Positive, Empowered Parenting
While my methods will vary from family to family, most often I will advocate "Positive, Empowered Parenting", which I believe has the best outcomes for both parent and child. But what is Positive, Empowered Parenting, and what does it involve? And what does it take to become a positive parent?
Positive, Empowered Parenting is all about celebrating the good things about your child's behaviour and personality, re-enforcing those good things with lots of praise and love and physical affection, and at the same time being a "model" of the kind of behaviour you would like to see in your child. This applies to manners, social skills, screen usage, empathy, body language, and all kinds of behaviours and interactions. Are you displaying the kinds of behaviour your would like to see in your child? You are their number one teacher - guide and empower them to be their best self!
Attention given to negative behaviour like tantrums or meltdowns should be minimal (although we will discuss triggers and validation below!) - the idea being that children crave attention whether it is good or bad, and parent and child can become locked into a cycle where the only attention the child gets is when they have behaved badly (such as shouting, arguing, reprimanding, punishment, tears, and regret), which in itself encourages the bad behaviour to continue.
Reason (rather than discipline or punishment) should be your main tool in explaining why certain behaviours are not acceptable. Boundaries should be firm, fair, and clearly explained, so that the child can feel safe and secure in the knowledge that the adults will not suddenly “change the rules”, or that sometimes it is “ok” to break the rules, while at other times breaking the rules will bring severe punishment. This in itself can cause anxiety and stress, which can contribute to negative behaviour.
Feelings should be openly discussed and validated, and sensitivity to your child's own feelings is key. Accept your child for who they are, and love them for it. Think about their strengths, and make sure to celebrate them.
How can positive, empowered parenting contribute to combatting children's challenging behaviour?
Psychological evidence suggests that a balanced consistent approach can improve or even eradicate challenging behaviour, while a negative response is more likely to cause the behaviour to continue.
Can problem behaviour be helped with changes at home?
Parental attitudes towards children and their behaviour have been found to play a key role in children who exhibit problem behaviour.
Can ADHD be helped with positive, empowered parenting techniques?
Psychologists suggest that positive reinforcement techniques such as these can help children with ADHD. This is not yet a widely known way of addressing ADHD, and more parents need to be encouraged to try this approach.
The science part!
Positive, empowered parenting is based largely on the model of "Positive Parenting" which falls mainly within what is called the “behaviourist” school of psychology. This approach concentrates on how causes and effects influence our behaviour - the antecedents and the consequences of behaviour. The role of experience and the environment in shaping behaviour is key. For example: has the child learned this behaviour from someone else around them? Is the behaviour being unconsciously reinforced or rewarded by those around them?
How can I avoid tantrums, arguments, and tears altogether?
One technique that is used in behaviourism is the ABC approach (Antecedents, Behaviour, Consequences). This technique involves observing what happens directly before (the antecedents - more commonly known as the "trigger"), what happens during (the behaviour), and what happens directly after (the consequences) an incident of challenging behaviour. We will put the ABC approach into action and break down the whole sequence of your child's challenging behaviour to see where we can press the pause button and de-escalate the situation.
Time out - should I use it or not? Expert opinions are mixed.
“Time out” is an accepted form of discipline based on removing a child who is exhibiting unwanted behaviour from his immediate enjoyable surroundings (toys, playmates), and placing the child on their own in a specific place (such as the “naughty step”) with reduced access to distractions or pleasure, as a punishment or deterrent to prevent the behaviour from happening again. For full effect time out should only be reserved for particularly poor behaviour, and it is recommended that the number of minutes that the child spends in time out correspond to the age in years of the child. Even negative attention can reinforce behaviour however, so it is important to remember not to turn the “time out” experience into one where the child is rewarded with special attention. Time out as a disciplinary tactic can be damagingly misused, and is not without its critics, who suggest that it does not teach children how to resolve conflicts, or address underlying causes of behaviour. It may also damage rapport and the bond between parent and child. Time out is considered inappropriate for children under three. Its up to you whether you want to use time out or not, you must decide!
Empowering the parent!
In my opinion, to be able to parent positively you need to be feeling fairly positive about yourself, which is why one important message I like to include here is about empowering the parent. All parents have worries and doubts about whether they are doing the right thing for their children, and mums in particular are prone to guilt and anxiety about all kinds of parenting issues. You can often be your own worst enemy, and stress, and lack of sleep, can often exacerbate these feelings. I encourage parents to empower themselves with knowledge, build a strong support team around them, recognise their own strengths, and be confident in the knowledge that they are doing the best for their children, and to ultimately relax and enjoy each moment with their child (and equally, each moment without their child!!). Striving for perfection is not the aim, just to be happy in yourself, and to feel that you have done your best. Slip-ups and steps backward are a normal part of being human, and we have to learn to reflect, accept, and move forward. Trial and error is often the best path forward! Start each day fresh, and do not dwell on or hold on to the bad moments.