Positive parenting is about to be your newest mom tool. Like most moms I know, I’m a recovering people-pleaser. If people around me are happy, then I’m happy, or at least not anxious. Even as a kid, if I sensed a parent getting mad, boom, I’m here with my best Jem and the Holograms moves! Are we good? Good! No, I don’t need anything! I’m not needy. I’m all good. Good good good. Not surprisingly, this has carried into motherhood.
Not only are we people-pleasers, but we worry about passing this on to our children. We hear what not to do: don’t yell, don’t get angry, don’t punish. Not only are these rules for parenting impossible, they just lead to more mom guilt and no practical advice.
Positive Parenting Breaks This Pattern
Enter Positive Parenting. If you’re like me, when you got upset as a kid you were told, cheerfully, “you’re ok!” as if my emotions could be wished away. If I didn’t immediately get happy, it was “Go to your room and think about what you did.” Because my emotions were a problem that needed to go away as soon as possible.
Positive parenting flips the script: instead of thinking of a child’s behavior as an annoyance at best and manipulation at worst, what if it’s just how they communicate?
What are they trying to say? And maybe, when they’re misbehaving for the millionth time today, we’ve set up a pattern where this behavior gets rewarded? Better yet, if we can identify the pattern, can we change things?
We can. We have the opportunity to meet our children where they are. Can acknowledge and validate their feelings while holding firm on our boundaries. Positive parenting assumes that a child’s behavior is communication – not manipulation.
Positive Parenting In Action
Take, for instance, 4-year-old throwing toys and screaming. Instead of sending them to their room or punishing them, we try to connect with them. First, we remove the physical danger (like the toy they’re about to hurl) and get down to their eye level. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know that their big feelings are not too much for you and that they are safe. As they calm down, tell them about a time you felt frustrated, how big those feelings felt at the time, and how genuine it was.
Maybe you were put in a time-out as a child. Think of this as a time in.
In mid-tantrum, kids might not be receptive to words but instead may just need a calm presence. As they calm down, you can try to connect with words: “I noticed you were screaming and throwing things and I wonder if you are feeling angry?” Pause and let them respond. Speak to their feelings and how you can relate. Then introduce the boundary: “It’s not safe to throw things and screaming hurts ears. I wonder if there’s another way we can express anger?” Again, pause and let them respond, but offer suggestions if they want.
Reassure them that they are loved and safe. And let them know that if they continue struggling not to throw that you will help them by removing the toys. How to talk so kids will listen, and how to listen so kids will talk is a great reference for additional scripts.
Sometimes You Just Survive, Even in Positive Parenting
I wished this worked every time, but of course, there are going to be moments when you just have to get through it. A misconception about positive parenting is that there are no meltdowns or that kids do whatever they want whenever they want – a real Lord of the Flies situation.
But the beauty of positive parenting is that you become the positive example of authority. You start with the assumption that your child is good and enough, and shame has no place there.
Now, if you’re reading this and thinking “how in the h*ll am I supposed to keep my cool when someone’s screaming at me??” then you’re not alone. No one, not even parenting experts, can execute Positive Parenting perfectly. We try our best, and we earnestly call this “good enough” parenting.
Do you ever have a day when your kids find a way to push your buttons just right? You get tense, you try to keep it together, but wow it’s hard. Those feelings you’re having is called shark music, and it’s the real-life version of the Jaws theme song letting you know there’s stress building.
When this happens, what you’re feeling is essentially a memory that our bodies and minds have held from childhood. When our parent was uncomfortable, punitive, or intolerant of our emotions, then we learned that emotion was unsafe and would take our parents away from us, even for a short while. So when we see our child exhibiting that same emotion we had as children, we panic, as if there is a shark in the water and we frantically try to get our beloved child to safety – even if it means scaring them.
We can start to uncover and work through this shark music through self-reflection, working with a therapist, or a coach.
Parents Need Space To Practice Positive Parenting
And of course, it’s harder than ever for moms to have space to reflect, and it’s so necessary. There are many resources available to support moms, and there is a free one linked in the author’s notes if you need support finding breathing room.
Part of the magic of positive parenting for people-pleasers like us is that we get to reshape authority on our terms. Through validating our children’s feelings, we start to realize how silenced we truly were, and we can even feel empowered to start setting healthier boundaries in our own lives with other adults in our life. The reach of positive parenting goes beyond the interaction with child and parent but also permeates the parent’s life to support them every day.
What questions do you still have about positive parenting? What is holding you back? Is this how you were parented?”
Circle of Security talks more in-depth about good enough parenting and also about shark music.
Bio: Trisha Goodall is a Mom Strategist, postpartum doula, life coach, and speaker. Trisha helps busy moms move from overwhelmed to joyful through customized strategies and virtual coaching! @trishamomstrategist go.ostariaparenting.com/breathingroom/