The art of pos­i­tive par­ent­ing

A trend is sweep­ing across the globe and we couldn’t love it more. Pos­i­tive par­ent­ing will help you raise a ca­pa­ble, well-be­haved child and make you a happy mum. Re­sult!

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

Dis­cover the par­ent­ing move­ment that’s both gen­tle and ef­fec­tive

H ave you had enough of the naughty cor­ner? Tired of time-out? Do you want to find a new way to help your child be­have well? Then pos­i­tive par­ent­ing could be the an­swer you’re look­ing for.

The roots of the pos­i­tive par­ent­ing move­ment go back to the early 1900s and the work of an Aus­trian psy­chol­o­gist called Al­fred Adler. He be­lieved that chil­dren have a deep-seated need to feel con­nected to oth­ers, and that when they do they are less likely to mis­be­have.

US-based coun­sel­lor Dr Jane Nelsen used the re­search from Al­fred and Aus­trian psy­chol­o­gist Ru­dolf Dreikurs to cre­ate an ap­proach to par­ent­ing called Pos­i­tive Dis­ci­pline. Ac­cord­ing to this ap­proach, when chil­dren make mis­takes, they should be re­sponded to in a way that:

Is kind and firm at the same time, so it’s re­spect­ful and en­cour­ag­ing.

Helps chil­dren feel a sense of be­long­ing and of be­ing sig­nif­i­cant.

Is ef­fec­tive in the long-term. Pun­ish­ment may be ef­fec­tive in the short-term but not in the long-term.

Teaches valu­able life skills such as re­spect, con­cern for oth­ers, prob­lem solv­ing, ac­count­abil­ity, con­tri­bu­tion and co­op­er­a­tion.

In­vites chil­dren to dis­cover how ca­pa­ble they are and how to use their per­sonal power in con­struc­tive ways.

Re­spect and ground rules, hav­ing em­pa­thy, prob­lem solv­ing, turn­ing neg­a­tives into chal­lenges and en­cour­age­ment form the cor­ner­stones of the pos­i­tive par­ent­ing move­ment. You can start be­ing a pos­i­tive par­ent from the mo­ment your baby is born, and she will nat­u­rally learn these skills as she grows. By un­der­stand­ing her feel­ings, you will be able to ful­fil her needs as well as your own, and so re­move the cause of what might oth­er­wise turn into un­wanted be­hav­iour.

How­ever, you can also in­tro­duce these meth­ods at any point, no mat­ter your child’s age. Us­ing them, you can help her un­der­stand why she’s feel­ing up­set and find bet­ter ways to han­dle a sit­u­a­tion. That way, she’ll start to use con­struc­tive ways of deal­ing with her own emo­tions – and life will get much eas­ier for ev­ery­one.

Amy McCready, pos­i­tive par­ent­ing ex­pert and au­thor of The Me, Me, Me Epi­demic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Rais­ing Ca­pa­ble, Grate­ful Kids in an Over-En­ti­tled World (Pen­guin, $39.95), says it may take time for this way of do­ing things to feel nor­mal, but it has many ben­e­fits. “Pos­i­tive par­ent­ing helps chil­dren learn how to han­dle their feel­ings and builds their so­cial skills. And it makes fam­ily life much more tran­quil,” she says.

Chil­dren need to feel con­nected to oth­ers, and when they do they are less likely to mis­be­have.

“Choose what­ever is most im­por­tant to the way you wish to bring up your chil­dren,” says Amy. For ex­am­ple, the rules you ap­ply could be: We all share our toys, bed­time is at seven o’clock, and we al­ways say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when­ever we want or are given some­thing.

If you set these bound­aries from the start, then your baby won’t ques­tion their ex­is­tence. Adapt them as she grows, but don’t be afraid to in­tro­duce new bound­aries to a tod­dler or pre-schooler. “Ap­ply these rules con­sis­tently and you’ll soon find your chil­dren don’t fuss about com­ply­ing with them be­cause they will just be­come rou­tine,” Amy says.


This corner­stone is all about help­ing chil­dren to un­der­stand that there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween how we feel about some­thing, and how we be­have when we have those feel­ings. There will be times when your child feels up­set, but she needs to learn that it’s not okay to be­have badly be­cause life hasn’t worked out the way she wanted. That’s a hard les­son for any­one to learn, let alone a tod­dler.

“It helps if you can see be­yond your child’s be­hav­iour and un­der­stand the feel­ings that prompted it,” says Amy. “Show her that you un­der­stand how she is feel­ing, and this will help her enor­mously. It will help her calm down.” So, if she’s howl­ing be­cause she didn’t get a treat, sim­ply say, ‘I know you feel an­gry be­cause you wanted a treat. Do you need a hug?’ Start em­pathis­ing with your baby from the be­gin­ning. Ac­knowl­edg­ing her feel­ings helps her de­velop her emo­tional in­tel­li­gence. Say, ‘I know it feels cold when I change your nappy’.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing what she’s ex­pe­ri­enc­ing will also help her to learn that it’s nor­mal, and okay to feel it. And as she learns about her emo­tions, they’ll be­come far eas­ier to man­age – even over­whelm­ing ones. Be aware that in some sit­u­a­tions, your child may with­draw or refuse to co­op­er­ate with you. But the start­ing point is the same: try to un­der­stand how she’s feel­ing, and tell her you are there for her.


We all go through life en­coun­ter­ing sit­u­a­tions that can make us feel neg­a­tive emo­tions. We need to teach our chil­dren how to han­dle those sit­u­a­tions by help­ing them fig­ure out so­lu­tions to prob­lems and how to han­dle con­fronta­tion.

“So you’ve helped your child to recog­nise how she feels when dif­fer­ent things hap­pen,” says Amy. “Your task now is to help her find ways to deal with those feel­ings. When ev­ery­one’s calm, talk about how a tricky sit­u­a­tion could have been han­dled well. You could say, ‘In­stead of hitting, use words to say what you want’”.

Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate how early your lit­tle one can start to un­der­stand this pos­i­tive ap­proach. She might not be old enough to sug­gest a so­lu­tion her­self, but she’s old enough to be in­volved in the so­lu­tion­find­ing process, even if all she can con­trib­ute is a smile of agree­ment. Get her to start think­ing about so­lu­tions from as young an age as pos­si­ble by sug­gest­ing things that might help.

If there’s more than one child in­volved in an in­ci­dent, turn it into a wider dis­cus­sion. For ex­am­ple, if two of your chil­dren have been ar­gu­ing over a toy, once they’re calm, ask one child to tell the other how the sit­u­a­tion felt for her. Then ask the other to do the same, or if she’s too young, ask her if she’s feel­ing a cer­tain way. Then work to­gether to think of a good so­lu­tion to the prob­lem.


“Chil­dren want se­cu­rity but they also want con­trol,” says Amy. “Neg­a­tive be­hav­iour often oc­curs when a child is try­ing to make their own choices but is be­ing thwarted. In this sit­u­a­tion it helps to see this be­hav­iour as a chal­lenge that can be over­come, and not as ‘naugh­ti­ness’.”

To give your child a sense of con­trol, say ‘yes’ as often as you can when your child makes a sug­ges­tion. If you have a baby, this is a great habit to get into from the start. Your child doesn’t need to be able to talk for you to un­der­stand her needs and say ‘yes’ to them. For ex­am­ple, say ‘That’s a big yawn, you must be telling me you’re ready to have a nap. Let’s go up­stairs’.

The other change that makes a big dif­fer­ence is to give your child a choice be­tween two op­tions you’re happy with, such as, ‘Shall we read this book or that book to­gether?’ and en­cour­age her to reach out for what she wants.

As she grows older, you will have to be cre­ative to say ‘yes’, such as when you’re go­ing out, but your child wants to play trains. In­stead of say­ing ‘no’, you could say ‘Play­ing trains sounds great. We’re go­ing to see Nana now, but shall we play trains when we get back or to­mor­row?’. This ac­knowl­edges your child’s feel­ings and al­lows her some con­trol be­cause you have agreed to do what she wants, and are even giv­ing her a choice about when to do it.

How­ever, us­ing a naughty step or ‘time­out’, turns this sit­u­a­tion into a power strug­gle and takes con­trol away from your child.

When­ever pos­si­ble, give your child a choice be­tween two op­tions you are happy with.


Pos­i­tive par­ent­ing is about en­cour­ag­ing your child to find ways of be­hav­ing that are con­struc­tive. There are var­i­ous tech­niques – which work bril­liantly on ba­bies – that can help to en­cour­age good be­hav­iour and make it a habit. For tod­dlers, they can avert all man­ner of im­pend­ing melt­downs. And, if your tot is al­ready act­ing up, they can help to calm her. Put the fol­low­ing four meth­ods in your tool­kit:


When you sense a power strug­gle about to be­gin, or a tantrum erupt­ing, dis­tract your child. If she’s still a baby, sim­ply point­ing out some­thing for her to look at works. Or try open­ing a pic­ture book and read­ing it aloud. As she gets big­ger, it’s harder to dis­tract her, but open­ing a book is still ef­fec­tive.

An­other suc­cess­ful dis­trac­tion tech­nique is to do some­thing sur­pris­ing. Do a funny dance, blow a rasp­berry on her tummy or pull a funny face. This will change the en­ergy be­tween you, and soften any anger she may be feel­ing.


Talk­ing to your child about what’s about to hap­pen will help her feel in con­trol. For ex­am­ple, if you’re hav­ing a night out, ex­plain what you’re go­ing to do, with whom, and who will be look­ing af­ter her, and where. So tell her that you’ll put her to bed, but then Aun­tie Sophie will come round and be in the house to look af­ter her while you go to the cin­ema to watch a movie with Daddy. And that while she’s asleep, you will come home and go to bed, just the same as you al­ways do, and that Aun­tie Sophie will go home.

Do­ing this, even with a young child will help your lit­tle one feel con­fi­dent about what’s hap­pen­ing, which al­lows her to ac­cept it. It also makes her feel im­por­tant and part of the fam­ily be­cause she knows what’s go­ing on.


If a power strug­gle is de­vel­op­ing around a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion, such as do­ing the weekly shop, give your child an im­por­tant job to do that helps get the task done so you both have a fun and pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. At the su­per­mar­ket, ask her to pick small, un­break­able pack­ets off the shelves, and show her how to weigh fruit, so she’s in­volved in the process.

Pos­i­tive role-play

This is a good ex­er­cise to do when your child is calm, per­haps with her ted­dies. Let the ted­dies get ‘emo­tional’, and help her to sug­gest so­lu­tions that might work. Then role-play a sug­ges­tion. This is a great way to deal with a sit­u­a­tion that your child has found dif­fi­cult – but do the role-play later, or the next day, when ev­ery­one is calm and re­laxed.

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