So we’ve all heard of positive parenting, right? But…what is it? Are we always smiley and happy, gently guiding our kiddos with a glowing expression…probably while wearing a flowing dress that’s impossibly too white to wear around young children? At least that’s what conjures up in my mind when I hear ‘positive parenting’. Hmmm…but what if you find your toddler systematically dropping pieces of dog kibble through the air vents after you’ve said no? And what if your two-year-old bites your infant in frustration? Or what if your child goes charging through a busy parking lot? So…like, no yelling? No consequences? Turns out, that’s not exactly what positive parenting is. Fortunately, it just seems like some ol’ fashioned good parenting that’s gotten a little glam-up and rebranding. Let’s take a look at what it entails, shall we?

So the essence of positive parenting is the underlying assumption that all children are born good, are altruistic, and want to do the right thing. The parenting philosophy places the focus on the importance of the relationship between parent and child. That relationship should be trusting, loving, and mutually respectful. It’s through the strong child-parent relationship that children will learn to develop self-control and self-discipline. The end goal of positive parenting is raising a child who knows and respects both boundaries and other people. Well that seems reasonable enough. Can I still do it while backlit in a white billowy dress, though?

Positive parenting is less a doctrine of rules and more like a parenting style. It varies some, but not entirely, from other parenting styles such as Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, or Uninvolved parenting approaches. So while it’s name may make you think it’s all loose-goosey with no consequences for kiddos and only positivity, it does indeed involve boundaries and consequences.

Here are some basic steps towards incorporating positive parenting:

  1. Be proactive vs. reactive by filling your child’s buckets - Much of the thought process behind positive parenting is that children need to feel valued, loved, and significant. Small, daily ways to fill your child’s buckets of belonging, love, and respect can be as simple as some dedicated, focused one-on-one time or extra hugs and listening. If a child doesn’t have full emotional buckets, he or she may act out to gain attention. Even a small window of uninterrupted time with your kiddo every day can be preventative when it comes to negative behaviors. When kids - toddlers to teens - feel connected with a parent, they inherently want to keep that positivity going.
  2. Understand where your child’s misbehavior is coming from - Operating from the basis that all children are inherently good, figure out why your child is acting out in the way that he is. Your 18-month-old didn’t empty the potting soil from the houseplant and grind it into the carpet to get back at you for forgetting bubbles in the bath last night. He also didn’t feed his entire dinner to the dog because you wouldn’t let him take your phone into the park’s sandbox. Kids are altruistic and want to do the right thing according to positive parenting. Though it can be tough in the moment, keep that in mind when you question why a child behaves a certain way. Maybe he’s hungry, bored, scared, tired, or just needs more connection from you to stave off undesirable behavior. Try to look beyond the behavior to figure out the why.
  3. Pause before reacting in a negative way - You better chickity-check yourself before you wreck yourself. Anyone? Did I just make a fool of myself while also dating myself? Probably. BUT! The message holds true - regulate your own emotions before you respond to your child’s less than positive behavior or strong emotions. (That’s what Ice Cube meant, I’m sure.) We are role models, after all, and our behavior is supposed to elevate that of our children…not sink to meet it.
  4. Celebrate your child’s individual strengths and abilities - All kiddos have different skill sets and in celebrating your own child’s abilities, you foster her self-confidence and build trust. Nurturing a child’s self-esteem gives a kiddo the sense that they are valued in the world and can contribute to it positively. That sense of self can last a lifetime for a child, so seek out joy and delight in even small successes.
  5. Be consistent with boundaries that are age and developmentally appropriate - Discipline can happen without breaking a child’s spirit. With clear expectations and boundaries, mutual respect can exist and quell negative or exhausting feelings that come with some parenting territory. For example, we all eat the same thing for dinner, we put on shoes to go outside, we brush teeth before bed, etc. Yes, when first established you’re going to get pushback against many boundaries. But eventually expectations will become a part of the fabric of the day and no longer fought against. Consistency and clarity are key here.
  6. Get support when you need it - Has anyone mentioned to you that stress is a part of parenting? Really? I’m the first? Oh, well consider yourself informed. Parenting is hard and stressful. You will make mistakes and lose your temper at times and that’s ok. Just make sure you apologize and correct your misbehavior and move forward. (This is where so much of that mutual respect in a relationship comes in. And remember, they aren’t going to be two-years-old forever!) And keep in mind, parenting is not for the faint of heart so don’t be afraid to ask for advice and help along the way. It takes a village!

So that’s a basic primer of positive parenting. What do you think? Like I said, it feels like a parenting philosophy centered around seeking out the positive in your children and encouraging them to continue down that road by fostering their sense of self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence all through love and positive encouragement. It’s not the new-age free-spirited parenting doctrine I’d imagined where children are allowed to do as they please with no negative consequences. Positivity - yes. But also with structure, boundaries, expectations, and consequences. If that fits with your style of parenting, see if there are ways you can incorporate positive parenting into your day.