The Essence of Positive Parenting

23 June 2015 by , No Comments

The moment our children take their first breath in this world, all of our dreams and aspirations for their lives blossom. The first look into their wondrous eyes fills parents with unexplainable joy. In addition, many parents feel fear as everything is new and they feel uncertain about their parenting capabilities. No matter how much we prepare or read books, the actual experience of raising healthy happy children can bring an array of emotions.

Based on 25 years of counselling families and individuals and being focused on the literature and research on parenting, I would like to share with you some of the key concepts for raising resilient and healthy children.

1. Self‐awareness

2. Building blocks

3. Positive discipline

4. Build positive memories

1. Self‐Awareness

In the course of our lives we are constantly in relationships with our children, partners, families and friends. How successful we are in these relationships depends on our ability to know and understand ourselves. Each and every one of us have core belief systems we developed as children. Some of these beliefs are positive and some are negative. Often it is our self‐limiting beliefs that create problems in our relationships. These limiting beliefs are usually preconscious, consequently contributing to automatic behaviours in our daily lives. Common limiting beliefs are ‘I’m alone’, ‘I’m unworthy or unimportant’ and’ I’m a failure’.

Over the decades of counselling families I have become clearly aware that there are two parts of parenting: the techniques/skills and self‐awareness. Without self-awareness, we may have the best intentions to use all the well researched parenting techniques yet when it comes to implementing them we fall short. Why is it that we know how we want to respond or react to a given situation yet we don’t?

We know that we want to remain calm when our teenage son says ‘I hate you’ or when our three year old slaps us in the face during a temper tantrum. As we all know, this is easier said than done. How we behave and how we want to behave are often two separate occurrences. Self‐awareness is the cornerstone of becoming a responsible parent. The more we know ourselves, the better we are to choose and influence what behaviours we display at home. Self‐awareness is not only about knowing your strengths and limitations, it is also about having emotional awareness.

Emotional Awareness

Knowing, owning and understanding our feelings is part of emotional awareness. When we are conscious of our emotions we then have a choice of how we want to deal with them. preconscious feelings can sometimes be like a bull in a china shop – out of control.

I often see individuals and families getting into the blame game where others are responsible for their moods, feelings and behaviors. Adults come home from work stressed about their boss and believe that their life would be great if only they had a different boss. Kids come home from school angry at their teachers and believe that they’d be getting marks in the high eighties if only they had a different teacher. In reality we are responsible for our emotions and actions. I’m not discounting that there are difficult people in this world, however emotional awareness is about owning how we deal with our feelings. The father previously mentioned, who expressed that he would not be willing to cook in a mess, took ownership of his feelings. His son didn’t cause him to be angry; he chose initially to be angry when he saw a messy kitchen. Then he choose to change his behaviours which then eliminated his anger and produced an opportunity to model different behaviours and options.

2. Building Blocks for Positive Parenting

A story that sums this concept up to a ‘T’ is one of the sun and the wind. One day a man was sitting on a park bench and the wind says to the sun, “I’ll bet you that I can get that man to take his coat off faster than you can.” The sun takes the challenge and patiently waits while the wind does its’ magic.

The wind takes a deep deep breath and blows with all of its’ might. The man tightly grabs his coat. The wind puzzled blows harder and longer. Once again the man holds onto his coat and folds his arms to keep his coat from coming off. Now it is the suns’ turn. The sun shines its’ warm rays for less than a minute and the man takes off his coat.

Up until the early 70’s many of us were raised by parents who believed that if they tell their children what they are doing wrong they will see the “light”, want to do right and change. Discouragement versus encouragement tended to be the choice. This may work temporarily for some children especially those who want to please their parents, but for others it is extremely discouraging and contributes to thoughts such as ‘I’m not good enough’, or ‘nothing I ever do is right’. Like the wind, discouragement does not foster positive results.

Focusing on our childrens’ innate talents and strengths is key to building a strong foundation. All of us were born with unique gifts yet we are not always aware of these traits. Our natural talents come easily to us, they just feel right. They are often so ingrained in us that we do not even classify them as talents; we minimize them. As well, our talents may not be encouraged by teachers or parents as they may have wanted us to be something different.

I remember a family I counselled many years ago with a lineage of paternal engineers. Their son was gifted with many artistic abilities. He was an amazing piano player who could play by ear plus he was able to draw and sketch outstanding pictures. Unfortunately his parents did not value these talents, mainly because they were not familiar to them, and the generational patterns of following in the fathers’ footsteps was in the forefront of their expectations. This boy struggled with math and physics which caused conflict with homework and grades. By the time they came for counselling the hostility between the father and son was insurmountable. Letting go of his dream for his son was not an easy task, however the father eventually realized that he could not force a round peg into a square hole. When the son was recognized and encouraged for his innate gifts he excelled, actively engaged in school and found his career path. Buckingham and Clifton, authors of “Now Discover Your Strengths”, provide four guidelines to reveal strengths.

1. Top of mind reactions

2. Observe your yearnings

3. Observe what you rapidly learn

4. Observe when you feel satisfied

Top of mind reactions

Observe your child in their daily lives. Are they the type of child who asks many questions or are they quiet and methodical? Are they good with their hands? Are they more logical than emotional? Do they organize their rooms before bed or do they have mounds of clothes everywhere? Do they make lists or fly by the seat of their pants?

Observe yearnings

What type of activities do they gravitate towards? Are they the type who love taking sprinklers or things apart to see how they work? Do they prefer fishing? What is it about fishing that they like? Is it being outdoors, having patience, deboning the fish or the sportsmanship? Do they wake up with ideas and have the day planned? Do they prefer time alone or with others? Taking the time to observe their natural tendencies helps parents know their children’s talents.

Observe what is rapidly learned

What do your children learn quickly? Can your child do math in their head or can they quickly see strategies in a game? Do they easily learn how to organize and lead groups or do they quickly learn how to type? With ease do they learn how to swing a golf club, hockey stick or baseball bat? Or do they more rapidly learn fine motor tasks such as quickly manoeuvring their PSP player or prefer making jewellery or knitting? Observe when they feel satisfied What activities give them satisfaction? When do you see big smiles on your children’s faces? Does your child feel good when they strike off items on their lists? Do they feel satisfied when they are alone or with others? When we are using our innate talents we feel good!


Encouragement is one of the building blocks cornerstones. Notice the word ‘courage’ is centered in the word encouragement. Guiding our children with courage helps them feel capable, connected and that they count. Adlerian psychologists Betty Lou Bettner and Amy Lew, authors of “Raising Kids That Can,” outlined the importance of the 4 C’s for positive parenting.

I am Connected

I am Capable

I Count

I have Courage

When children feel connected they feel secure and safe. When children feel capable they demonstrate an eagerness to learn, assume responsibility and move to independence.

Finally, children who know they count feel significant and experience their own uniqueness. Their courage allows them to experiment, learn from failures and try new ways.

I will always remember one Mother’s Day when Nathalie and Jenna, my two daughters made me breakfast in bed. I was a single parent at the time and my girls were eight and six years old. I could hear their giggling and whispering in the kitchen trying to create their gourmet breakfast secretly. They bounded into my bedroom yelling surprise with peanut butter all over their hands and faces. I was so touched I almost cried. Actually I did cry when I read their note, “Dear Mommy, we made this brecfist by are sefe. Lov Nathalie + Jenna” (with the J reversed).

Obviously I could have responded to the mess and noticed all the spelling errors in their note, thinking I was helping them advance their spelling. But I didn’t. I could have screeched “get your sticky hands off my bed”, but I didn’t. Instead I applied the 4 C’s by pointing out the delicious toast, the beautiful flower, and all the hard work they put into it. Their faces beamed with pride and my heart burst with happiness.

This was a positive memory that balances out the times when we as parents are less than perfect.

Noticing effort and improvements has a significant positive impact on children. Recognizing our child’s effort and improvement consists of noticing when there are both small and large shifts towards reaching a goal and then making a positive comment. Focusing on the process not just the outcome is crucial. For example, if you are teaching your child their math multiplication tables, noticing that they remembered 2 out of the 10 times tables or practiced 5 minutes every night would need to be noticed and mentioned. This spurs children into wanting to continue these behaviours. Discouragement would be telling them that they better work harder and get to the goal rather than focusing on the steps they need to take to get to their goal.

3. Positive Discipline

Providing clear and consistent boundaries and structure enables children to feel secure and loved. The key element is to remember ‘how’ we deliver these boundaries and rules. Being firm and kind is imperative with positive discipline. Sometimes we forget about the kind part when we have asked our kids to turn off the TV ten times and it falls on deaf ears. I have counselled many parents at their wits end because their children are not listening and huge power struggles ensue. Parents feel helpless and resort to yelling and physical punishment. Choices, natural and logical consequences are alternative strategies.

Choices plus Logical and Natural Consequences = Responsible Kids

Choices are a great way to reduce the number of times we say ‘No’ to children. Many kids react and dislike the word ‘No’.

Age‐appropriate choices provide children with a sense of control and it gives them the message that they are capable. For example, if your four year old is jumping on the couch you can redirect the behaviour by offering other options. “Couches are not for jumping. You have a choice of staying in the room and jumping around the squares on the carpet or jumping on the bean bag chair in the basement.” If the child continues to jump on the couch another choice can be provided – “I see you are still jumping on the couch. I guess you’ve decided to leave the room. Do you want to go to the basement or outside?” Sometimes a third choice or a consequence needs to be implemented if the behaviour continues. “Would you like me to help you leave this room or would you like to go yourself?” When a child tests the established rules, logical consequence may need to be implemented. The child must be aware of the consequences prior to any misbehaviour. The consequence needs to be directly connected to the act. Continuing with the example above, a logical consequence would be for the child to leave the room. If this does not assist the child in learning, then brainstorming together appropriate consequences will increase their compliance. Having their input when developing logical consequences is important as it demonstrates respect for their opinions and gives them the message that they count and are capable of making positive choices.

A consequence not connected to the misbehaviour is not as effective. Taking away TV privileges because they wouldn’t brush their teeth may work temporarily, but in the long term, it doesn’t teach children how to make responsible choices. Providing choices first such as brushing teeth with a funny hat on or while bathing is obviously more fun. Then consequences may not have to follow. Consequences directly connected to the behaviour makes more logical sense to children. For example, removing bicycles left in the driveway for a day or two teaches children to put them away more readily than removing their computer or Gameboy. A matter of fact tone of voice when providing choices and consequences often prevents power struggles.

It is important to establish mutual respect with your child and ensure that the child’s and parent’s rights are acknowledged. For example, if your son is leaving his toys scattered through the living room then the parent can clearly state to the child the choice he has, “Jeffrey, you can put your toys away, or not put your toys away. If you leave your toys in the living room, they will be put in a box in the basement.” Should the child choose not to put his toys away, the logical consequence must be followed through in a calm, non‐judgmental manner. Often it is best to take the toys away when they are in bed or at school. Sometimes it is like putting gas on a fire when parents attempt to take the child’s belongings away from them. I hear stories of parents and children engaging in physical tug‐of‐wars with toys, computers, and even TVs. Nothing is learned on these occasions as the child’s anger at the parent blocks any possible teaching moments.

Expressing what you will or will not do is another form of logical consequences. Years ago during one of my parenting courses, a father admitted to constantly getting into power struggles with his eleven year old son. He would come home after work and find breakfast dishes, juice boxes, popcorn seeds and dirty cups all over the counter. Each evening he would yell at his son and sometimes resort to physical force to get him to clean up. Their relationship was deteriorating and the father was quite fearful of the teen years soon approaching. He decided to inform his family that he loved cooking supper for them, however, he was not prepared to cook anything unless the counters were clean. This information was presented when they were driving in the car and no conflict was occurring. The outcome of the story is that Dad watched TV after work for two nights and did not cook dinner as the counters were a disaster. On the third night he came home and the counters were clean. He thanked his son and made the best stir‐fry you can imagine! He discovered that telling his son what he would do rather than what his son had to do shifted the whole dynamic.

Natural consequences allow things to unfold without any interruptions by the parents. If a child refuses to eat they experience the consequence of being hungry; if they do not put their mittens on they feel the cold. Children do learn from natural consequences. In my experience parents can be quite uncomfortable with their child going hungry or having cold hands. Understandably, however the chances of the child putting their mittens on when there is not a power struggle increases significantly. I remember a mother being terrified of letting her daughter go to bed without supper. All the negative thoughts such as ‘I’m such a bad mother’ , ‘she’ll hate me for this’, loomed about in her mind. I suggested to this mother that if her child was hungry before bed that fruit be available. To the mother’s surprise when the power struggles at dinner stopped her daughter began to eat. I’ve learned that young children have total control over food intake and toilet decisions, and power struggles can easily start when parents attempt to push or control in these areas.

Imagine that logical and natural consequences are like the guard rails on a bridge. Developmentally, children are going to test rules and they need the guard rails to prevent them from falling off the bridge. Choices, natural and logical consequences lay the groundwork for children blossoming into responsible, respectful individuals.

4. Building Positive Memories

Creating positive memories with our children is like building a positive bank account. We want surplus funds in our accounts so when we have to make withdrawals or when we make mistakes our accounts are not depleted.

According to Alfred Adler, our memories are “windows of our soul”. By keeping happy, joyful memories alive and real, we can actually feel better about ourselves as parents. When we relax and have fun with our children, we are making deposits in our bank accounts that they can draw from throughout their lives and even pass on to the next generation.

Our lives have become so fast‐paced, we tend to only ‘exist’ and not enjoy some of life’s simplest experiences. Children live in the moment, not the past or the future where adults tend to focus. They can be our best teachers in seeing the magic of life and living fully. Do you remember as a child sitting or jumping in a warm mud puddle and then finding it difficult to understand why your mother or father as upset?

All you wanted to do was see the water ripple and enjoy splashing water in many directions. Meanwhile, your parent was probably thinking “great, how am I going to get Sarah out of the puddle, changed and to school on time? Which memory do you hold on to – your mother getting angry or the water rippling around you? Chances are you remember your parent’s strong negative reaction rather than the enjoyment of the mud puddle.

There are many other ways besides puddles to help children build positive memories…

1. Show your children their baby photographs and discuss with them what was going on in their lives, where you lived, and how you felt being their Mom or Dad at the time. Children of all ages, even teenagers love to hear what they were like as small children. During these moments focus on the positive characteristics of your children. Be careful not to add “why can’t you be like that now!”

2. Similarly, children enjoy hearing about their birth stories. Tell them about your trip to the hospital, who was there, what time they were born, which visitors came to visit, and how you felt bringing your new bundle home. If you experience a difficult birth, share your pregnancy stories, your joy as you saw him/her at the moment of birth, your choice of his/her name, reactions of family memories, etc.

3. Play ‘twenty memories’ instead of ‘twenty questions’ with your children.

4. Establish different traditions in your home. For example, make Sunday evening dinner special where everyone helps to prepare the food, then everyone watches a television show or plays a board game together. In my extended family we host different ethnic dinners every second or third month. Even our teenagers request these family gatherings!

5. Allows time for PLAY with your children. Get down on the floor, experience moments of playfulness and excitement. With older children, learn about their music – which bands they like, listen and learn some of their words. When they were little we knew every “Sharon, Lois and Bram” song – why not now?

We need to develop strategies to remember to stop and smell the roses. One way is to place physical cues words or symbols all over the house. Remember when we had to use the numbers 613 each time we dialed a telephone number. I placed a red circle on my phone as a reminder to use the new process. I was getting tired of hearing the operator tell me over and over again to hang up and try again! Ask your son or daughter to draw pictures to use as reminders.

I am sure many of you have already created many positive memories with your families. Recognize and celebrate how many wonderful memories you have already deposited into their memory banks. All these memories become the stories which are told over and over again through the years and sustain warm and loving connections.

The Time is Now

There is no other time then the present to practice some of the suggestions in this article. Actions speak stronger than words. Once you start reaping the benefits of encouragement, choices, logical and natural consequences you will be continually motivated. Moreover, positive parenting provides many benefits for both you and your child. You are preparing them for their future and providing life skills that are essential to be successful in today’s world. How many times have you heard from your child, “oh no, Mom is reading a new parenting book” or “they must have just taken a parenting course”, when they see you implementing new behaviours. Have no fear; doing the unexpected, being consistent and patient with yourself is often a refreshing experience for all involved. Alvin Toffler quotes: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” Why not create the goal to be a literate parent!


Positive Discipline, Lyn Lott and Jane Nelson

Raising Kids Who Can, Betty Lou Bettner and Amy Lew

Now Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton

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