As many parents living through the pain of parental estrangement will tell you, the relationships we build with kids in childhood matter more than anything. Broken relationships are hard to mend in adulthood, no matter how much effort you put in.
The times when kids were to be “seen and not heard” are long gone and we now know that treating kids with compassion, empathy, and dignity makes them stronger and better people. It sounds simple enough, but by no means does simple mean easy. Parenting is hard work, and it sometimes seems that positive parenting approaches make it even harder. No one is able to keep her cool all of the time, be understanding all of the time, or be empathetic all of the time.
Parenting with empathy and compassion can be incredibly hard. It can increase rather than decrease tension, and it can make you feel like a failure because the truth is, no one has really mastered the parenting “secret” that works 100% of the time. When it feels like you’re not getting different results despite doing the “right” thing over and over again, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1 | Don’t question every decision you make
We have gotten so concerned about our kids’ wellbeing, which is a good thing, but we sometimes forget that our emotional states affect us too. Despite your best intentions, fatigue, anxiety and stress will affect how you parent. You’ll probably yell more or view your kids’ actions as misbehavior when you’re worked up. But who wouldn’t lose it having to repeat the same thing over and over again while running late or trying to balance everything that needs to be done? The bottom line is that we’re all human.
Your kid doesn’t need a perfect parent. He needs a parent who is aware of her strengths but also her weaknesses. He needs a parent who makes a conscious attempt to dial down the yelling. He needs a parent who knows when to apologize and what to apologize for.
Understanding we are all human also means understanding that kids are human too and that they will do things kids are supposed to do.
2 | There is no such thing as a foolproof discipline method
While adopting a positive discipline approach will improve your relationship with your kid, nothing guarantees that this approach will work all of the time and for every discipline issue. Don’t do the same thing over and over if you’re not getting the results you want. While a self-quieting space can do wonders for your kid, by no means does it work in every situation or with every kid.
If nothing seems to be working, try something different. Choose what you think suits your personality and your child’s personality. Trying to fit into a “discipline philosophy” could be a recipe for disaster. The thing to remember is that all effective discipline strategies share a few common elements.
3 | Get rid of the “positive parenting” label
The thing with labels is that they can quickly become limiting. Above all things, being a positive parent means being intentional in your parenting. It doesn’t mean following set rules laid out by someone else. Being a positive parent means being conscious that how you interact with your kid affects him or her. It means aligning your parenting to your kid’s temperament, and parenting in ways that are in line with your values and both you and your kid’s strengths and weaknesses.
4 | Non-punitive discipline doesn’t mean excusing misbehavior
Punitive methods harm kids, and there’s proof to support these views. They are never the solution to misbehavior. What they do is teach kids “to avoid getting caught”. While these methods might get you immediate results over the short term, over the long term, they teach your kid to view truth as an inconvenience. Kids who live in fear of punishment become sneakier and they also avoid confiding in you even when they should.
Being an intentional parent means being conscious that your kid’s “misbehavior” is often driven by his inability to manage emotions. It means helping your kid learn to manage his emotions using an age-appropriate approach.
That said, non-punitive parenting is not synonymous with permissive parenting. Your kid needs to know that actions have consequences. In a perfect world, consequences are always closely linked to your kid’s behavior, but it is not a perfect world; Don’t lose sleep if you can’t get the “perfect consequence”. Your kid needs to know that he is responsible for his behavior. Recurrent misbehavior should not be ignored, nor should serious acts that involve violent, aggressive, and dangerous behavior.
5 | Develop your own intentional approach
An intentional approach will always get you better results. It is not necessarily an approach set out in books or other parenting guides. It is an approach guided by your own values and your own specific context.
Being an intentional parent means making a conscious attempt to promote your kid’s overall well-being. It means being sensitive to her needs, treating her emotions as valid, and treating her as an individual in her own right.
When you’re feeling discouraged about positive parenting, remember that parenting is hard work if you do it right!
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An earlier version of this post appeared on parent.co