Positive parenting is a popular term right now. It encompasses approaches to parenting that value connection, playfulness, and teaching over punishing.
But there’s also a commonly accepted subtext to positive parenting that is unfortunately built on misconceptions, and it’s making life harder for parents.
Misconception 1: Positive Parenting Means Everyone is Always Happy
Parenting is hard. Certainly, there are tools and principles that make it feel a bit easier, but nothing can take away the fact that parenting is good, hard, worthwhile, messy work.
Positive parents set limits their kids may not like.
Positive parents sit with their child’s powerful, and often uncomfortable emotions.
Positive parents have kids who still lose it now and then.
(Sometimes positive parents lose it too — See Misconception 2.)
Positive parenting doesn’t mean that everything is suddenly easy-breezy, sunshine and roses. It does mean we intentionally incorporate principles of positive, healthy relationships and tools for lasting behavioral growth and change in our parenting.
Those principles and tools guide and teach children in a way that shapes behavior effectively and with more durability than quick-fix gimmicks. But it doesn’t mean conflict disappears. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong just because it’s hard.
Along these same lines, positive parenting is often mistaken for permissive parenting. A subliminal mantra of “Keep kids happy at all costs! Give them what they want! Be fun! Don’t rock the boat!” is misleading but common.
Positive parents still say no. (They just learn how to do it effectively.) They still set boundaries. (And they know how to help children work within them.) And with all of that, they sometimes have kids who melt down.
It doesn’t mean they did it wrong. It means they’re doing the hard work of parenting.
Misconception 2: Positive Parenting Means Parents Always Do the Right Thing
Sometimes kids meltdown even when we do everything “right”. But another important reality is that positive parents aren’t perfect parents.
I’ve heard far too many parents (raising my own hand on this one!) crushed by discouragement because they lost it with their kids.
A sharp reply.
A harsh consequence.
An I’ve-had-it-we’re-leaving-so-we-can-both-cry-in-the-car moment.
There are perfect principles that guide positive parenting. But parents aren’t perfect, and they aren’t meant to be. The parent-child relationship is not designed to be a perfectly choreographed dance. In reality, it’s a system of missteps and course corrections. Connection and reconnection. But we’re wired for it.
The real problem arises when we fool ourselves into believing that we shouldn’t make mistakes. And if that’s the case, then we shouldn’t make repairs. That’s where the damage starts. Not in the mistake itself.
Positive parents make mistakes. Then they make repairs. They apologize and make corrections, and in that process they actually make their relationship stronger than if they were (or pretended to be) perfect.
Misconception 3: Positive Parenting All Looks the Same
Positive parenting is a descriptive, not prescriptive parenting philosophy. It outlines principles and tools, but the way those are implemented in different family situations will look different every time. There’s no cookie cutter plan. There’s no need for comparison-fueled guilt.
Think of it this way. The hydrangea plant (one of my favorite flowers) may have blue hued blooms in one location that change to a vibrant pink if planted in a different location or if its own soil is changed. The plant is still the exact same plant, but it looks different under different conditions. Similarly, positive parenting can be healthy, effective, and solidly implemented and still look different in different homes. In fact it should look different in different homes.
Part of positive parenting is being responsive to the individual differences in the child, the parents, the family dynamics, and the environment. Different children require different approaches. Different families need different boundaries. Different cultures emphasize different social skills. But each situation may implement the same principles and tools of positive parenting.
Some people (practitioners and detractors alike) think positive parenting is about letting kids take over — giving in to keep them happy. Or about being a picture-perfect (if not condescending, inauthentic, and saccharine sweet) parent. Or about following a robotic, Stepford-esque parenting style.
Sorry, folks. That’s not positive parenting.
Positive parenting is for perfectly flawed, real parents who want to build healthy relationships while teaching their children proper behaviors and guiding them to develop long-term understanding and self-control.
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