Positive parenting strategies
Professional Counselor + Positive Discipline Educator Andrea Baum shares her tips on positive parenting and how to successfully introduce positive time-out practices.
When people hear the words “Positive Parenting” they may immediately chuckle to themselves and sarcastically think, “yeah, you should try staying positive when your hair is being pulled and blue marker is all over your new white jeans”. Deciding to use Positive Parenting strategies and concepts in your home doesn’t mean you will be permissive and let your children get away with white jean murder. It also doesn’t mean that you are going to be happy and positive all of the time while telling your child how extra-special and ingenious they are when they accomplish ordinary, everyday achievements.
So what does Positive Parenting mean?
Being a “Positive Parent” means that you are being a positive role-model for your child. The way you discipline and interact with your children is the way they will interact with you and others. Don’t we all want our children to become emotionally healthy, thoughtful, respectful, and authentic adults? If so, we must model this behavior in our home for our children. There are so many wonderful ways we can be a positive role-model to our children while disciplining them that will not only benefit our children but will also benefit our own emotional well-being. First and foremost it is most important to have a foundational understanding that children deserve respect and dignity when spoken to. This concept can be extremely challenging when you are at your wits end, have had no sleep, and you feel disrespected yourself by something your child has done. The reason it can feel so challenging is because there are actual parts of your brain that are not working in that moment.
The Brain and Emotion
The brain-hand model by Dr. Dan Siegal, is a helpful visual to understand what happens in the brain when we get overwhelmed and upset. Make a fist with your thumb tucked under your fingers. Your fist represents your brain. Your thumb tucked inside represents the midbrain or limbic system. This is the part of the brain where emotions and the fight/flight/freeze response are stored. The front of your fist, where your fingers are, represents the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex regulates the midbrain and keeps it in check. It is responsible for decision-making, will-power, understanding consequences, moral reasoning, and socially acceptable behavior. When we have had a particularly bad day and our emotional buttons are pushed in just the right ways, we flip our lids (let your hand open, keeping your thumb in place…fingers up). PET scans have shown us that when we’re triggered, our prefrontal cortex, which helps us keep our cool, is not functioning.
So, do we have an ability to regulate our emotions? No. To be appropriate in interpersonal relationships? No. Have any intuition? No. Ability to respond with flexibility? No. Are we even aware of how inappropriate or terrifying we are in the moment? Usually not! When we “flip our lids”, we are highly emotional and our brains are choosing to respond with three behaviors; fight, flight, or freeze. Given that we all have mirror neurons (our neurons can match the person we are observing), if you come home from work with your lid flipped, your kids will likely mirror this. Or if your children are having a rough day and they have their lid flipped, it’s likely you will flip yours too in response. It is not advantageous or useful in any way to attempt to discipline when you or your child’s lid is flipped. When your child’s cortex is not functioning properly, they are not in a position to take in information and learn in that moment. If you are able to become calm, it is more likely that you invite your child to become calm too. Because we have mirror neurons, your modeling of the skill to calm down is very, very, very helpful. Here are some techniques parents can do get their lids back on fairly quickly:
Rapid calming techniques for parents:
Sensory Grounding 54321:
- Name 5 things you SEE in the room.
- Name 4 things you can FEEL (e.g.: your feet on the floor or the air in my nose).
- Name 3 things you can HEAR.
- Name 2 things you can SMELL (find things to smell, e.g. the orange in this fruit bowl).
- Name 1 thing you can TASTE- preferably some chocolate. Always. Have. Chocolate. (Especially when dealing with kids).
Grounding yourself with all five senses gives the brain information that there is no danger in the environment to protect itself from and that it is safe to be calm again.
Deep Breath Triangle:
- Place your thumbs and index fingers together to form a triangle. Become mindful and notice the pressure of your fingers touching. Look at the triangle, and for each point, take a long deep breath in and exhale out. Breathe in on a count of 4, hold for two, and exhale counting backward from 6. It is important to count backwards as it subconsciously relaxes you. Do this 3 times. Deep breathing regulates the heart rate and breath from erratic to relaxed and rhythmic; which in turn regulates the brain and enables the cortex to function again.
- Leave the situation for a moment and do whatever relaxes you. Read, listen to music, lay down and close your eyes, go outside and observe nature, etc. Doing something that your brain usually finds enjoyable will help to calm you and promote dopamine and serotonin levels.
The Positive Time-Out
Children also need to find ways to calm down and get their lids back on. Once everyone has their emotional brain back in check, kind and firm disciplining can take place. You may even be surprised what your child is able to conclude about the situation once they have calmed down. The positive time-out is an evolved alternative to the traditional time-out our parents and grandparents used. It is a way your child can calm down while not feeling punished.
The punishment part of a traditional time-out is something that some may feel is effective for changing behavior. It is effective, but only temporarily. Imagine for a moment that you come home one day and greet your spouse, “Hi honey!” and their response is “Hi. You didn’t load the dishwasher!? How many times have I asked you to do that? You know better, now go to your room and think about what you have done! I’ll let you know when you can come out.” This sort of punishment wouldn’t feel good, it wouldn’t make you feel close to your spouse, and it certainly wouldn’t make you want to do the dishes. In fact, it might make you want to rebel and never, ever do the dishes. The way that a child feels is no different than the way you would feel in this situation as an adult. Research shows that punishment works temporarily to get a behavior to stop, but the long-term effects are not worth the short-term gains.
Punishment will cause:
- Resentment (“This is unfair. I can’t trust adults”)
- Revenge (“They are winning now, but I’ll get even”)
- Rebellion (“I’ll show them that I can do whatever I want”)
- Retreat (in the form of sneakiness “I won’t get caught next time”)
- Reduced Self- Esteem (“I’m a bad person”)
The positive time-out can easily be implemented with these steps.
Find a time when you and your child are happy and calm. It is important to determine if your child is at a developmentally appropriate age to understand a positive time out. Explain the brain-hand model in lehman’s terms and see if they can grasp the concept. Typically children ages 3-4 years old are able to start comprehending the brain-hand model and are apt to have more awareness of their emotions and capability to calm down. The child may say things like “mom, I am about to flip my lid, I need some time to calm down” when the brain-hand model is understood (how cute is that?!). After this has been explained, follow these steps to create a positive time-out with your child. Remember, do this at a time when everyone is in a good place emotionally, you can even set this up by telling your child that you have a fun activity to do.
Here’s how to set up the Positive Time-Out
- “Sometimes we get upset, flip our lids, and need a time to calm down.”
- “Let’s create a positive time-out area. This is not about punishment but a place that will help you calm down and feel better.”
- “Would you like your time-out spot to be in your bedroom or in the living room?” (let the child decide and let them choose another spot they may come up with if you are ok with it)
- “What would you like in your area to help you feel better?” (anything is fair game that would make this spot comfy and fun – anything that they are allowed to usually use and play with. Ex: comfy chair, favorite blanket, stuffed animals, art supplies, etc)
- “Usually time-out is seen as punishment, but since this isn’t punishment, why don’t you give it another name that will represent a positive place for you?” (Kid’s will come up with unique and funny ideas like “Starry spot!” or “Bob!”, let them choose whatever they come up with)
Once this space has been created, let your child spend some time in it and enjoy their new place to retreat. Now eagerly await the next time they flip their lid and put the positive time-out into effect.
Implementing the Positive Time-Out Example:
- Child: You are the worst mom in the world! I never get to do what I want!
- Parent: Wow, I can see that you are really mad. Would it help if you went to (name of positive time-out spot) until you feel better? Would you like to go by yourself or would you like me to go with you?
If your child doesn’t want to go, this is the time you take your own positive time-out and leave the room. Then come back when you and the child are calm, discipline with kindness and firmness. Try to gain an understanding of your child’s perspective, validating their feelings, but firmly letting them know that their behavior and words were hurtful to you because you love them. Then try to come up with a solution together.
Imagine what your day would be like if you felt less pressure to discipline with punishment and anger and more freedom to use love and kindness to connect with your child. When we are able to use our whole brain to communicate and solve problems, we are able to be more respectful and loving to one another thus making long lasting behavioral changes. Positive Discipline techniques will work best when the concepts and ideas are truly understood. These techniques don’t work overnight, but with patience and persistence you will start to see wonderful improvements in your child and how you feel as a parent. Your child will begin to sense that you are truly on the same team. Positive parenting concepts will give you confidence that you are setting the foundation for your child to eventually become an emotionally intelligent adolescent, a kind friend, a caring partner, an authentic human, and one day a positive parent!