*First published on PopSugar on March 3, 2021
Sure, there is no such thing as a bad kid, but we can certainly agree that some behaviors are more difficult to live with than others. As our children grow, how do we continue to teach them how to behave while keeping our tactics age-appropriate and positive?
David Grodberg, MD, MS the chief medical officer at Brightline, says it starts with making science-based approaches – like positive parenting – available to as many people as possible. Successful and consistent implementation of positive parenting strategies helps caretakers and parents lower their own stress levels, which in turn creates more symbiotic home environments. And let's be honest, a more peaceful home environment has never been more important than it is right now when we are spending a lot of time at home together.
What does positive parenting look like and how should it evolve as your kids become older? Here are seven of Dr. Grodberg's recommended positive parenting practices you can try at home and how to adapt them to your child's age.
Use Praise, Praise, and More Praise
To reinforce good behavior, Dr. Grodberg encourages caregivers to create a trifecta of praise that incorporates three actions: Show enthusiasm, be specific about what you are praising, and add a non-verbal component like a high five or a hug. "Becoming an expert at using praise gives caregivers a powerful tool they can use to start focusing on their child's positive behaviors and reinforce them so they don't go away," Dr. Grodberg said.
As children get older, it is important to adapt your praise to meet a child's developmental needs and increased autonomy. For example, the enthusiasm may tone down slightly and the non-verbal component may evolve into subtle facial expressions. Being specific about what you are praising, however, never gets old.
Focus On Positive Behavior
It is all too common for adults to tell kids to "stop" doing something. "Rather than saying, 'don't yell at your sister!' instead say, 'try using your calm voice,' and then lay on the praise once they do," Dr. Grodberg said. This is especially important as children grow up and become more independent and self aware. When children predominantly have their negative behaviors pointed out to them, this can interfere with their development of healthy self-esteem and confidence.
Model Calm Behavior
Be a good role model for your child at every stage of their development. During these tough times, it is more important than ever for parents to take care of themselves and manage their own stress levels. Maybe being a happier parent instead of a better parent is healthier after all? "It is very hard to model calmness for children when you yourself are not calm," Grodberg said. Remember, from birth through adulthood a good amount of learning happens through observation.
Make Sure Your Child's Basic Needs Are Met
When daily routines get out of whack, Dr. Grodberg recommends parents check in on their child's basic needs. They may just be hungry, tired, or over- or under-stimulated. All of these things directly affect a child's frustration tolerance. As children get older, you may expect them to be able to communicate verbally when one of these needs is not being met, however, it isn't always that clear. Keep these basic needs as a checklist in your mind anytime you think to yourself, "Where is this behavior coming from?"
Introduce a Reward Chart
According to Dr. Grodberg, setting up a consistent system to reward and reinforce your children's positive behaviors is all part of a good parenting strategy. For young children, "start with a reward chart that might use exciting stickers that the child can then trade in for short-term and long-term rewards. Eventually the reward chart fades away, and the new and positive behaviors stick. Rewards can include highly desired objects, activities, or privileges," he said. As children get older, the reward system may evolve into gaining privileges such as screen time, or allowing access to other desired activities or items.
Spend Alone Time With Your Child
Dr. Grodberg always encourages families to prioritize one-on-one time. "Older children and their caregivers can unintentionally get stuck in cycles of negative interactions. No matter their age, increasing the amount of quality one-on-one time with your kid can help create a new 'playing field' so parents and kids can reconnect."
When your connection is stronger, there is more empathy, patience, love, and respect for all. Try reading curiously at storytime by expanding and reflecting on the content in that night's storybook to build empathy, foster the power to choose, and provide a platform to discuss morality and ethics. As children get older, those same conversation starters can be used when watching shows or movies together.
Make positive parenting your first line of defense
Under the stress of the pandemic, Dr. Grodberg said he and his team of clinicians are seeing an unprecedented number of children presenting with significant tantrums and anger outbursts, in addition to anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends positive parenting as a first line treatment for ADHD for children under 6 years, the CDC reports that only three out of 10 parents get access to this intervention.
"Parents are really looking for help and support," he said. The good thing about positive parenting is that it's flexible. It can be adapted to meet your child's individual preferences at every stage of their development. Fortunately, there are many books and a good amount of information online about this parenting technique. However, if you are feeling that your child's behaviors are too challenging for you to tackle on your own, seeking support is always recommended.