“With great power comes great responsibility” is a lesson meant to be learned by superheroes, but, since for our children we are their superheroes, it’s ours through association as well. We have the power to channel our children’s behavior in any direction – and this is both frightening and wonderful at the same time. Frightening, because the responsibility we have over them makes us question our parenting decisions at every turn: Did they watch too much TV? Did they eat too much? Did I go too hard on them? Did I play enough with them? Did I do enough for them? It’s like a tightrope act – we know what we have to do, but we don’t know how to do it without losing our balance. Here’s the wonderful part though – there is always a safety net below us; even if we miss and fall, we can start all over again. You are not a perfect parent – and that’s OK, because no one is. However, what you can be is a successful one. While everyone has his own definition of success, it’s pretty much universally accepted that successful parents are those who manage to raise grounded children – and the best way to do that is through positive parenting, which is a practice based on gentle guidance, resisting the urge of being punitive with our children. Here are its do’s and don’ts:
1) DO treat your children like adults, but DON’T expect them to behave like adults
Confusing? Let me explain it. Communication with our children is one-way most of the time. We tell them something and we expect them to listen to us and do exactly that. Sadly though, expectations seldom match the reality. But here’s the catch – we have to listen to them too, just as if they were adults. Giving them a voice and allowing them to express their concerns or displeasure opens up the dialogue. We often use the excuse: “But they are too young for a serious conversation!”, while ignoring the fact that behind every tantrum, there is a raw sincerity. Therefore, instead of expressing our disagreement towards something they did, we should cooperate with them to solve the problem, giving them options and opportunities to successfully complete the tasks. By using this approach, you will create a secure attachment between you and your children, which will lead to a healthy brain development. The brain doesn’t fully develop until we are in our 20s and that’s the reason why we mustn’t expect our children to understand all our parenting rules – it’s not that they don’t want to, but they aren’t biologically capable of that. It all comes down to the cognitive ability, which improves in time, as we are reinforcing our rules.
2) DO praise your children, but DON’T bribe them
It’s a common misconception that spoiled children are like that because they are way too showered with gifts and praise. It’s not the praise that is problematic, but the bribery of children, which is something entirely different. Praising children is all about reinforcing the good actions our children do. As mentioned earlier, reinforcement is key when it comes to brain development; that’s why the praise should always come right after the good behavior, so that children can make the association praise = good action. Tell them they did a good job by taking the trash out or by washing the dishes or by cleaning their rooms, to help them understand the positive outcomes of their behavior. Avoid snarky comments and be honest in your appreciation – don’t limit yourself to just words, but also hug or kiss them to emphasize on their good deeds. Also, praise them consistently; do not ever think you praised them enough or wait for them to do something important to congratulate them. Every single act of kindness matters and needs to be cherished.
While praise is a reward for proper behavior, bribery is a reward for a rude one. You are basically giving your children a gift to STOP something bad and not for actually DOING something good. This is how spoiled children are formed – they learn that each time they misbehave, they will receive something; therefore, they will keep acting like that, because you inadvertently reinforce the idea that the bad behavior has a positive outcome for them.
3) DO accept your children’s emotions but DON’T punish them for their negative ones
This is probably the most challenging part of positive parenting, because there is this constant temptation to snap back at our children when they say hurtful things. Keep in mind though that most of the times, it’s not personal. If your children call you ‘stupid’, it’s probably not because they truly believe you are like that, but it’s a way for them to take out their frustration. Instead of focusing on the words, focus on the intention behind them and on the root of the problem. If you take your children’s favorite toys away and they say they hate you, try to explain to them why you did that and how they can get them back. This way, you will help them develop emotional intelligence – every emotion needs to be accepted and taught to your children, no matter if positive or negative; it’s important for them to know what each represents, so that they can channel it in healthy ways. Be empathic towards you children, because empathy is the foundation of emotional health.
4) DO use an authoritative approach, but DON’T use an authoritarian one
Setting boundaries plays a vital role in our children’s education – they can either lift or break a child’s spirit. According to researches done by psychologist Diana Baumrind in the early 1960s, there are four main types of parenting approaches: Authoritarian, Permissive, Authoritative and Uninvolved.
- Authoritarian parents set strict rules and disobeying them might lead to serious punishments – this is why this approach is often labeled as ‘military style’, because the parents are highly demanding of their children, but do not give anything back in return. They don’t justify their reasoning or actions, resuming them to a simple: “Because I am your parent!” or “Because I said so!” . They expect their children to execute commands without questioning them – the lack of a connection between the parents and the children can cause emotional instability and the punishments severely affect their self-esteem and mental health.
- Permissive parents have low demands of their children, seldom expecting something from them. Because there are no rules or restrictions in place, this carefree approach can lead to rebelliousness and the inability of the children to face the world on their own.
- Authoritative parents set clearer boundaries for their children, but they employ a more easy-going approach, by being compassionate and supportive and by disciplining, instead of punishing. This teaches them to be responsible, confident and able to differentiate between good and bad behavior. They mostly use assertive discipline, which relies on telling children what to do, instead of focusing on what not to.
- Uninvolved parents don’t demand, don’t talk, don’t respond. The only thing they take care of is their children’s basic needs – and sometimes not even that. There is no relationship between them and their children, and a sever lack of communication is present. Basically, there is no family relationship whatsoever.
5) DO watch out for your children’s safety, but DON’T be a helicopter parent
As parents, it’s normal to be concerned about the safety of our children. However, we have to be aware that they can’t go through life in a bubble wrap – and that’s not necessarily bad, because allowing them to learn lessons on their own is what strengthens and helps them become independent, relying less and less on your support. Making mistakes is what makes them grow as well; they might fall, but if they get up, it’s a lesson learned. Helicopter parents are anxiously waiting for any potential danger to show up, so that they can scream: “BE CAREFUL!!” or “DON’T DO THAT!” It’s often hard to distinguish between protectiveness and overprotectiveness, so ask yourself: “Do you give your child enough room to breathe? Do you let your child take risks, without your immediate intervention? Do you forbid fun activities, just because you are unreasonably fearful?” Don’t be that controlling parent who sucks all the enjoyment out of children’s lives and who, instead of letting them explore things themselves, hand them over the answers to keep them safe.
Parenting is so much easier when the negativity is reduced to a minimum. Of course, there will always be the occasional obstacle in the way, but as long as you comply with the job requirements of a role model and realize that your children always look up to you, you will be fine. Don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process too, because that’s what provides you with the mandatory calmness in your interactions with your children.
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