Can it really work better than corporal punishment?

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Positive Parenting–Effective Parenting

I have a confession to make. As a parent, I am ashamed to admit I was a yell-er. When I began raising my two boys, the hot topic was “to spank or not to spank” and my mind was pretty clear on that. It simply didn’t make sense to me to teach with violence. But making the connection to verbal yelling was something I seemed to struggle with as a parent. I got frustrated, I yelled, and at times I tried to simply dominate my children’s activities. I can tell you, that does more harm than good.

By the time I began evolving as a parent and adopting more positive parenting strategies, I learned a few things. First of all, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Secondly, kids are pretty resilient beings and respond well to positive changes. Thirdly–it worked better than all the authoritarian stuff I’d been throwing at my kids.

Kids respond better to positive parenting.

Think about it–if you are being bossed around or physically hit when you do something wrong or when you are learning something new–do you learn it any quicker? Chances are, you begin developing resentment, fear, and nervousness about your next moves. Will you be berated or shamed? Will someone fuss at you or criticize you? Those concerns will derail your efforts to learn and apply yourself. The same is true for our children.

Join me for a look at positive parenting, what it means, how to implement it, and how it can be more effective than other more controlling methods of parenting.

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What exactly is positive parenting?


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Positive parenting is a parenting approach that aims to promote positive child development through parental behaviors that promote healthy child well-being.

Positive parenting is the continual relationship of a parent(s) and a child or children that includes caring, teaching, leading, communicating, and providing for the needs of a child consistently and unconditionally.

(Seay et al., 2014, p. 207).
What is Positive Parenting? A Look at the Research and Benefits

According to Positive Psychology, positive parenting literature suggests the following about positive parenting:

  • It involves Guiding
  • It involves Leading
  • It involves Teaching
  • It is Caring
  • It is Empowering
  • It is Nurturing
  • It is Sensitive to the Child’s Needs
  • It is Consistent
  • It is Always Non-violent
  • It provides Regular Open Communication
  • It provides Affection
  • It provides Emotional Security
  • It provides Emotional Warmth
  • It provides Unconditional Love
  • It recognizes the Positive
  • It respects the Child’s Developmental Stage
  • It rewards Accomplishments
  • It sets Boundaries
  • It shows Empathy for the Child’s Feelings
  • It supports the Child’s Best Interests

The Positive Parenting Research Team (PPRT) from the University of Southern Mississippi research suggests that in their studies, positive parenting strategies led to:

  • more positive school adjustment
  • fewer behavior problems

Researchers at the Gottman Institute also found similar support for positive parenting in their research, indicating that children with “emotional coaches” benefit from:

  • a more a positive developmental trajectory
  • 79% improvement in children’s positive behaviors
  • Children are more resilient and more likely to thrive
  • Benefits continue past childhood and into adulthood

Positive parenting is often misunderstood as a “fluffy” kind of parenting that does not address discipline issues, but this is far from the truth. It is not simply a reward-always program of parenting, but one that takes a child psychology and supportive approach to guiding children to develop healthy-minded children who are eager to do well.

Psychology Today links positive parenting to “higher school grades, fewer behavior problems, less substance use, better mental health, greater social competence, and more positive self-concepts.”

What are the effects of positive parenting? What does this teach children?

Positive parenting has many beneficial effects on children and parent-child relationships:

  • Stronger parent/child relationships
  • More empathetic children
  • More sensitive and responsive parents
  • Kids are better able to manage their emotions
  • Children develop better coping skills
  • Children are better able to cope with challenges such as poverty, family instability, parental stress, and depression.
  • Kids and parents develop mutual respect for each other
  • Parents have better understanding of children’s misbehavior–and why they are misbehaving
  • Positive parenting sets a good example, making parents a good role model for behavior for their children

Does positive parenting really work?

It all sounds like a bunch of rainbows and unicorns–perhaps because of the title of “positive” parenting. This is not to exclude all other parenting methods as inferior or “negative.” But there is something to be said for what works and works well. If kids are developing into more well-rounded and productive, confident and self-assured citizens, there’s a lot to be said for the method Research shows that it works–and works well.

A word on corporal punishment–spanking

Having said that, we do need to address one aspect of parenting that research shows can be detrimental to your child. I, for one, was raised with spankings whenever my parents felt it was necessary. I’ll be honest, it did little to build me up as a person. It developed fear and anxiety. My behavior was less controlled by the desire to do well and more driven by the fear of not doing well or the fear of being caught.

The American Psychological Association cautions against spanking and other forms of corporal punishment for children as it leads to more aggressive behavior and evidence shows that it causes psychological damage to our children. Look at how they explain it on their website:

Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children. Americans’ acceptance of physical punishment has declined since the 1960s, yet surveys show that two-thirds of Americans still approve of parents spanking their kids.

But spanking doesn’t work, says Alan Kazdin, PhD, a Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. “You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want,” says Kazdin, who served as APA president in 2008. “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.”–The case against spanking

 Most parents that spank their children do so for several reasons: 

  • It is how they were raised
  • They want control or express their anger via spanking
  • They are under the impression that it is effective
  • They feel it is advised in the Bible (Perhaps misinterpreted, Old Testament verses. Did you know the popular cliché “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is not actually in the Bible?
  • They simply do not know what other methods they can use to get the same immediate effect
  • They panic (I am reminded of a time when I spanked my toddler son for darting in front of a car in the parking lot of a store. I literally panicked! Fear can drive parents to cross a line–I was a parent who did NOT support spanking.)
  • They do not believe it is doing any harm to their children

How positive parenting is more effective parenting

Positive parenting takes a very different approach than the “do as I say or else” method of parenting. Positive parenting is about working with your children, supporting their growth, and helping them to learn important life lessons. It is about guiding them rather than controlling them.

Imagine you had a job to do. Your boss gave you an assignment and it is something with which you are unfamiliar. You procrastinate. You avoid it as long as you can but eventually you know it must be done. So you tackle the job and do the best you can. You may or may not get to a point where you succeed, but you are learning quite a lot while you go through the process.

Now imagine that during this scenario, one of two things happens:

  1. Your boss checks in with you, offering support, giving you the tools you need to succeed, and gently nudging you in the right direction when you get off track.

OR

  1. Your boss is critical of each move and each decision you make. Your boss yells at you when you make a wrong choice. Worse, your boss hits you for doing it wrong and then forces you to try again.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in one of these scenarios you will likely be far more productive, learn more, accomplish more, and develop a bit of healthy self-esteem.

This is the foundational approach to positive parenting. No, it is not a wimpy form of parenting–you are not doing the work for your child or rewarding them for just showing up. You are making clear expectations and guiding your child toward goals. You are supporting and rewarding them and filling them with the emotional support they need to be successful.

How does positive parenting work with special needs kids?

Recommended book: Positive Discipline for Children with Special Needs

Positive parenting can make all the difference when you have a child with special needs. Special needs children present even more parenting challenges and having a positive approach can help you as a parent to look beyond the disability, beyond the challenges, and still encourage your child to try their best.

It provides a safe space for your special needs child to thrive, grow, and do so in a supportive, healthy environment.

In the recommended book Positive Discipline for Children with Special Needs, you will find information and practical solutions to challenges such as:

  • Learning to look beyond diagnostic labels
  • Believing in each child’s potential regardless of his/her stage of development
  • Helping children integrate socially and interact with their peers
  • Coping with the frustration that inevitably occurs when a child is being difficult
  • Strengthening a child’s sense of belonging and significance
  • And Many More!

Consider positive parenting as a healthy approach that will keep the focus on what your child has to offer rather than what they are unable to do. It will empower you with patience and empathy and your child with self-esteem and comfort.

How can I implement a positive parenting approach?

So how do you do this positive parenting approach? It’s got to be more than keeping a positive attitude, right?  You may be asking these things and here’s a quick synopsis with actionable tips about how to develop your positive parenting strategy.

Resources to teach you how to use positive parenting:

Positive Parenting Tips
Top 10 positive parenting techniques for disciplining your child
5 Positive Parenting Techniques You Can Use in 2020 (This one offers a free online class!)

Positive parenting is based on the sound work of renowned psychologist Arthur Adler. Adler studied human psychology in the early 1900s when it was common for people to have a rather distant and authoritarian view towards children. They were expected to be “seen and not heard,” an undercurrent that to some extent still exists today. Adler proposed that children should be treated with dignity and respect. He developed the concept of positive discipline and today’s positive parenting strategies hearken back to Adler’s work.

There are a few core concepts:

Treat children with dignity and respect

  • Avoid coddling and spoiling as it can lead to:
    • A sense of entitlement
    • Lack of empathy
    • Behavioral problems
    • self-centeredness

Be compassionate and firm

Set clear expectations

Keep discipline fair and consistent

Fair means that your response to misbehaving should be patient and should provide fair consequences, or even allow for the natural consequences to play out. Talk with your kids about the consequences, why there were consequences, and help them to understand how things could have been better with a better decision. Reassure them that you love and support them, even when they make mistakes.

  • Avoid using damaging methods of discipline:
    • Yelling
    • Hitting
    • Shaming
    • Spanking
    • Whipping
    • Withdrawing of love and attention
    • Withholding of food or other needs

(Come of those go without saying as they are clear signs of abuse, but I have seen many parents in my lifetime who skirted near to the edge of these behaviors and felt justified in doing so.)

Understand that a child’s deepest need is to fit in and find their own significance

Children want very badly to fit into this world and their community. They need to know that they have a place in this world and they have something unique to contribute. Reassure your child that they belong in your family and encourage healthy relationships with the significant people in your child’s life.

Also important is the concept of personal power.

“Every human (kid and adult) has a basic need for power and the free will to choose how to exert it. If children aren’t able to exert their free will in positive ways, they will use negative ways to get the control they crave: refusing to cooperate, talking back, doing the opposite of what you ask, intentionally pushing your buttons.”–Positive Parenting Solutions

Understand that behavior is goal-oriented

Every action and behavior has a purpose–your child is trying to fulfil a need. For disruptive or unruly behaviors, get to the bottom of the behavior. “Once we understand that misbehaviors are symptoms, not the actual problem, we can address the root cause in a way that finally delivers results.”– Positive Parenting

Develop connection to ensure cooperation. “Children need to feel a connection to an adult to listen to them. This is a good thing—you don’t want your child listening to any random stranger who tells them to do something. But it also means your child is more likely to listen to you when they feel connected to you. This is the problem with punishment. It puts you at odds with your child, diminishing your connection and making it less likely your child will do what you ask.”–Positive Parenting and Discipline.

More tips for positive parenting:

  • Display patience
  • Display forgiveness and acceptance
  • Encourage your child to do their best and compliment them when they do
  • Compliment your child WAY MORE than you criticize
  • Make suggestions that are cooperative and include your child, rather than bossing and telling so much that your child feels disrespected and unimportant

Positive parenting is a strategy and a mindset of treating your kids with respect and setting clear boundaries with clear and fair consequences. Shifting your focus to encouraging growth, learning, and healthy development will change their behavior for the positive.

This article is brought to you by the blogging contributors at Babienet Parenting Community, a community of caring parents just like you! We welcome you to share your journey with us.

For more reading on behavior and discipline:

Using Child Behavior Charts for Your Kids | Babienet Blog
5 Highly Recommended Child Behavior & Discipline Books | Babienet Blog
Helping Children to Cope with Anxiety | Babienet Blog
Child Discipline Methods | Tips from Parents at Babienet | Babienet Blog

 Christina M. Ward,

Babienet blog contributor

Mother and grandmother

Can Positive Discipline Really Work for Your Child? is an overview of positive parenting techniques and effective discipline with actionable tips for implementing a more positive parenting approach for parents.