We all crave healthy relationships with our children. Relationships overflowing with honesty, trust, and unconditional love.
But many traditional discipline techniques undermine those aspirations, forging a shaky framework rather than building a solid foundation for our most valued, life-long bonds. Methods like bullying, punishment, timeouts, threats and rewards may appear to work in the short term but not for the reasons we’d hope.
They create fear, anxiety and mistrust. Worst of all they leverage our love, communicating it is conditional on our child’s behaviour. Children may perceive we love them when they’re good but not when they’re bad.
Positive parenting takes a different approach. Its purpose is to always find ways to strengthen connection.
Connection is a positive parent’s superpower and it’s the only reason kids freely give up what they want to do and do what we want instead. When we strengthen our connection with our children parenting become easier, our days feel smoother and most importantly our relationships with our children thrive as we become allies rather than adversaries.
So, how do you strengthen connection? Here are six easy techniques you can start today.
1. Be authentic
Be yourself with your kids. Don’t hide behind the illusion of being the perfect mother of father – it doesn’t exist. Let your kids see you for who you really are; a real person with likes, dislikes, frustrations, strengths and weaknesses. When my son was born he was perfect, like all babies. And I wanted to be perfect for him. But I’ve realized perfect is boring and it’s tough to connect with. I’m committed to letting my son see my imperfections so we can foster an authentic relationship.
“There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So just be a real one” Sue Atkins
Alfie Kohn makes a brilliant suggestion in Unconditional Parenting. Apologize. Simply apologize. Why?! First, it sets a powerful example. Second, it helps take us off our perfect parenting pedestal. It shows our children when we make a mistake, it’s no big deal. We can admit to it, apologize, model respectful behaviour and move on. It makes us vulnerable and in that moment it creates a richer connection with our kids.
Alfie recommends making a regular habit of apologizing at least once a week. My guess is your kid’s reaction will make you so happy you’ll do it more often.
3. Make “yes” your default
You can’t say yes all the time. But don’t automatically say no, either. Sometimes we don’t let our kids to do something simply because it’s inconvenient not because it’s unsafe or impossible. And while our needs are valid, it’s important to find a balance so kids feel their needs are equally valued and considered. Try to find a way to turn a few no’s into yes’s, even if they’re conditional.
4. Schedule special time
Dr Laura Markham suggests Special Time can transform child’s behavior. Special Time deepens connection by giving kids their parent’s undivided attention, which they desperately crave.
How do you schedule Special Time?
- Announce you’d like to have Special Time with each child for at least 15 minutes every day if you can
- Name the Special Time for your child, “Sarah Time” for example
- Alternate who decides what to do for Special Time – one day you decide, the next day your child decides
- Give your child your absolute and undivided attention. No phones. No agendas. No distractions.
- Feel the magic
5. How many hugs?
Family therapist Virginia Satir famously said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”
Hug your child good morning, good-bye and hello. Snuggle in bed at nighttime and on the couch watching a movie. The twelve-hug rule isn’t exclusive to children, either. Remember what children need most are two happy parents so be openly loving in front of them: it’s not only beneficial for your marriage but also an invaluable lesson in modelling healthy affection to our kids.
Between your kids and your partner, you’ll be hugged silly (and happy) by the end of the day.
6. Keep your eye on your long-term goals
What are your long-term goals for your kids? For them to be happy. Independent. Healthy. Confident. Kind. Loving. Inquisitive. Responsible and balanced?
Now, imagine you are at your child’s school or at the local park. There are a couple of mothers around the corner who know your child. You overhear their conversation. They’re talking about your child.
Pause for a moment. How would you like them to describe your child? I’m guessing your wouldn’t want to hear, “He’s such a good boy, never misbehaves. He never bothers adults. You don’t hear a peep out of him”. The fundamental question is whether we sometimes act as though this is what we want.
In tough moments it can help to remember your long-term goals for your kids and make difficult parenting decisions a little easier. We need to let our kids be kids, to play freely and develop into their full potentials. To have an impassioned opinion should be celebrated, not squashed. A recent study found kids who frequently break the rules often go on to become educational over-achievers and high-earning adults. Therapists also suggest strong willed children are more likely to follow their instincts and do what feels morally right rather than following the crowd.
Dare to be a positive parent
Authoritarian parenting techniques are popular because large parts of our society believe children must be controlled. Its a moral as well as a practical question. Beyond keeping our children safe is it right to try to control them? Personally, I don’t believe it is. And even if it were, its not possible…at least not in the long run
Positive parenting techniques are the antidote. By applying simple principles to bond with our children to make them feel safe and secure we’re setting the stage for them to grow into independent and confident adults. In years from now our kids won’t remember what we said, but they’ll remember how we made them feel. And that’s what matters most.
“One generation full of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world.” Charles Raison