I recently completed the Triple P (Positive Parenting Program), so I wanted to share the key insights I learned to help myself and my fellow moms and dads become more effective empathetic parents.
Disclaimer: The training I attended took place at Future International Nursery in Dubai. If you want to get the full experience with practical exercises along with the nuance of your particular parenting struggles, I recommend to take the course.
Over the 4 week course, the main concepts of Positive Parenting that I learned that you can apply as a parent are:
Having a safe and interesting environment
That means that you need your home environment to be one that encourages good habits.
- Spend Quality time: In a world of distractions, it’s very difficult to spend quality time with your kids especially if both parents are working full time, but it is crucial is child development to have as much one-on-one time as possible. As the saying goes, “You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. With children this is even more the case, especially in the early years, since that’s when their personalities are being molded. It seems simple, but you need to make time for your kids and put them as your top priority.
- Limit saying no: The idea is you want to limit the number of times you say “no” to a child. For example, you don’t want to have certain foods in the house if you don’t want your children to eat them. I found this is also a good rule for yourself as well, since human willpower is limited, the more you reduce the negative temptations in your life that drain your willpower, the easier and more inline with your ideal self your life will become. The same applies to your children.
- Open ended learning: You want to encourage exploration and learning with your children. This can be through allowing them to explore the world (taking them outdoors, playing games with them, using toys like legos etc.) or even through various electronic games. There is a large debate in the early learning community on whether or not it is a good option to allow children to use tablets, and electronic devices. While the results have so far been mixed, you of course need to take a balanced approach, since you don’t want to hinder you child’s development, while at the same time you don’t want to give them a disadvantage is a world that is relying more and more on technology. Generally, open ended games that encourage interactivity and exploration (whether they be physical or electronic games) are the way to go.
Having a positive learning environment
That means encouraging positivity and helping them learn.
- Pay attention when it’s going well: Often times, most parents ignore their kids when they are quiet and behaving, but that actually is the time where a parent should most pay attention to their children, when they are behaving correctly, since attention=reinforcement! What is the number 1 thing a child wants? Your attention! When it comes to being a parent, the behaviors you pay attention to, are encouraged, the ones you ignore are discouraged.
- Foster a Growth Mindset: You want to foster a spirit of creativity and learning in your child, which is known as a Growth Mindset. Research on this topic was done by Dr. Carol Dweck, who found that if you praise innate qualities over effort, it encourages a fixed as opposed to a growth mindset. Therefore, you want to encourage children by focusing instead on their effort, and on the idea that they are capable of figuring out new challenges.
- Specific words of encouragement: When encouraging your child, you need to give specific words of encouragement to your child. It helps to reinforce a behavior if it’s clear what the behavior is, and where things went right. Don’t just say thanks, but instead mention what you are thankful they did. For example, “Great job Sarah on coming to dinner on time.”
Using assertive discipline
You want to be a positive parent, but the hard reality is that raising children is difficult and you often times need to use discipline. This doesn’t mean that you hit or shout though. In fact, the word discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina, which means to instruct or to teach.
The rules of effective discipline are to:
- Be consistent and clear: Children need to have consistent rules if you want them to consistently behave. This means that you should define what the rules are for your family, and make it very clear to your children what the rules are, and if a rule gets broken. For example, if a child is misbehaving, a common mistake parents make is say “Don’t be silly” or “Don’t be bad”. That doesn’t actually mean much, because most likely the child will not be clear on what behavior you think is silly or bad. Instead, you should say “Don’t shout indoors”, “Don’t throw your toys” etc.
- Discipline effectively: When you discipline a child you should never hit, yell or ignore bad behavior (unless it’s very minor, then ignoring would help). So what do you do? You need to have techniques to have you deal with misbehavior in the moment as soon as any misbehavior takes place. The way this should be done is:
i) State the rule they broke
ii) Explain why breaking the rule is a problem
iii) Ask them to try again in a positive way.
iv) Give specific praise if they listen, if they don’t listen then discipline (time out or quiet time). As an example, if a child is not listening to you when you ask them to come to bed when it’s their bedtime, you can state how they didn’t listen, explain why it’s important to get a good night’s sleep, give them another chance to come to bed, and if they listen tell them specifically “good job on listening and coming to bed.” If they don’t listen, then ask them one more time (giving them two chances to comply). If they still don’t listen in that case, then put them in a quiet non-fun place for 5 minutes, and come back again and ask if they’re ready to listen.If a child is younger (2-10 years old), you can also try track their behavior with behavior charts, using variable rewards.
I tried this with my daughter (who is currently 2 years and 8 months). We were having trouble getting her to come to bed on time so we created a behavior chart where we put stickers. For every night where she goes to bed on-time we give her a sticker. If she doesn’t then we don’t give her a sticker for that night (but we never take away an already given sticker). After a certain number of stickers (10, 20 etc.) you can give them a prize as a reward.
- Don’t be emotionally manipulative: A very common mistake parents make is to be emotionally manipulative. You shouldn’t make your discipline be about you as a parent. For example saying “You’re making mommy sad”, “You’re making dad upset” etc. This emotional manipulation can work in the short term, but in the long term it’s a bad idea. It can cause children psychological problems in the future and it ties a child’s good behavior to the parent. You want your children to be independently well behaved, and the only way to do that is to make them want to intrinsically have good manners.
Having realistic expectations
Finally, it’s important that you have realistic expectations of both yourself and your children.
- Know the limits: Understand that your child is still developing. In fact, studies have shown that the human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25 . Remember when you are talking to a child or teenager that they are still figuring out life.
- Be very empathetic: Remember that your children may have their own reasons for acting out. They may not have gotten enough sleep, they may be hungry, or they may even have a medical condition (like have trouble hearing). If you try to reprimand a child when they physically cannot understand you (or they have a medical condition), it can lead to long term emotional and psychological issues.
- Don’t take it personally: As a parent you also mustn’t be too hard on yourself. Parenting is a very difficult job, and you won’t always get it right. However, it’s important to keep learning and remember that your job as a parent is to help your child achieve their potential as the adult they will become.