July 8, 2016

Positive Parenting

Well hello there, blogging world! Long time no see! I haven't been around these parts much lately, the reason quite frankly being that I've felt that I haven't had much to write about! However, recently I read a blog post about discipline, and while David and I are adamant believers in loving discipline and work hard to be very prompt when it comes to disciplining our daughter, something about that post sparked the blogging bug within me and I felt compelled to share about what I believe the other aspect of discipline to be, which I'm gonna call "Positive Parenting." Again - I do not think that this approach is to replace discipline - I just believe that it goes hand-in-hand with it.
Positive parenting isn't something that comes naturally. As grown-ups, sometimes I think we fall into the idea that being a parent means setting loads and loads of boundaries and then enforcing them, and that somehow that will show our children that we're the ones in charge and that by obeying those set rules, they will turn out to be responsible grown-ups themselves one day. Again - I just want to say that I AM a big advocate for discipline as I believe that the Bible clearly commands it and that children DO need to be trained as they are born sinners like us and need the instruction that hopefully we as adults and Christians can provide. However, I do believe there is a flip side to this whole matter! It makes me cringe when I hear parents incessantly telling their child, "No," "Stop," "Don't do that," etc., especially if it is accompanied by a tone of frustration or exasperation. What kind of child let alone adult would ever respond well to boundaries set in such a way?
That's where I think positive parenting comes in. From the beginning with Ryenne, David and I have really tried to nurture in Ryenne a love for obedience and a respect for authority - and we didn't have to do that by drilling it into her head or raising our voices. I don't think that this approach would have come naturally for me, but while I was studying to be an early childhood educator, I learned a few key things from my professors/fellow preschool teachers that I believe conditioned me for responding in a positive way to children when they test the boundaries.
- One of the key points that stand out in my memory is the magical "if...then" phrase. I don't remember what it is actually called, but I do know that it works like magic on most kids! It focuses on giving the child an explanation for why you are asking them to do a certain thing - for example, if a child is trying to jump off the slide at the playground and it is obviously far too high for them to attempt without getting some kind of injury, instead of just stopping them and saying, "DON'T DO THAT!" follow up by explaining, "If you jump off the slide, then you could break your arm and get very hurt." Sounds simple, right? But how many times do we forget the part about giving the child a logical explanation as to your reasoning, and simply expect them to trust that we are all-knowing and that they need to listen up?? Obviously I DO think that if I tell Ryenne to stop doing something, that she SHOULD obey, but why not follow up with the reason I am asking her to do what I'm asking if I can? As kids get older especially - like preschool/kindergarten age - this magical "if...then" phrase really makes an impact on them and you will get to see the wheels turning in their heads as they process what you are saying. This is all part of learning for them, too, as you share the reason that you ask them to obey in a certain area. Sure, it takes a few seconds extra time to put your reasoning into words, but it is so important for a child to be able to understand (when possible) why you are asking them to do what you're asking them to do - instead of just taking you at your word.
- Another significant approach that I remember learning about is the "I need" vs. "you need" switch. How many times do we feel the need to say something like, "Hey, you need to stop making so much noise!" or "You need to clean up your mess" ? While it can be argued that yes, the child DOES need to follow your command, it is received in a far less threatening way when you rephrase your command as, "I need you to stop making so much noise," or "I need you to clean up your mess." If you tell a child, "YOU need to ...," chances are, the child is thinking "I don't need to do that... why do I need to do that?" But if you say "I need you to ...," suddenly it registers in the child's head that this teacher/parent/etc needs something from me, and I can do that. I think it's about phrasing in a more positive sense. You aren't issuing an order this way, you are almost making a request while at the same time maintaining your position of authority. Try it out and see if it makes a difference ;)
- Something else that David and I have implemented a lot with Ryenne, is refraining from using the word "No" as often as possible - I guess you could say we're somewhat "anti-No" haha. It's not because we believe that it is wrong for us to tell Ryenne "no," but we feel that positive reinforcement trumps negative reinforcement every time. If Ryenne asks me for some chocolate before dinner, it's amazing what a difference "Hmm, we're not going to have chocolate right now before dinner, honey," makes compared to a short "No." Also the tone in which you say it matters too! A strained, exacerbated, "Not right now," versus an upbeat, kind "Not right now," makes a huge difference in the way that your answer is received.
- Scripture. The very first memory verse that we shared with Ryenne was, "Children obey your parents in everything for this pleases the Lord" (Colossians 3:20) and man are we glad that she has that memorized now! Sometimes when she is having a hard time obeying - for example, eating her dinner that Mommy made for her - all we have to do to get the obedience train going is begin reciting that verse to her! The weight of God's word does the rest and before we know it, she is complying. Another favorite memory verse that we use often is, "Do all things without grumbling or complaining" (Philippians 2:14). She has both of these verses well-engrained in her mind and it is evident that those precious words are beginning to shape her character as well :)
- Lastly (at least for this post haha), for every occasion that you are required to verbally set a boundary for your child or deny a request of his/hers, try to say something positive or encouraging at least twice as often. And I don't just mean, "Good job!" or "Good girl!" I mean a solid, "Wow, honey, you took off your shoes all by yourself!" or "You used so many pretty colors in that picture!" or, my and David's favorite: "You obeyed!!!!" You won't believe the look of sheer joy on your child's face for the simple acknowledgment from you that they obeyed or listened when you asked them to! And that makes such a lasting impression on their characters too. Ryenne is such a happy, upbeat child - and while I am 100% sure that we can't take all the credit for that as she is definitely just naturally inclined to be so cheerful - I do think that a big reason for her joy and positivity is because she is surrounded by it on a daily basis.
Also, can I just add a very big disclaimer that David and I are definitely not successful at "positive parenting" all the time. Just because I'm writing about this, doesn't make me a professional by any means! I find myself answering Ryenne in a short way, "No," or giving out cheap compliments like, "Good job!" often enough too. It really comes down to being intentional and stopping to think about what kind of obedience you are fostering with your words. Am I cultivating a task-oriented obedience where I care more about the outcome than the thought behind it? Or am I encouraging a more process-oriented obedience that allows my child to be a part of the reasoning behind it?
I'll be the first to admit that it does take more work to be mindful of my words and actions and that it is so much easier to just blurt out a command. But when I compare the responses that my daughter demonstrates to each, it is clear to me that taking the time to think first and then answer intentionally and in the most uplifting way possible is what works best.

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