The philosophy of positive guidance is one that is often misunderstood. Both by observers and practitioners.
Perhaps the number one misconception is that positive guidance, or positive parenting, is the equivalent of passive parenting. There’s this notion that the overriding principle is to keep everything positive. Translation: keep the kids happy, no matter the cost. For some, it conjures up an idea of spoiled kids calling all the shots, while their parents turn themselves inside out to shield them from consequences and give them everything they want in the name of preserving peace and protecting self-esteem.
Sorry folks. This is not positive guidance.
So what is positive guidance, exactly?
Let’s start by looking at the name. First off, it is positive. This doesn’t mean happiness at all costs. The positive guidance philosophy recognizes that children actually learn when supported through conflict — not when protected from it. The aspect of positivity indicates a foundation in healthy adult-child relationships. And those healthy relationships are built with mutual respect and trust. It’s bolstered by a belief that authority can exist without relying on fear and domination.
The positive end also indicates that this is a proactive philosophy. It is a philosophy focused on teaching the skills and habits children need to learn in order to be successful, rather than following a deficit model where children are simply punished for failure in the hopes that they’ll figure it out. There is a focus on increasing a child’s capacity for self-control rather than an effort to increasingly exert our own control over them. We want children to be good people, not just to do good things when we tell them to.
The second part of the name, “guidance”, is in direct opposition with the word “passive”. To give guidance, one must have intention, expectations, and be able to recognize and assert boundaries. To guide is to be an active influence, not a passive pawn.
Part of the notion of guidance is that we are guiding children toward independence. We give gentle reminders, coach through problem solving, and enforce boundaries in an effort to teach children how to do it all for themselves. We want to give them the tools to be active, capable agents in their own lives. It’s this successful independence developed through guided practice confronting and overcoming challenge that truly builds self-esteem. And it’s that true self-esteem positive guidance tries to develop and preserve. Not its phony counterpart, entitlement, which comes from overindulgence and freedom from consequence.
There are many ways to influence a child’s behavior. There are even many ways to get the same behavior outcome. But it is positive guidance that gives adults the tools necessary to encourage appropriate behavior through healthy, constructive means. That’s what positive guidance is. Exactly.