Editor’s note: This post is offered as a book excerpt; it is the Introduction of Positive Parenting (2019, Lasting Impact Press) by parenting expert and educator Dr. John D Rich, Jr.
There are seven main positive parenting tips that will be the focus of my attention in this book. Here is a brief synopsis of the most important strategies and techniques for being a great parent:
(1) Provide consistent, nonviolent discipline.
As I will argue throughout this book, reinforcements are far more effective than punishment. A veritable tome of research has demonstrated that punishment usually works only in the short term, while reinforcements can teach longer-lasting lessons. Beyond that, punishment that involves spanking, berating, or inflicting physical or psychological pain, breeds resentment and encourages “cheating.” In other words, a child who is punished in these harsh, unloving ways, is likely motivated to think about how he can get away with the same behavior in the future. Since the essence of effective parenting is to raise strong, successful children who can use the lessons we teach them for a lifetime, I want to encourage you to use techniques that help you achieve your goals as a parent.
(2) Reward and praise five times more than you discipline.
To that end, I encourage you, when you have to discipline your child (and you will need to use discipline), to communicate with him along the way. Explain to him why the behavior you are addressing is displeasing to you, and then brainstorm different things that your child could have done differently in the same situation, that would not have been punished. For example, if your daughter hits her brother because she is frustrated that her brother wouldn’t share his toy, explain why you don’t want her to use violence to express her frustration. Then, describe for her some things you do when you are frustrated that are socially appropriate (e.g. deep breaths, talking about your feelings with others, writing, punching an object). The very first time you see your child responding to frustration with one of these ideas, it’s time to stop what you are doing and reward and praise your child. Go heavy on the rewards and praise, and light on the punishments. Discipline is mainly an opportunity to teach, not to flex your muscles.
(3) Teach your child how to use words to communicate feelings and desires.
As a psychologist, it should be no surprise that I would encourage people to talk about their feelings. The field of psychology is built upon the premise that bringing our intangible emotions into the light with words can gradually take away some of the power of those feelings. Every child in the history of the world was born without any built-in understanding of how to use words to communicate feelings. It is up to you, through your words and actions, to teach your child how to do so. Your child’s stresses and upsets are all opportunities for you to grow closer in your relationship with your child.
When you show empathy for your child’s feelings, and share stories about your own life, you build the foundation upon which your child’s respect for your opinions and rules will rest. When I was about to become a father for the first time, I asked my father-in-law (my own father was deceased) what his advice was. He said, “Don’t try to shield them from negative experiences.” Your child will fall down, get hurt, be disappointed, and suffer heartbreak. It is not up to you to be the “Catcher in the Rye” and keep those experiences from happening. Instead, it is your privilege to talk her through those experiences, because those experiences are when she will learn the biggest lessons. As those lessons present themselves, your kind and supportive presence can open her eyes to the potential growth that lies on the horizon of her pain.
(4) Treat your child like a person.
Whenever I write or speak about parenting, there are always those who say that a good spanking keeps a child from being too soft and spoiled. My message to parents, based on my own experiences and research, includes an exhortation to avoid violent punishment, but also includes much more material about treating your child with warmth and empathy. Those who wish to draw upon the biblical saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” might want to also consider, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Your child is one of those “others”! When you discipline, do it with love. When you reward, deliver it with delight. When you interact with them, treat them kindly, and with respect. Your child values your opinion about her more than anyone else in the whole world. As Peggy O’Mara said, “The way you talk to your child becomes their inner voice” . If your words and actions suggest that your child is bad, dirty, unwanted, or unloved, you will teach her to think of herself in that same way when she is older. On the contrary, if your words and actions tell your child that she is good, pleasing, and a joyful gift to you, she will go out into the world as an adult who feels capable of anything she desires to accomplish.
(5) Create expectations that are developmentally appropriate.
The expectations you have for your child should match what she is capable of achieving. If you are trying to teach your child a brand new skill, you cannot expect her to perform the skill flawlessly right away. Instead, break the skill into manageable pieces. As your child takes on each small challenge, you have an opportunity to praise and reward her multiple times. If you are unsure how to go about giving your child positive outcomes for positive behavior at a ratio of five times your discipline, think of something you want your child to be able to do, and break up the task into smaller pieces. Each piece should be one small increment higher than what he can handle right now. By giving your child something that requires him to push himself, but which is also doable, you give him the chance to have multiple mastery experiences. For a few examples of this strategy (called “shaping”), see Chapter 4 about rewards and praise.
(6) Model the positive behaviors and qualities you want your child to embody.
Your child is watching you! The top complaint I hear from parents who consult with me is that their son or daughter does not seem to respect the rules that they try to enforce. There are many reasons that a child may be noncompliant. Some of them are not the fault of the parents, but many of them are. The vast majority involve some form of hypocrisy. A parent who is a smoker has very little standing to tell a child that she shouldn’t smoke. A parent who is constantly using profanity confuses a child who is punished for cursing. A parent who yells and berates his son will have difficulty teaching a child how to be a nice person who handles frustration in positive ways. Your words are important, but only if they match your actions. Your motto should be, “Do as I say and as I do.”
(7) Seek bonding experiences.
Parenting in the moment requires you to think on your feet. Parenting for the long term is about building memories. The connections you make with your children are the building blocks they will use to craft their own parenting strategies. Every once in a while, my wife and I will each take one of our two boys and do something with them that will give us time to hear them tell us about what’s going on. In a busy world, I believe that it is crucial to close the laptop, put down the phone, and just be with our children—with our full attention. Play ball, make cupcakes, go out to breakfast, sit down on the floor and play Legos. It doesn’t matter what you do, or whether it costs any money. What matters is that you give them your time and energy. There is always more work to do, but there is only so much time left before your children are grown and out of the house. Prioritize them now, while they are still young.
I hope this list has given you some new ideas, or re-energized you in some positive way. I hope you also keep them in mind as we progress through the book, and I share my positive parenting advice with you.
Positive Parenting is part of a 3-book bundle published by Lasting Impact Press, an Imprint of Connection Victory Publishing Company:
- Positive Parenting: A Practical and Sometimes Humorous Approach To Applying the Research in Your Home With Gender Inclusivity, Mutual Respect and Empathy — and NO Spanking! (2019) ISBN 13:978-1-64381-011-9
- Practical Parenting: A Workbook To Accompany Positive Parenting (2019) ISBN 13: 978-1-64381-019-5
- How Did You Get Him To Eat That?: 12 Parenting Practices That Lead to Healthy Eating (2018) ISBN 13: 978-1-64381-001-0
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