Parenting comes with mistakes and missteps. Positive parenting isn’t about being perfect or always being cheerful. It’s about what parents do every day — challenges included — and keeps the big picture in mind. What makes a parent great is recognizing when things haven’t gone right and responding with love to repair the relationship. That’s positive parenting in action.
Here are nine key elements that power a positive approach to parenting:
Try to imagine your child’s point of view, especially during tough moments.
We all want to keep our cool! Sometimes it helps to remember that your child’s perspective is very different from yours. She really is devastated that she can’t wear sandals when it’s snowing. Say to yourself, “She is small and still learning,” or “’She’s only 2.”
Notice and celebrate your child’s strengths, abilities and capacity to learn and develop.
Each child is unique, growing and learning at his own pace. Maybe your daughter is a bold explorer who gets into everything, or your son hangs back until he gets to know someone. Make a conscious effort to really see your child. The number one thing every child needs is someone who is crazy about them.
Delight in moments of connection with your child.
It’s easy to get distracted by the day-to-day grind of parenting: dishes, laundry, naps and transitions from one activity to the next. Remember to pause and make eye contact while buckling him into his car seat. Offer big smiles when she wants to show you something, and offer close cuddles while you read a book. This is the magic we can find when we make a little space in the everyday grind for love and connection.
Respond with interest and sensitivity to your child’s cues.
Every child communicates her needs differently. Taking the time to watch and learn your child’s cues and communications teaches them that they’re important and cherished. Your baby may let you know she needs a break by turning away. Your toddler may let you know the mall has too much stimulation for him by having a tantrum in the food court. Responding as sensitively as you possibly can in these moments ensures your little one gets what they need from you.
Provide consistent, age-based guidelines, limits, and boundaries.
Parenting is a combination of nurture and structure. All children need guidance on how to behave. Maintaining predictable routines and setting kind, firm limits really helps. Your child is more likely to cooperate with your guidance if you crouch down at their level, make eye contact and put your hand on their shoulder before telling them it’s time for a diaper change.
Recognize and regulate your own feelings and behaviors before responding to your child.
This sounds like common sense, but it is way harder to pull off than many of us thought. Young children are naturally driven by their strong emotions. We do better as parents (and role models!) when we take deep breaths and calm ourselves first before responding to their behavior.
Know that parenting can be stressful and missteps are part of raising a child.
We can’t be calm, cool and collected all the time. There will always be moments when we lose our tempers. Apologizing when you’re wrong and setting things right is part of building a relationship and helps children learn how to do this as they grow older.
Work toward balancing your needs and your child’s needs.
Don’t forget about you! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the demands of parenting that you can forget to take care of yourself. Plan for breaks throughout the day; even two minutes of deep breathing can help. Pay attention to your needs for socializing, sleep, exercise and nutrition, too.
Reach out for help, support or additional information on parenting when you need it.
Every parent eventually runs into a challenging child-rearing issue. Children need a lot from their adults, and parents are pulled in many different directions. Don’t shy away from asking for help from friends, family or professionals. All parents need and deserve support.
Positive Parenting is presented in partnership with ZERO TO THREE, a national nonprofit working to ensure that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life. ZERO TO THREE’s approach to supporting parents is based on the belief that parents are the true experts on their children, and that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to raising children. Learn more
This definition of positive parenting was developed by a ZERO TO THREE committee of staff, board members and fellows. Written by Kathy Kinsner, Sarah S. MacLaughlin and Rebecca Parlakian. © ZERO TO THREE 2018.