23 March 2011

Positive Parenting

It still surprises me in this day and age when I hear parents advocating corporal punishment as not only an option, but as THE way to train your kids. In a recent conversation I had at a social gathering, a parent of older children (late teens) was advocating these means as the ultimate form of parenting. Now, don’t get me wrong, from the sound of it on the surface, her kids seem to have turned out just fine – ivy league candidates even, but at what cost to their individual psyche?

I found myself speaking up for more peaceful approaches and at first feeling like I was seen as that parent who somehow doesn’t “parent” because I don’t hit my kids, or pull their ear, or give them time outs even. What kind of parent am I if I am not teaching my child to obey. These kids, she insisted, are the ones that have difficulty in a job setting later in life. Well, I suppose if you want them to work as an administrative assistant all their lives and not assert themselves to become leaders in their chosen profession, that not teaching them to submit might be an issue.

At school I find sometimes a similar mentality of you must “listen to the teacher” or else find yourself in time-out. I recently had a teacher tell me that I should teach my child to do what adults say, which is something I am not willing to teach her across the board. How many of us have succumbed to adults whose methods are less than reasonable or even abusive. I do not want my child to learn that she must obey adults at any cost, but I do want her to learn to function as a productive member of a community, realize the logic behind rules – or if the rules aren’t logical work productively to change them for the better of everyone. I do not want her to stunt her growth by getting in line with others ideas of how she “should” be, but I do want her to learn to cooperate in a setting where there are lots of individuals all needing the same freedom to fulfill their best self. I do not want her to follow someone else’s lead all the time, but learn to work cooperatively with others – to follow sometimes and lead sometimes and be her own person, standing up to others when it doesn’t jive with her values, yet doing so in a kind and respectful manner to others. These are the traits that will make her the best being she can be throughout her life and allow her the freedom to resist peer pressure as a teen and to excel as an adult and ultimately to self-actualize fully without constraints.

I have been truly blessed to be a part of a community where mindful peaceful parenting prevails and there is a collective of parents who understand that raising our kids to be self-assured productive beings involves some give and take and allowing them to express their feelings and independence and trying to work through the rough spots with humility and grace. Parents are not always right. Nobody is. We do not need to be in control 100 percent of the time. We need to let our kids lead sometimes if they are going to learn to be leaders. Does this make parenting harder – sometimes and certainly at the early stages, but in the long term it develops strong parent-child bond and a relationship that makes parenting easier over the course of time. It is not a given that we will lose our kids as teenagers if we have built our relationship on mutual respect. Terrible twos and rebellious teens come from a place of asserting independence if they have not had an opportunity to do so over the course of time. Building that ability into the nurturing of our children provides for an ongoing outlet for their positive growth to become functional productive kids in their own rite.

Now, thankfully, this conversation took a turn towards interest in a more positive approach – not so much from the parent who had already done her thing and raised her kids with an iron fist – but thankfully from the parents of the younger kids who seemed genuinely interested in alternatives to what we learned from our parents as kids or what some mainstream parenting handbooks tell us – using behavioral manipulation, rewards and punishments, time outs to get our kids to obey – which ultimately lead to power struggles and miserable kids and parents spinning in confusion and emotion. There is a better way! It also helped that I have lived this way with the support of a larger community (I LOVE Takoma Park!!) and seen how it can benefit families and create self-assured happy kids. It helped that I am not making this up, there are many books and lots of families who have used similar methods allowing their children varying degrees of “permissiveness” or freedom to express their needs, feelings, and individuality. For those who have asked for some resources here are a few of many:

Some of the gurus of alternative methods include Alfie Kohn and Rudolf Dreikurs – these are not new, but rather have been around for decades. Some titles include -

Beyond Discipline – From Compliance to Community by Alfie Kohn (or any other publication by this author including Unconditional Parenting)

Children: The Challenge by Rudolf Dreikurs (and anything by him including title below)

The New Approach to Discipline – Logical Consequences – A practical guide to instilling Good Behavior in your child – from toddler to adolescent by Dreikurs (note: this is actually not a “new” approach as it was copyrighted in 1968:) It is a tried and tested apporach that has been utilized in modern parenting publications - see positive discipline below)

Other newer publications that build on the same themes:

Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids (a handbook for non-violent communication)

Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort (This is my personal FAVORITE!)

Raising Happiness – 10 Simple Steps for more joyful kids and happier parents by Christine Carter (a new publication that has steps to transform your home dynamic)

And last, but certainly not least is the whole line of books about Positive Discipline (handbooks built on the Dreikurs approach which cover different ages and settings) - there is one for pre-schoolers, teens, for teachers to use in the classroom, etc. They are practical and simple to implement and are a great balance between parental control and kid's ability to make choices.

These are a bunch of tools for your tool-box. As always I will say - there is a method out there that resonates with the parent you want to be - the first step is mindfully deciding what kind of parent it is that you want to be and seeking out the tools to implement it. Read, choose, and be happy with your choices. Chidren grow up fast and now is our opportunity to be a productive part of that growth. Happy Parenting!!