How Positive Parenting Sets The Tone for Success
“Close the refrigerator door!” “Get your shoes off the couch!” “Don’t stand on the swing!” “Stop kicking the table!” “Hang up your wet towels!” “Take out the trash NOW!”
Sound familiar? Sometimes it seems as though all we do as parents is issue orders. After awhile we begin to feel like drill sergeants instead of the loving parents we really want to be.
“The more negative comments kids get, the more vulnerable they are to low self esteem,” said Johna Smasal, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist. “They begin to feel like, ‘I never get anything right, so why try?’”
It can be easy to fall into the habit of nagging and negativity with our children. Smasal related a scene she observed of a father scolding his daughter for misbehaving at a restaurant. According to Smasal, the daughter responded appropriately and the family finished their meal.
“As they were leaving the restaurant, I commented, ‘Oh, she is so cute!’,” Smasal said. “The father responded with, ‘She sure has you fooled!’” Instead of saying anything positive about his daughter, he stayed focused on the negative. It’s easy to see how this child could begin to feel badly about herself, even when she was behaving appropriately.
Take Care Of Yourself First
Though Smasal teaches positive parenting techniques in her practice, as a working mother of 4-year-old Jackson and 2-year-old Parker, she understands the frustrations of parenting. She believes that positive family life starts when parents have realistic expectations of themselves. “What are your own emotional reserves? Evaluate those before setting expectations for your child,” Smasal said. “Take care of yourself first. As a parent, you are not going to react positively to your children if you are hungry, lonely or tired.”
She also encourages parents to seek out positive affirmation for themselves “both internally and externally.” She advises parents to pat themselves on the back when they’ve had a good parenting moment by saying something like, “‘I was really grouchy, but I didn’t snap at my kids!’”
She suggests enlisting the help of others. “If you have a trusted friend or family member, ask them to give you feedback if they see you making good decisions in your parenting. You can say to them, ‘Let me know if you see me interacting well with my child.’”
Next Smasal advises parents to build a “positive relationship foundation” with each child. She said that in her practice she hears parents ask, “Do I really have to give my kids praise for doing what they are supposed to do?” The answer is, “Yes!” It’s all about showing appreciation and modeling how you want your kids to behave. “Give thank-yous and positive feedback to your kids,” Smasal said. “Show your pleasure with your actions and your words when they behave in ways you like. Then keep your poker face when they are sassy. It’s empowering to them to see that they have an impact on your emotions, whether they are conscious of it or not. Let them feel empowered by your positive emotions for their good choices, not your negative reactions to their boundary violations.”
Here are some additional tips from Smasal for increasing positive interactions in your home:
- Make sure your children’s sleep hygiene is appropriate. Are they getting enough rest? Are they allowed to wake up in a way that works best for them? (Few children stay cheerful if rushed through their morning.)
- Have a daily routine. Aim especially for relaxed morning and evening routines. Routines help kids feel safe.
- Choose your battles. Some things are worth taking a firm stand, others are not. Focus on one or two behaviors at a time that you would like to see change and work on those.
- Have rituals. “The bedtime ritual in our family is to read two books, say prayers and sing two songs,” Smasal said. “Rituals like these help children feel safe and content.”
- Have age appropriate expectations. You are setting your children, and yourself, up for frustration and tears if you expect more from them than they can deliver at any given age.
Finally Smasal said, “If you start and end the day filled with warmth and love, no matter what happened in between, everyone comes to the same conclusion: ‘We love each other!’”
The Child Welfare League offers the following tips for effective, positive communication with children:
- Get your head physically on the same level as the child’s.
- Make eye contact.
- Use a gentle touch.
- Speak with firmness, not anger, pleading, or whining.
- Give clear and consistent instructions.
- Avoid confusing contradictions or mixed messages.
- Don’t give too many instructions at once.
- Allow children to make choices appropriate to their age level.
- Affection is often shown nonverbally. Be sure to hold a child for comfort and share smiles and hugs.
- Make every effort to keep promises.
- Avoid talking about children in their presence, or saying things you do not want repeated.
- State things in terms of how a child’s behavior is affecting you. This becomes more effective as the child grows older.
- Notice your body language.