Have you ever felt that positive parenting was too tough for you? That no matter how much you read about it and tried to apply the recommended methods, there would always be situations where you’d fail to adopt the newly-learned approaches? Believe me, I can feel you.
I first read about positive parenting as I was looking for solutions to “manage” my elder son who was acting out a lot at the time – actually, I could bearly recognize him. He was almost 9, his little brother one, and I was a single mother trying to split her attention between two children with very different needs. When he’d do something he wasn’t supposed to do at home or at school, the consequence would usually be something like no TV for the week-end. What made me question this method was the fact that it wasn’t working that well anymore and that I felt it was disconnecting me from my son even more.
As I read my first book about the subject (Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids from Dr. Laura Markham), I realized that my son, who had been an only child for almost 8 years, was having a tough time sharing his mother and that I needed to find a way to spend one-on-one time with him daily. These daily reunions had a very positive impact on our relationship and are still part of our evening routine today.
Positive parenting isn’t easy
If you search for information about gentle parenting, you mainly find tips on how to apply the methods of this approach and why they are beneficial. Very little do we read about the struggles we might face and how to handle them. Sometimes, it’s even described as if you only needed to flick a switch to adopt this new philosophy.
Actually, parenting positively is everything but easy. Controlling is easier than trusting; yelling is easier than understanding; time-out is easier than time-in. And that’s exactly why these setbacks happen. Because when we are stressed, distracted or in a hurry, it’s easier to slip into our old habits than to take the time to re-center and adopt a positive approach.
Here, the problem is twofold: on the one hand, we are not able to provide our kids with what they need at that moment and, on the other hand, we feel guilty and self-critical because our attitude is in conflict with our beliefs.
First, we need to realize that it’s totally normal that setbacks happen and, secondly, we must accept that they will happen. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything to prevent these situations to happen too often.
Strategies to Apply when You Struggle with Positive Parenting
Change your mindset
If, like me, you have been raising your children in a certain way for years, it can feel very scary to question your parenting methods and admit that they are not ideal. The first step is to make the conscious choice to commit to positive parenting. It means that you understand that parenting is not controlling your children’s behavior but providing gentle guidance to allow them to become their best self.
For me, one of the most difficult aspects of this decision was that I had to let go of trying to control my children’s behavior. As many of us, at the beginning of this new parenting adventure, I was quite skeptical as to whether my children would collaborate without me using any pressure tactic. However, as I realized my old methods were not working either, I decided to give it a try.
Manage your own emotions
Oftentimes, when we start implementing positive parenting strategies, we focus on managing our kids’ emotions. However, we sometimes oversee that we need to allow us to feel our emotions as well.
In my case, even though I decided to adopt a positive parenting style several years ago, I still find myself feeling guilty when I get angry at the boys. What we need to realize is that it’s human to get angry or upset. Sometimes, we feel angry because we are triggered by specific behaviors from our children; in other cases, we are upset because we have difficulties distancing ourselves from our children’s feelings. The important is how you react and handle these feelings. If your children see that you can have this kind of emotions and are able to manage them, it will teach them how to react in similar situations. Obviously, the difficulty is to refrain ourselves from trying to fix their emotions instead of allowing them to feel them.
Get the pressure off you
Do yourself a favor and realize that being a positive parent doesn’t mean being a perfect parent. It doesn’t mean that you are calm and understanding a 100 % of the time – this would be an impossible task. Just as you took the decision to be kind to your children, be kind to yourself as well.
Gentle parenting is about establishing a strong emotional connection to our kids. This same strong bond will allow them to deal with a situation where you don’t manage to positively parent.
Remember to parent yourself too
One of the caveats of positive parenting (and parenting in general) is that many parents merely lose themselves in it. We are focusing so much on our children’s emotional needs that we tend to forget our own. Of course, connecting with your children should be a priority, however, you should keep in mind that you have needs too.
Having a strong connection with your little ones doesn’t mean that you need to entertain them all the time and at all cost. It will be much more efficient if you decide to have half an hour quality time with your child being able to give them the attention they need than to spend two hours with them wishing you could do something else. You are not helping your family if you are running on empty: you have to take care of yourself first.
Stop caring about what other people think
It has happened to me more than once: When my son would throw a tantrum in public, I wanted to help him cope with his strong emotions and give him room to express them. However, as soon as I saw people staring at me, I felt an urge to make him contain his feelings because I thought that this was what people expected. The method I found would work for us, consisted in removing ourselves from the situation (e.g. bringing my son to a more quiet place) where fewer people were around.
Also, friends and family might be skeptical or even disapprove of your new parenting approach. They might question it and, especially at the beginning when you are still unsure of what you’re doing, it can be difficult to handle these reactions.
Trying to comply with other people’s beliefs is a game that you can never win. There will always be someone who disapproves of what you do. So, keep your goal in mind: Remember that you are doing all this because you want to treat your children with respect and allow them to grow into emotionally healthy adults. Also, be confident that you and your partner are the ones who know what is best for your family.
Make sure your cup is filled
If you take a closer look at the circumstances when you slipped into old habits, you will realize that they usually occur when you didn’t have enough emotional energy to cope with the situation in a positive way. Obviously, if you are running on empty, it’s much more difficult to find the resources to be patient and help our children handle their big emotions.
Remember that parenting requires a lot of physical and emotional energy. Taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your children. Make yourself a priority and find ways to refill the cup: take breaks, ask for help, be kind to yourself.
It’s a journey
As in every process, it can take time for positive parenting to show results. Depending on your previous parenting style, your children may resist at first or you may be unsure of how to implement it. Be patient and trust yourself – changing habits and establishing healthy relationships doesn’t happen overnight.
Also, don’t let yourself be discouraged by fallbacks. It happens to all of us: we yell or threaten and immediately feel guilty about it. However, over time, you will find techniques to reduce these fallbacks. Just bear in mind that there will always be situations in which you will feel that you didn’t act as you should have. Remember that it’s exactly when you need to be gentle with yourself.
What about you? Are you sometimes struggling with positive parenting? Feel free to drop a comment and let me know how you deal with these situations and what strategies you put in place to avoid them.