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A Practical Guide to Positive Parenting

Parenting doesn't come with a handbook, but positive parenting offers a good jumpstart to rearing children into autonomous, emotionally aware adults. Not only that, positive parenting is proven to help children do better in school, reduce behavioral problems, and boost mental health. Child/adolescent therapist and counseling professor Lacreia Dye outlines five guiding principles of positive parenting. These include involving children in decision-making, positive reinforcement, being observant and responsive to needs, effective communication, and parental self-care. Along with Dye and coaching experts, let’s identify ways to employ positive parenting techniques in our day-to-day lives.

Choices, Choices, Choices

Developing early decision skills is more important than many of us might realize. Some of us adults waffle, question, and suffer-fest our every choice, so it’s crucial to get children accustomed to making decisions with confidence early. Create opportunities them to make choices using their own knowledge—guided by your helpful insight, of course. They'll need the practice to devise strategies for bold decision-making later.


Parent coaches suggest encouraging young children to make simple choices, like choosing a weekend activity, or guiding them through things like Google, Siri, or Alexa to check the weather and determine if an outdoor activity or indoor activity is weather appropriate. Older children should have the opportunity to pick extracurricular activities. Support them by helping them create a short “pros and cons list” for the activity, or even a budget and/or a fundraising strategy, if necessary.


Additionally, allowing children’s voices in family decisions helps them learn how to take other people’s experiences and needs into account when making decisions that impact others.

Positive Reinforcement

Did you know there’s a World Compliment Day? Parent coaches urge us to never assume a child knows the difference between a good deed and bad behavior. Plus, the rush of affirmation that comes with praise makes strong emotional scaffolding.


Praising good behavior makes children more likely to repeat it. Appreciation, affection, and acknowledgement as a reward for positive behavior also sends a message to the brain that says, “this should be retained in long-term memory.” It’s as simple as saying: “Thank you for helping your brother up when he fell (appreciation). I love to see you all being kind and caring to each other (acknowledgement). May I give you a hug? (affection)”


Sarah R. Moore, author of “Peaceful Discipline" and founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting, warns to hold back some on the “award stickers” and bribery, which increase extrinsic motivation and makes it difficult to complete tasks.


“Although it may look like a win to motivate a child this way short-term, we want to raise children who have an innate drive to be helpful, cooperative, and kind,” Moore says. Instead, she suggests when we catch our children doing things right, like helping a sister with homework, ask how good it felt to help others. "Hey, I noticed you helped your sister with her math homework earlier today. How did it feel to be such a strong leader in a way that she needed you?” No carrot required.

Responsiveness Yields Effective Communication

Black culture, in particular, is attuned to body language. “You good?” has at least four different meanings, depending on body language and tone. This makes the positive parenting directive of “being observant and responsive to needs” an easy guiding principle to follow. We’ll need that same talent to interpret non-verbal cues to follow positive parenting’s third guiding principle of teaching children to use their own voices.

A stoic, insular parent can quickly convince a child that fighting and denying their feelings is the way an adult is supposed to act. That’s the last thing you want.


A child coming home with slumped shoulders and teary eyes purporting to be “OK,” obviously requires a little more work. Pressing conversation by acknowledging what the child’s body language is conveying

and making them aware of how their emotions show beyond words is critical to the communication they will need as an adult. Be prepared to use observation, identification, connection, exploration, validation, regulation, and problem-solving.


Caregiver: “I noticed your voice sounds a little shaky and your eyes are teary. (observation) Are you sad? (identification) Would you like a hug?” (connection)


Child: “Yes, I’m sad and maybe I do want a hug.”


Caregiver: “Would you like to talk to me about why you’re feeling sad?” (exploration)


Child: “Someone was being mean to me during recess.”


Caregiver: I can understand why that would make you mad. (validation) I don’t enjoy people being mean to me either. Sadness is our body's way of talking to us about something that needs to change. Let’s take slow breaths until we feel less shaky. (regulation)


Later, when the child feels better, discuss ways she can handle people being mean in the future, including two things you could do if it happens again, like walking away or telling a teacher. (problem-solving)


Kids often try to shut down the investigation, of course, but Moore says, “I wonder” statements can prove magical. If a parent or caring adult thinks they have an idea of how the child might be feeling but doesn’t want to shut them down further by calling them out, it’s always possible to give them a choice to help bridge the gap.


“For example, we might say to them, ‘Hey, I heard you and your friend disagreeing about something earlier today. I wonder if you're still feeling mad about what happened, or if I'm sensing disappointment in how it turned out,’” Moore says.

It may seem like a lot of work, but parent coach Mujasi Jaara Bandele, who is one half of Minneapolis parent-coaching duo Black Family Blueprint, says probing moments are important because Black children need to learn early how to identify and process emotions before they inevitably grow more complicated as they age.


Mujasi Jaara Bandele

“They’re just getting introduced to the world of feelings and having to associate certain feelings with names. … It’s important to help them regulate, slow down, think for a second, and let it process,” he says. “Then we validate what they feel and give them space to feel it and know that there’s positive ways for them to outlive that feeling.”

“You can say, ‘I see why you feel that way. Maybe you feel a little embarrassed’, or ‘maybe you feel a little guilt,’ or ‘you’re feeling frustrated, or ‘a little confused.’ Then, we help them associate those experiences with feelings so they can identify them more concretely when they get older.”


There are full-grown adults (and probably an ex-boo) who still can’t identify the feelings that sank a good relationship. Bandele says self-analysis is the first step to emotional literacy, and parents must open the door to such analysis and hold it open well into the teen years.


Analysis isn’t one-sided, says Ayolanda Bandele, the other half of Black Family Blueprint. It’s equally important for parents to openly acknowledge and discuss their difficult feelings with their children.


“We know children absorb how parents feel, and it’s not always in the things we say. They hear the tone of our voice, what our eyes look like, the face we’re making, our body language. Children absorb that,” Ayolanda says. “If children are in an environment where their parents are not really opening up and sharing those feelings of sadness or whatever, then it creates an environment where children won’t share those emotions either.”


The team warns that a stoic, insular parent can quickly convince a child that fighting and denying their feelings is the way an adult is supposed to act. That’s the last thing you want.

Ayolanda Bandele

Ayolanda is quick to mark the difference between acknowledging your feelings and making your child play the role of a therapist, however. “There’s a difference between sharing and over-disclosure or leaning on our children to be our counselor,” she says. “It’s OK to say, ‘I look a little tired because I had a tough day at work. … [We]can say these things without going into too much detail or trying to lean on the child for emotional comfort.”


The coach suggests telling the child after a hard day of work, for example, you’re going to take some time and do some deep breathing to unwind and you’ll get to them in a little bit. “That way the child knows ‘OK, there’s a process of taking care of myself, and owning my experience and feelings for the day, and this is how we do it.”



Drinking water, deep-breathing, and stretching bring us to another critical aspect of positive parenting, according to Dye: Seeing after ourselves.


“You cannot offer anything you do not have,” Dye says. “Children are always co-regulating, so caregivers taking care of their (own) emotional state is important to the well being of the children in their presence. Any healthy thing done for yourself as a caregiver will also benefit the child.”


Therapist Niketa Pechan suggests going to bed at a good time, journaling (to better acknowledge your own emotions and problematic triggers), and frequent walks, preferably outside, as easily accessible forms of self-care.


Additionally, Mujasi and Ayolanda emphasize the importance of laughter.


“One important practice that I think we leave out is the ability to practice making yourself laugh, finding things that you enjoy and bringing some humor to your life each and every day,” Ayolanda says.


“[W]e’re role modeling to our children every single second of our lives. … We tell our clients to play, to enjoy the genuine feeling of allowing our inner child out through moments of recreation and leisure and to have a good time. … For those who have experienced trauma in our childhood, it allows us to heal that part of ourselves and tap into and remember what it genuinely means to be a child.”


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