Parenting, like life, is all about perspective.
The way we were raised and our experiences throughout life have wired our brains to certain beliefs and habits. We perform them often at an unconscious level, carrying on the actions and tone of our parents, whether it be good or bad. However, because so many of us were raised with spanking and punishment, the shift in our thinking is the hardest but most important step in embracing positive parenting. Thanks to the great strides in neuroscience research over the past few decades, we know that attachment is best for our children, we know that our interactions with them are wiring their brains, and we know that we can begin to make new neural connections, essentially re-wire our brains and theirs, when we become a more conscious parent.
Making the choice not to spank and to parent gently and respectfully is a wonderful first step, but until you change your mindset, you will find positive parenting challenging, particularly if you were raised punitively.
I’ll be honest. It took me about a year to really “get it.” Having made the shift in thinking myself, I know it is not an easy task. You are essentially re-wiring your own brain to think about children and parenting in a different way.
Like many of you may be experiencing, I knew I didn’t want to spank, but I didn’t know what TO DO instead, and that wasn’t because I lacked positive parenting tools (I’d read a TON and knew how it was supposed to work) but I was in my same mindset, the control or “fear-based” mindset.
The fear-based mindset says:
1. I have to control my child’s behavior.
2. My child learns through consequences and/or punishment not to repeat bad behavior.
3. I am the dominant figure, my child is “under” me.
It is possible to be in a fear-based mindset and try to practice positive parenting. I know, because I did it for a while myself.
– Use counting to change behavior? (One of the first books I read which claimed to be Positive Parenting was 1-2-3 Magic.) I used it, and it worked…for a while. Until it didn’t work anymore.
– Use time-outs for punishment? (I did this one too. It never worked in my house! It only caused power struggles.)
– Find that, since you don’t know how to make your kids mind without punishment, you just don’t bother to set real limits? OR, because you know now how important relationship is in positive parenting, you try to never put strain on your relationship? (Guess what? I went there too! I had a brief phase of permissiveness before my “Aha” moment came.)
To really make positive parenting work, you need to switch from a fear-based mindset to a love-based mindset. The love-based mindset says:
1. My role is to guide and teach my child appropriate behavior.
2. My child learns through the examples set in the home and through the limits that are set and enforced respectfully and with empathy.
3. While I am the leader, my child has equal rights to respect and to be heard.
Once you switch to love-based thinking, “what to do instead” will become much more clear and simple.
Here are some tips to help you shift perspective:
Educate yourself on the development of your child’s brain. See my post “Positive Parenting is NOT Permissive Parenting” for links to brain development articles and Positive Parenting: What? Why? How? for more links and information. Understanding what your child is cognitively capable of will go a long way in changing your perspective on behavior.
Re-frame your thoughts surrounding your child’s behavior. Instead of seeing it as misbehavior, see it as an opportunity. I know this is easier said than done, but all things get easier with practice. Her behavior may be an opportunity for connection, for teaching a new skill, or for setting a new limit. Her misbehavior could be telling you many things (she’s tired, she’s bored, she’s feeling afraid, she’s feeling disconnected) but it never means she’s naughty or bad.
Replace the idea of consequences with problem-solving. See my post “What’s the Deal with Consequences” for more detail on this.
Read “Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control” by Heather Forbes for a in-depth look at the core beliefs of love-based parenting.
Parenting is a journey. It is a time of growth, not only for our children, but for ourselves as well. Sometimes we’re not sure which path to take, and sometimes in our journey, we get lost and realize we’ve gone the wrong way. Luckily, it’s never too late to turn around and find the right path. My experience is that, when you go down the path labeled “love,” it always takes you where you want to go.