As a working parent, I only get to spend an hour or two of quality time with my twin daughters, Stella and Violet, each night during the week. That means that when it comes to adopting a parenting style, I take a realistic approach that balances my mental well-being with theirs.
Though new child development techniques seem to sprout up daily, I find myself continually drawn to a positive parenting program. What appeals to me most about positive parenting is that it leverages communication and mutual respect to give parents positive discipline tools that deliver results, while at the same time promoting high self-esteem and independence in children. The best part about positive parenting is that it doesn’t matter if you spend five minutes a day with your kids or five hours — you have an equal opportunity to stay positive and make a positive impact on your child’s development either way.
You don't need to take a parenting class to start positive parenting at home. Here are four parenting tips based on positive parenting skills that will help you improve your parent-child relationship.
1. Share your why (and ask for theirs).
One of the most haunting phrases of childhood is, “Because I said so.” When we ask our kids to do something, whether it is to brush their teeth or put away toys, we most certainly have a "why" that goes beyond because I said so. A strong-willed child may not respond best to that kind of discipline. A positive parent responds by sharing the why behind a rule or request as a show of respect and to inspire agreement.
In my household, brushing teeth was a bit of a struggle early on. That is, until I took the time to explain the why, in great detail, and with photo evidence. Even though my daughters were three at the time, I sat them down and explained how teeth work (we only get two sets!), what sugar does to them (nothing good!) and what happens when you don’t brush (here’s where the photos came in). I didn’t have the talk in the bathroom, or when it was imperative for them to comply. We created space for the conversation, sat down and had a discussion. They asked as many questions as they needed to so that we could make brushing teeth a no-brainer.
Now at five, there are still times that they resist. That’s when I use my listening skills and ask them their why. “Why don’t you want to brush your teeth tonight?” If the answer is “I’m too tired,” (which is often the case) I validate the feeling, “I understand you’re tired, it was a long day!” and follow up by offering solutions like, “I’ll brush for you!”
When it comes to discipline, the why also allows me to set boundaries without being punitive. “If you’re not going to brush your teeth, you can’t have sugar tomorrow, because your teeth can’t fend for themselves against you.” By sharing my why, and inviting my kids to share their why, we’re able to get on the same page without frustration, coercion, anger or pain.
2. Create space for feeling.
As humans, we come equipped with the capacity to feel an extremely wide range of feelings. Somehow though, it is only permissible in our culture to express the positive ones, whereas anything other than happiness is met with shame or even anger. A positive parent takes a different approach and invites all feelings to the table, even the ugliest ones.
When one of my children is having a tantrum, I let her feel instead of shutting her behavior down (“Stop crying!”). “I understand you’re having a big feeling right now — it’s okay to feel it. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.” Sometimes feeling a feeling requires literal space, meaning my daughters will need to go to a separate room and feel it out. This happened recently during a game of Monopoly. One of my girls had purchased Park Place (with houses and a hotel), and when the other one landed there, it nearly bankrupted her. She got up screaming and crying and left the room saying “No fair! I’m not playing anymore.”
Even though my initial conscious parenting instinct may have been to console her or coax her back to the game or even tell her she had to continue playing, I didn’t do anything. I let her go to her room and cry. When she was ready, she came back to the game of her own accord. Through experiences like this one, she is learning to cope and self-soothe, two of the best gifts I can give her as a parent. The best part is that by letting my children feel, I’m constantly reminded that I should allow myself to feel the full spectrum of my feelings as well.
3. Lead by example and adopt healthy habits.
Self-care is something I’m incredibly passionate about — mainly because when I became a working mother of twins, I initially lost myself to self-sacrifice. I’m thankful that I did an about face because with two five-year-olds, I’m realizing they mirror me in every single regard (despite the fact that I’m not with them as much as I’d like to be). They mimic my expressions, leading to many, “I can’t believe I say that” self-realization moments. More importantly, my children mimic my habits.
This has caused the biggest problem when it comes to healthy eating. When my kids were in preschool, for Mother’s Day the teacher asked them to answer some questions about me. When it came to naming my favorite foods, their answer was “coffee.” My daughters have struggled when it comes to eating a balanced diet, and I’ve come to realize that it’s hard to expect them to eat vegetables when they have never seen me eat them. Recently, I cooked with them and made a beautiful salad for dinner. This resulted in one of my daughters trying kale, basil and mint for the very first time.
Being a positive parent means taking care of yourself, and leading by example so that your children can learn to take care of themselves as well. I may not get to cook with them or eat meals with them all the time, but when I do, I try to make it count.
4. Make room for play.
I called my kids from work to check in one afternoon and let them know that I’d be late coming home from work. The only thing they asked for in response? “Can we play a game when you come home?” That’s it. They could have asked me for so much more. They could have complained that I’m not usually there for dinner or to give them a bath. That I’m not there to pick them up from school. Yet, they don’t complain about anything. The only thing they need from me each day is a little bit of play. And I’m happy to oblige.
I try to engage in yes parenting as much as I can, as I’ve found that my default answer in life is so oftentimes no. But with limited time and resources saying yes to everything isn’t always practical. What I can say yes to each and every day is a little bit of play (especially as a means for me to disconnect from work (ahem, iPhone) and constant multitasking). Play is what allows their imaginations to roam, and mine. It’s what takes the pressure off and shifts the focus from having to perform and follow rules, to simply being in the moment and enjoying. And in these moments of play, we connect effortlessly, and this is the connection that sustains us when we have to face more difficult parent/child moments.
Melody Godfred is the founder of Fred and Far, A Self Love Movement, and creator of The Self Love Pinky Ring. She is passionate about empowering women to choose themselves and commit to practicing self love and self care on a daily basis. Melody is also the founder of Write In Color, Los Angeles' leading resume writing service. Her career advice has been featured on Forbes, Inc. and The Muse. Connect with her directly on instagram @fredandfar.