As your child ages, you’re often faced with the tougher aspects of parenting and might be tempted to raise your voice but waver and instead offer a mild call to attention. It’s a tricky balance getting it right between positive and negative discipline, but so long as you’re far outweighing the negative with positive reinforcement, you’ll likely get there in the end.
Positive discipline varies by parent and by parenting expert, but is overwhelmingly focused on praising a child when he is doing something right and coaxing him into behaving by helping him feel praise and reward for doing the right thing and not reinforcing the negative behaviors strongly. To make positive discipline plans work, parents must be constantly vigilant looking for their children acting in the right ways. They must also remember to praise them constantly for those things.
You begin to feel a bit like a broken record saying the same thing time after time, but nobody ever gets tired of hearing he is doing a great job, so keep at it. While praising for certain behaviors, be training new behaviors you’d like your child to exhibit. You do this by showcasing the behavior and praising his efforts when he tries it himself. Make the new behavior fun for everyone making it a reward to wash hands before dinner rather than a punishment. Sing a silly song, give hugs and kisses, be funny while sudsing up. Whatever you do to make hand washing and any other task enjoyable, your child will simply want to do it.
Other tasks aren’t quite as enjoyable, but positive parents start early to make even these sorts of routine using practice and praise. Soon most of the day is simply routine and the praise can continue intermittently over time to reinforce behaviors.
No parent wants to be a negative parent, but often we fall into patterns of negativity when we’re not sure what else to do. Negative styles of parenting and discipline have been the norm for quite some time, so many parents aren’t sure how to break away from overtly negative behaviors or slip into them without realizing it. Every parent will need to use some negative consequences to discipline her child simply because we can’t solve everything with praise and positive feedback. However, when you do wind up using negative parenting aspects, be sure you’re countered that negativity with an overwhelming about of positive reinforcement and caring throughout the day.
The sort of negative discipline strategies we often see include things like threatening a child, “You stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” or insulting them, “You’re such a baby – only babies cry like that.” There are variations and degrees of these, however, threatening to turn the car around if your child doesn’t stop whining is one thing, but threatening to the point that your child is in fear of his wellbeing and health is something else entirely. There is really no reason to ever insult a child, however.
Negative parenting can also be much more subtle. Ignoring or not paying close attention to a child when he is doing something that’s not considered trouble is common. But when the child does a single thing wrong, suddenly he’s the center of attention with much scolding and punishment. In fact, this is a perpetual cycle. Children who are desperate for parental attention quickly learn that they get more attention being bad than good. So they act up – all the time.
Often parents faced with behavior problems constantly haven’t done anything wrong other than paying enough attention to their children when they were behaving correctly. They look up or come in the room only when trouble breaks out, so their children are conditioned to cause trouble.
The Fearful Parent
As stated previously, there are very few parents who want to rule their children through fear and punishment. In fact, there is such a stigma about being negative or punishing your child too harshly, that many parents are finding themselves in a void between affirmative positive parenting and any negative parenting.
You have to be negative sometimes. This is where time-outs, standing in a corner and taking things away when they are misused belongs. And children need these sorts of consequences when they misbehave. But to apply a consequence, the child has to know what rule he’s breaking. This is where things fall apart for many parents. The rule are vague and the punishments even vaguer.
These fearful parents mean very well and love their children dearly, but often they are so fearful of punishing a child too harshly or simply don’t know how to apply a consequence that they don’t or they only follow through half-way. This creates a difficult position for a child. Children like to know the rules, and then they may or may not break them. When a child isn’t clear on the rules, it can be very confusing for him when he’s sometimes punished for something and sometimes not.
Fearful parents are often terrific at positive reinforcement for good things their child is doing and simply ignore or mildly admonish any negatives. This is the letter of the law for positive parenting, and these children will have excellent self esteem someday. Unfortunately, they won’t have much self control because they don’t have limits.
If you’re afraid of hurting your sensitive child or coming on too strongly with negative parenting aspects, take the emotion out of the equation. Consider what sorts of limits are appropriate for a child. Should he be allowed to hit you? To throw things at other children? To run about while elderly individuals are buying groceries? To run into the street. It’s easy to see what children shouldn’t’ do. And of course, your first step is to train them to do the opposite – play nicely, share, walk, hold hands crossing the street, but you must also have a plan when your child crosses the limit as he will inevitably do.
Without emotion, this becomes a case of action and reaction. Your child creates an action. He hits you when you tell him it’s naptime. It is not time for the reaction. It’s easy to tell a child, “No hitting!” but follow through now to tell him the consequence, “No hitting! If you hit again, you’ll have to sit in time out.” Then, should he hit again, everyone knows what happens. It’s simply your job to dole out the reaction. Establish a spot for a time out and sit your child there for a few minutes. A good rule of thumb is for your child to sit in time out for as many minutes as he is old. A four-year-old gets four minutes, for example. At the end of the time out, remind him of the action, get an apology and everyone goes on their merry way.