216The ABC’s (and 1-2-3s) of Positive Parenting

What is Positive Parenting? Sometimes called positive discipline, or loving guidance, Positive Parenting is a philosophy of parenting that rejects punitive discipline, in favor of gentle guidance along life’s path. Studies show this is how kids learn consideration and responsibility and it also makes for happier kids and parents.

On the flip side according to family/child relationship educator and author Kathryn J. Kvols, “children misbehave when they feel discouraged or powerless. When you use discipline methods that overpower them or make them feel bad about themselves, you lower their self-esteem. It doesn’t make sense to punish a child who is already feeling badly about herself and heap more discouragement on top of her.”

Positive Parenting sounds like a win-win, right?  But in practice how does it work?

Here are some favorite positive parenting techniques recommended by Turning Point Senior Clinical Supervisor Cassy Firkins, MSW, LCSW:

A: Stop Arguing

1-2-3 Magic author Dr. Thomas Phelan’s understands parents top two goals are to have children who listen and are enjoyable to be with.  His theory is that children shouldn’t be argued with endlessly to convince them to do what you want them to do. He also wisely points out the best way to get your child to repeat unwanted behavior is to have a highly emotional reaction to it.

For example: dinner time can be stressful for families with young children. It’s the end of a busy day, and you may have slaved in the kitchen to make a healthy meal and are looking forward to some quality time together. Enter the picky preschooler. Watch Phelan’s 3 minute tip for circumventing arguments over dinner. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSmR1jp5IeI

When asked whether expressing our emotions honestly with our children is acceptable, Phelan says “its half right. When you are feeling positively toward a child, affectionate, liking them– let it all hang out, you’re not going to do anything harmful.”  It’s when we are irritated with our kids, that we need self-control.  And during those times we need a simple, clear cut set of rules for handling obnoxious behavior, in order to help us model behavioral and emotional self-control.

Phelan espouses a no-talking, no emotion rule. To stop unacceptable behavior, try one explanation if necessary, then begin to count to three. If the behavior has not stopped by the count of three, the child gets the appropriate time-out period: about one-minute for each year of his life. Then he or she is allowed to return to the family and no one brings up what happened unless the behavior is repeated or it is absolutely necessary.

In other words don’t argue with your child, or try to soothe your guilt feelings by trying to explain the rule. Welcome your child back as if all is forgiven and it is time to get on with the day. If she seems to need a hug or other reassurance, give that reassurance and quickly return to what you were doing.

B: Banish the Threat  

#1 New York Times bestselling author Adele Faber says “the old ways don’t work, the threats, the warnings, the lectures, and the sarcasm don’t work with children.”

“Parents tend to think the quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line. But children don’t like being ordered around and controlled, and they resist us with all their might,” says daughter Joanne Faber, parent educator and contributing author.

“So instead of saying to your toddler ‘you need a bath, get in the tub!’ Try saying, ‘You have a choice, would you like to take your bath with plain water or bubbles? Or ‘Do you want to take bath with your dinosaurs or with your plastic fish?’”

Banning the threat to give them a choice, saves you time, and you will meet with cooperation rather than resistance.  Adele Faber says “It’s respectful of both the child and parent. It says to both of you, you can mess up and you get another chance.”

C: Connect and Coach

According to No Drama Discipline author Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.  “Since the goal of discipline is to teach, and to build skills so kids make better decisions both now and in the future, we need to pay attention to their emotions, and to the feelings behind the behavior. In fact, it’s often when they are upset or out of control that they need us most.”

Siegel encourage parents to use a “time in”, in other words to take a moment to sit with your child to comfort and soothe them, and help them reflect on their feelings and actions.

While parents need to set boundaries and define unacceptable behavior so a child can make better choices in the future, parents also need to say yes to their child’s emotions and empathize with their experiences in the world.  Once a child feels understood and feels supported, they are primed for you to help them strategize about their behavior and actions.

“Parenting is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences there is,” says Turning Point Senior Clinical Supervisor Cassy Firkins. “There is never one right way to deal with any given parenting situation.  However, we hope that the above ideas and techniques can add to your parenting toolbox and give you more choices in how you respond to even the most difficult behaviors from your child.”


Taking time to stop and think before reacting with punitive words or actions may seem like another drain on parents already stretched schedule, but even in the short-term you may notice yourself spending less time arguing over daily power struggles, and giving over more time to strengthen and enjoy your relationship with your child. The bonus reward is witnessing the development of their self-esteem, and positive decision-making skills that are the result of your stronger connection and coaching.


Recommended Reading:

1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan

How to Talk to your Kids so your Kids will Listen and Listen so your Kids will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

No Drama Discipline by Dan Siegel

Turning Point offers several programs and services for parents, children and adolescents. For more information contact Cassy Firkins at CFirkins@tpoint.org.


For more thoughts on parenting, mindfulness, reducing stress and other mental health tips, Like our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TurningPointBHCC

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