This article originally appeared in the Feb. 28, 2013, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
What do parenting and pants have in common? Different styles go in and out of fashion.
Over the past few decades, many parenting techniques have gone in and out of style. Helicopter parents, Tiger moms, attachment parenting—there are more styles with creative names than we can imagine. However, one style of parenting that has remained a constant is positive parenting—that is, making an effort to share a positive viewpoint with your children, who learn so much of their behavior and attitude from you.
Positive parenting is an awareness that your children develop their world view, social cues and, in many instances, their attitudes by watching their parents. Being a positive parent can be done in conjunction with many other styles of parenting. And, fortunately, positive parenting happens to fit beautifully with the all-important Golden Rule: “Treat others how you want to be treated.”
Show your child basic rules of politeness, thanking them and saying “I’m sorry” when it’s needed. When you talk to your child, use positive rather than negative words. There are many ways to look at any given situation and the way you choose to describe it can have a powerful impact on your child. Take a rainy day, for instance. You can say, “Look at all that rain! It sure is a crummy day outside” or you can say, “We can’t play outside right now, but I bet the flowers love all this water to help them grow! What can we do that’s fun in the house?” This difference in how we describe things can mean a difference in outlook, and you can teach your child, through being a role model, that you can find positivity in your situation.
Parents should also avoid putting their child down. There are ways to address bad behavior that don’t leave a negative impression with the child. Many parents find that “I” statements are helpful ways to begin a conversation about a child’s behavior. “I feel frustrated when you take your sister’s toys” can frame the situation in a more positive way. It also teaches children that actions have consequences and can hurt people’s feelings. Also, since children are attention-seekers, praising positive behaviors much more than correcting the bad behaviors trains children to strive for the right kind of attention.
Children respond best to non-violent forms of discipline. Spanking is confusing and can teach children to fear their parents. Instead, parents can teach children that there are rewards for good behavior and restrictions, such as a time-out, for bad behavior.
One of the best ways to be a positive parent is to simply be there for your child. Listen to them when they have worries or concerns, even if you’re busy. It teaches them that their feelings are important and that you care. Spend time with them, playing games during a family game night or going to the park. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time with your children. Show them that being together is more than watching TV in the same room. It’s enjoying one another’s company, in a way that works for your family.
Teaching your child to keep a positive outlook and to have healthy, happy relationships with others will help them see themselves in a positive light. Healthy self-esteem helps children in their school, home and social lives. Love and encouragement from parents can help children learn so much about themselves—their skills, strengths and interests.
Positive parenting is a wonderful approach, but it does not mean that parents should pretend that nothing bad ever happens, or gloss over reality. Parents can be honest with their children about their emotions, even if those emotions are sad or frustrated. After all, parents are people and people experience a range of emotion. Positive parenting is being aware that your children develop much of their world view from you and trying to be the most positive role model you can.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is IMMUNO Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon website at www.cardinalglennon.com.