Positive parenting is fundamentally about developing a strong and deeply committed relationship between parent and child. The theory relies heavily on what we have learned about attachment and how we can use it beneficially. The more that we work against attachment in the relationship, the harder parenting becomes. There are some core positive parenting principles that I will explain in this article and my hope is to provide positive parenting tips for healthy child development.
Positive parenting is fundamentally about picking your battles as a parent. The more times that you decide to trust the instincts of your child, believe in their inherent wisdom and see them as doing their best and coming from a place of love, the more you invest the relationship with a powerful sense of trust. The human nervous system is designed to protect us from danger, and the child who feels that their parent is overly critical begins to experience their parent as threatening. This in turn causes the child to want to pull away and resist the parent’s attempts at closeness. This is very easy to see as so many people as they grow older have a strong desire to put distance between themselves and their parents. While some of this is just natural maturation, a lot of it is the result of parents taking a consistently negative approach to situations over and over again.
The reason attachment is so important to understand in this regard is that fundamentally, the child wants you to see them as trustworthy and good. The more times that we genuinely work hard as parents to put aside our own worry and judgement and make room for our children, the more they come to recognize the hard work that we are investing in their own development. This makes them inherently willing to listen and they are not overwhelmed by our overtures throughout their development. The late British paediatrician Donald Winnicott described a negative process of impingement where the parent is constantly intruding into a child’s life and we have to work against that and recognize when we are dealing with our own fears by being intrusive into our children’s lives.
There are some core principles to observe that can greatly help in this regard:
- Recognize that because of attachment, your words and actions towards your child mean a great deal. They experience being pushed as hurtful.
- Remember to see children as inherently good, even when they make mistakes or do things that are inconvenient and frustrating.
- Treat your child as you would like to be treated or the way you would treat a best friend.
- Would you force your friend to finish their food at dinner? Would you make a friend wear a sweater outside if they say they aren’t cold? Would you make your friend go swimming with you if they said they didn’t want to?
- Just because you are the parent, does not give you the right to go against your child’s instincts in most situations (of course when it comes to safety, often we need to make difficult decisions depending on a child’s age, but these are situations are much fewer than you think).
- Proactive Parenting
- Parents need to take the lead when it comes to repairing conflict. Children absolutely cannot be the ones to be expected to handle difficult situations.
- If you have a fight with your spouse, if you yell at your child when you are tired and frustrated, if there is a stressful situation such as the death of a loved one, the parent needs to hold the child in mind and create room for their emotional experience.
- What this means in practical terms, is to take the initiative to apologize, explain adult situations in language children can understand and anticipate their confusion if they need to deal with big emotions.
- One of the main functions of parenting is to help the growing brain of the child learn increasingly sophisticated language for their inner worlds.
- The way this is achieved is through the parent showing constant curiosity about the child’s experience.
- This is not always easy for the parent, as the child is constantly developing and the parent has never experienced many situations, so it is vital for the parent to continually reflect on what is new and challenging for them.
- Positive Discipline
- The truth is, when a strong attachment is in place, there is not much need for discipline as such.
- The main point to remember is children already feel things deeply when they make a mistake or cause disappointment. We do not need to add to their pain, but rather hold them in their distress.
- If we can restrain ourselves from pointing out their failures, but rather be an ally to them when things don’t go right, they will develop a natural willingness to repair with us.
- Lastly, distancing ourselves from our children when we are upset is incredibly damaging, as it promotes isolation, which is toxic for the human nervous system. As much as possible, choose inclusive ways of communicating your feelings and values.
We have come a long way from a time when parents could behave in an indiscriminately hierarchical manner and take a top-down approach to raising children. Many societies have not only changed in this regard, but research into the development of human beings has demonstrated that the parent who can maintain an unconditionally positive regard for the child gives an incredible gift. The more supported a human being feels, the greater the change they will not develop attachment disorders which can cause significant difficulties in interpersonal relationships; they will grow into adults who have a basic sense of their own worth which is indispensable in the long term.