time out.(consistent and expected)
- You may not throw your iPad. If you throw your iPad, we will put it away for the rest of the day. (Related Consequence)
- I cannot pick you up from school today. If you forget your umbrella, you will probably have to walk home from school in the rain. (Natural Consequence)
Require Contributions from Everyone
Chores are a huge battle for many families. Gather your family and discuss how each person can contribute to the family to achieve common goals. Kids should contribute to the family because they are part of the community. You can use chore charts at the beginning to help everyone remember and give small rewards to reinforce following through.
For example, in my family, we all contribute around mealtime. I often plan and cook the meals, the kids set the table and help with cleanup, and my husband washes dishes. Implement a routine to make these contributions just part of the way your family operates. There are plenty of ways even the littlest of kids can contribute. It will give your kids a huge hit of belonging and significance.
Tips for Success
First, don’t try to implement every Positive Parenting tool and strategy on day one. Start slow. Master one strategy before moving on to another. You’ve probably been parenting differently for months or years. Many positive parenting techniques require you to build new habits. Sustainable change happens over time. Don’t feel pressured to move quickly. Build your positive parenting skills at a pace that is manageable for you.
Recognize Positive Parenting as a Lifestyle
Positive Parenting is not a quick fix to discipline problems you’re currently struggling through. It’s a lifestyle, and it needs to be implemented over time. You won’t get the results you’re looking for if you don’t commit to a long-term lifestyle change.
It’s a Process for the Whole Family
Positive Parenting isn’t just a ‘kid’ strategy. It’s a lifestyle for the entire family. You’ll have to change some of your behaviors. It’s necessary for you to face some of your skill gaps. It requires patience, persistence, and sometimes perseverance.
Stick With It
Don’t throw in the towel without giving it a true chance. You will get out what you put in. Spend time understanding and implementing the tools. Make the effort to change your bad habits. If you push through the struggles, you’ll reap the rewards.
Handle Setbacks with Grace
Every family is different. Each child is unique. Some tools will work better for your family than others. Realize that your Positive Parenting solution will be unique to your family, and face setbacks with grace. When you make mistakes, own up to them, talk about them with your kids, and plan to do better next time. One of the great things about using positive parenting techniques is that they don’t require perfection to make an impact.
Ignore Small, Attention-Getting Misbehavior
When children do small, attention-getting behaviors, like whining, or interrupting, ignoring the behavior is your best strategy. This does not mean letting them get away with it, but actively ignoring, and giving no attention to the behavior and waiting until positive behavior resumes to give attention will reinforce the positive behavior. Be sure to praise the positive behavior as soon as it happens following a behavior you are ignoring. For example, if your child is interrupting, you can ignore the behavior completely, this is not easy- especially at first, and the interrupting may escalate at first, but if you continue to ignore (no eye contact, or responding verbally at all), then as soon as he backs off and starts doing something else, or maybe steps back to wait, you quickly praise the behavior, “Thank you so much for waiting until I was finished, I really like it when you wait your turn”. This will reinforce the positive behavior you are looking for and diminish the annoying behavior. Keep in mind ignoring won’t work if there is another gain that the child is getting from the behavior, like cheating on a game, or stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. Those behaviors will have to be addressed with consequences.
CDC. (2021, September 23). Child Development: Middle Childhood (9-11 years old) | CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/middle2.html
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Positive parenting. (n.d.). NSPCC Learning. Retrieved November 17, 2022, from https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/leaflets/positive-parenting/