Over the past year, I have had a few comments on PPTB suggesting that we are permissive parents who fail to set appropriate boundaries, let our children run wild, and fail to discipline them whatsoever. Permissive parenting is just as bad as authoritarian parenting, and we certainly do not advocate being permissive. For more on this, read What’s Wrong With Permissive Parenting by Dr. Laura Markham. So, to bust this myth for good, I’d like to make a few points.
DO set appropriate limits for your children. Children rely on us to keep them safe and to teach them. Don’t go overboard with unnecessary limits as this will be overwhelming for the child, but choose what is most important to you during that particular stage of development, set the limit, and stick to it. The difference with positive parenting is not the lack of limits, but the way in which limits are set and enforced.
Your 18 month old is a little explorer. She really likes to climb too! She can even climb up in the chair, then up on the kitchen table.
Authoritarian reaction: Sternly, “Do NOT climb up there again!” The next time the child climbs onto the table, she is forcefully removed and sat in a time out chair in the corner, crying.
Permissive reaction: “Honey, I told you not to climb. Please get down.” No action is taken. “Honey, I asked you to get down. You might fall.” At this point, the permissive parent may not take action and hope for the best for finally get up to remove the child from the table.
Positive reaction: The first time your child attempts to climb on the table, you intervene, saying “Climbing is fun! Let’s find a safe place for you to climb. This table is not safe.” Let her climb over some couch cushions, if she wants. Climbing itself is not a misbehavior. She may conquer Mount Everest one day! The goal is to keep her safe and teach her what is appropriate. The next time she heads for the table, immediately and gently take her from the table, repeating the above. If she gets upset, acknowledge her upset. “I see you’re mad. You want to climb, but that isn’t safe. Let’s go play over here.”
The positive parent set the limit, stuck to the limit by not allowing the child to climb on the table, but showed the child an appropriate outlet and empathized with her feelings.
Children should be respected and valued like adults are, but we realize they are not adults. They depend on their parents for leadership and guidance. If your kids are running your house, they’re probably not happy kids. No child wants to be the leader, its too much responsibility for them. Read How To Be The Leader Your Child Needs for more on leadership.
You have a 5 year old and a 2 year old, and you had to come to the store to pick up a few items. Your 5 year old is begging for a new toy, and your 2 year old is late for his nap and is cranky.
Authoritarian reaction: To the 5 year old: “I told you before we came that you couldn’t have a new toy. If you ask one more time, you’ll get it when we get home.” To the cranky 2 year old, “Will you stop whining? We’ll be leaving in just a minute. I can’t take you kids anywhere!”
Permissive reaction: Buys both kids a new toy AND a sucker to appease them until the shopping is done.
Positive reaction: *TIP* Don’t try a store trip if it’s nap time and your child is cranky. 🙂 To the 5 year old, “That is such a cool toy! I wish I could buy it for you. Is there a whole set of them? Tell me about the rest of them!” If your child still asks for the toy (mine would!) you can say, “You really want that toy! I see how much you want it. It’s disappointing when we can’t get something we want right away.” Empathize with his disappointment. We all get disappointed when we can’t get stuff we want. To the 2 year old, “I know you’re tired. Will you be my helper? I’m looking for bananas. Do you see any bananas?” It’s also not a bad idea to carry things in your purse that you know your child likes. My own son loves to draw, so if I give him paper and a pencil anywhere, he’s a happy camper.
The positive parent showed leadership by being prepared and skillfully using tools from the PP toolkit (fantasizing with the child with “That is a cool toy, I wish I could buy it for you,” empathy “I see how much you want it. It’s disappointing when we can’t get something we want right away” and “I know you’re tired,” and distraction “Will you be my helper? I’m looking for bananas.”
In Positive Parenting, discipline means “to teach” not “to punish.” Therefore, we are always disciplining our children! We are mindful that every interaction with them teaches them something, every interaction they see us have with others and that they have with others teaches them something. There are lots of ways to teach appropriate behavior! For some ideas, check out the post Positive Parenting: What, Why, How?
Your 2 year old has started hitting. At a play date, someone snatches her toy, and she whacks the snatcher with a right hand.
Authoritarian reaction: Spanks the child, saying “You know better than to hit!”
Permissive reaction: Ignores the hitting, blames the other child, or nonchalantly says, “We don’t hit” from across the room.
Positive reaction: Goes to child immediately and removes her from the situation. Gets down on her level and says, “You’re mad! She took your toy and you got mad! Hitting hurts. Sit here with me until you’re feeling better.” Have her remain on your lap or sit next to you. Help her get regulated by empathizing with her emotion. When she is calm, tell her again that hitting hurts, and she may not hit. If you want to remain at the play date, watch closely and try to intervene before anything escalates to something physical. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Remain calm, empathize with what she is feeling, but be firm that hitting is unacceptable and take action immediately.
As a final note, we post a lot of brain development articles on PPTB, and we talk about what is age-appropriate often; however, just because it is age appropriate doesn’t mean “Oh, its normal, let him by with it.” The reason why this knowledge is important is this: In the above scenario with the hitting 2 year old, if you are unaware of how the brain develops and that your child does not yet have access to higher brain functions that allow her pause, reason, and use logic, then you might just assume your child is being “mean” or defiant. However, when you understand that this is age-appropriate behavior BECAUSE anger sends her into her lower brain functions of “fight or flight” then you can 1) empathize with her (which will help her brain develop better) and 2) guide her behavior until she is cognitively able to guide them herself. To learn more about brain development, read Understanding Brain Development In Young Children and Brain Development in Children.
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