We all know about the value of being positive, but when it comes to parenting, confusion is common. What does a positive parent look like? How positive do we need to be? What’s the benefit of being positive? Can we be too positive?
Being positive is a mind-set. Some people are just more upbeat and optimistic, no matter what life deals them. Seeing the world from their “glass half full” perspective makes life’s dramas seem less catastrophic and more manageable. It’s not that their lives are easier or they are immune to difficulties, it’s just that they seem to be less affected by them. They seem to have a Teflon coating where nothing really sticks.
Why can’t I be more positive?
Being positive says a lot about our temperament and personality – two traits that are very difficult, if not impossible, to change. But what we can do is modify our behaviour and habits and, ultimately, the way we respond to situations.
Being a positive parent is not difficult. The benefits are considerable, especially when compared with the energy invested into the alternative. It’s worth remembering that the only person whose behaviour you can change and ultimately control is your own. Expecting big changes in others usually starts with our own responses and reactions to them.
Often, big benefits come from the smallest of changes. Remember, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, and conserving your energy is important.
It is far more realistic to be a reasonable parent for a long period of time, than to be excellent in short bursts.
Being a positive parent is a reflection of being a positive person. Bear in mind that your children are likely to follow your lead when it comes to approaching problems. Having a “can-do” attitude teaches them that they too can be strong, solution-focused and in control of their responses. This will be a lifelong attribute.
What’s with the first three years?
The importance of the first three years can’t be overestimated. Joining the synapses between your baby’s brain neurons literally occurs every time you talk, sing, play and interact lovingly with your little one. Their brains are like big sponges - nothing is wasted.
One of the best ways to invest in your baby’s mental health is to spend time with them. You don’t need to be so focused on educational outcomes that even simple play turns into a lesson. Mothers especially, are at risk of doing this. Practice mindfulness when you are with your child. Regretting lost opportunities in the past or looking forward to their next developmental phase won’t help you make the most of what they are doing right now.
Babies don’t have a concept of the past or future, just the present – we have a lot to learn from them.
Positive parenting – tips with babies
Start as you mean to go on. Positive parents teach their babies that the world is generally a safe place and that they are secure and loved. Of course, not every moment needs to be glorious and it’s realistic in the early days of parenting to feel exhausted. But with support and time, most parents find their own ways of managing, and learn that there is joy and infinite pleasure in caring for their child.
Talk, play, sing and interact with your baby.
Use your voice, face, movements and expressions to fully engage your little one.
Show your baby what joy looks like and delight in them.
Avoid feeling self-conscious or that they are judging you on your performance. Babies are lots of things but they are not judges of character.
Be sensitive to your baby’s responses. This means being aware when they are about to become tired, bored, hungry or have lost interest.
When your baby “talks” to you, respond back. This is known as “the dance” or reciprocity between parents and child. It is an important bridge between primitive/ early learning and establishes speech and language.
Read to your little one every day and let them see you reading as well.
Play music to your baby and have music in your household. CDs in the house, the car and singing along will all help to develop their musical literacy.
Try to establish a flexible daily routine for sleep, feeds and play. Incorporate quiet time for your baby as well. Feeling comfortable in their own company is an important, lifelong skill.
Care for yourself. Parents who give everything to their children have nothing left for themselves and quickly get burnt out.
Positive parenting – tips with toddlers
If you’re in a good pattern, don’t change it. Toddlers love routine, structure and predictability, so if what you’re doing is working, then don’t change a thing.
Tell your toddler what you’d like them to do, rather than what not to do. For example say “Close the door gently” rather than “Don’t slam the door”.
Make a point of praising your toddler when you see them doing something positive. Praise is responsible for changing around 70% of our human behaviour.
Look after yourself and get into the habit of investing in some self-praise.
Read stories and books to your toddler. Go to the library, give books as presents and teach your toddler how to care for books. You will be giving them a lifelong gift.
Teach your toddler about their body parts and point to what you name. For example, playing “Where is your face/ tummy/ nose” is a great game.
Laugh with your toddler. When life gets tedious, there can still be pleasure in the mundane. Getting outside of the house and encouraging outdoor play can really deflate negative energy when it’s bouncing off the four walls.
Play puzzles, games, matching pairs and building blocks with your toddler. All of these help to build early maths concepts.
Spend time and energy on your toddler.
Support your toddler’s independence. Celebrate their attempts and try not to dive in to help them if they get it wrong.
Positive parenting – tips with pre-schoolers
Ignore what doesn’t really matter and pick your battles. Learn to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not.
Develop selective blindness for mess and chaos. Save your cleaning up energy for night-time. Invest in some storage containers and involve the kids in cleaning up; make it a game and role model what you’d like them to do.
Avoid being obsessive about cleaning. Some order is necessary but you’re fighting a losing battle by trying to keep a tidy house when there are kids around.
Praise, praise, praise when it’s warranted. You’ll be amazed at how positive this can be.
Try saying yes rather than no all the time. Frame your answers so you’re not forever saying no, for example when your child asks you for (another) bedtime story, say “We can read another book when you wake up in the morning”.
Stay in control of your own emotions. Being calm, taking deep breaths and focusing on our body language can really make a difference in how others see us. Children who see their parents respond to conflict by yelling, learn that this is appropriate. Practice what you’d like them to be.
Be realistic and don’t expect the impossible. Even pre-schoolers are human and incapable of being “good” all the time. Cut them some slack, especially when they’re tired, hungry, bored or just over it.
There’s a lot to be said for turning the other way when sometimes it all becomes too hard. Think about self-preservation.
Don’t allow your child to hurt other people. Talk to them about feelings and being a good friend. Bullying, being rough or hurtful and name calling should never be tolerated.
Be aware of your own language and how you talk about other people. Kids who grow up in households where gossiping is common learn that this is okay.
Care for yourself in the way you’d like your children to care for themselves. Eating and sleeping well, and prioritising your own healthcare needs are all essential to build on good health.
If you want to be perceived as a positive parent, match your verbal language with your body language. Being authentically positive takes less energy, is more effective and builds on itself far more than being negative.