Power of Positive Parenting
Most parents are naturally inclined to look on the bright side. Well… at least they are at first. When it’s all new and wonderful; when little Johnny is a newborn; when parenthood is filled with wonder and high expectations. Most parents gladly endure sleepless nights, fits of rage, utter selfishness, and constant demands for their time, attention, and finances. Parents of newborns naturally overlook all the negative aspects of parenting because their precious baby is so cute, so sweet, so cuddly, and oh so wonderful.
It seldom, however, stays that way. At some point in a child’s life parents become much more focused on the negative. Little Johnny becomes teenage John who can’t seem to do anything right. He’s lazy and disrespectful; he doesn’t try hard enough in school; his friends are a bad influence; his music is too loud; and his clothes and room are a disgrace.
It’s virtually impossible to put your finger on when it actually happened. Who knows when the tables turned and parenting became more negative than positive? Perhaps it’s different for every family or even every child. But somewhere along the way, unless the parent lives in complete denial, the negativity becomes naturally more prominent.
If you have teenagers, think about the last several conversations you’ve had with them.
- Have your words been pessimistic and filled with disapproval?
- Does your teenager feel like he can’t do anything right?
- When was the last time that you were encouraging or complimentary?
- When was the last time that you focused on the good instead of pointing out the bad?
If you’ve found that you’ve been approaching your teenager with a great deal of negativity, take a deep breath. Just as it’s natural for parents of newborns to only see the positive, it’s only natural for parents of teenagers to focus on the negative. After all, it’s our job to guide them and instruct them. If we don’t tell Johnny when we see something wrong then he may keep going down the wrong path. After all, we only want the best for our children. Our focus on the negative is really an attempt to bring about positive behavior and values.
Unfortunately, this practice rarely works. Instead it can leave Johnny feeling unloved and unlovable. In feeling as if he can’t do anything right he’ll tend to do even more wrong. Why bother when whatever he does won’t be good enough? Why bother trying when mom and dad only point out his mistakes? These feelings are real in many of our teenagers’ lives. Instead of guiding and teaching them, many parents inadvertently push them away.
The teenage years are filled with conflicting messages, hormones, and a need for independence. It’s true that many teens make poor choices and don’t live up to their parents expectations. Once again parents endure sleepless nights, fits of rage, utter selfishness, and constant demands for their time, attention, and finances. However, as bad as parenting a teenager may seem, it’s important to keep things in perspective.
The reality is your child still has redeeming qualities. Johnny may not be as cute, cuddly, and sweet as he used to be, but he’s still Johnny. He’s still the same little boy who once looked at you with his puppy-dog eyes that made you forgive him for drawing on the dining room wall. He still secretly longs to please you. Your words of encouragement, support, and love mean more to him that he will admit.
Here are some suggestions for how you can start to be more optimistic with your teen and guide them in a more constructive manner:
Focus on the positive.
- If Johnny was supposed to do three chores, but only did one, thank him for the one first. Praise the work he did do before addressing the work he didn’t do. It’s natural for us as parents to start in on the unfinished chores. By focusing on the positive, however, his defenses will be disarmed and he’ll be more receptive to the instruction.
- Begin conversations on a positive note. Many mistakes make by teenagers have begun with the best of intentions. Point out the good intentions. Praise them for the heart behind the error. Let them know you understand their goal and then point out how they could have achieved it differently. Coach them through their mistakes instead of berate them.
- Think about how you prefer to receive instruction. Do you like it when your boss comes in and starts yelling at you before even saying “hello”? Do you feel appreciated and validated when you work hard but fall short of the goal and all of your mistakes are pointed out to you? Do you like being micro-managed and constantly haggled by managers? Treat your teenager like you would like to be treated.
Look for something to compliment.
- This can be difficult when teens are going through awkward growth spurts, wear sloppy clothes, or refuse to get haircuts. Perhaps you might say something like, “Johnny, you have the nicest eyes! I never realized how blue they are.” Resist adding on, “I just don’t know why you hide them behind all of that hair!” Just focus on the positive. Kids know that double edged compliments aren't compliments at all. If he becomes more confident in the attribute, he’ll start to let them show more on his own.
- Even for girls this can be tricky as they often push the lines of appropriateness. You’ll have to make sure they stay in the boundaries that you set, but when they look especially nice (and modest), be sure to tell them they look beautiful and grown up or sophisticated. If you lead them with compliments toward the dress you approve of they’ll be more likely to lean that way on their own.
Look for the things that are going well and try to duplicate them in other areas.
- Hours of practicing video games may look like laziness, but it actually shows a level of perseverance. Point out how they gained skills by working at it daily and climbed the levels of achievement. If they can do it in a video game, then they can do it to anything they set their mind to.
- What is their best subject in school? If your child brings home two D’s, two F’s, a C, and an A-, it’s only natural to focus on the D’s and F’s. But what’s going on with the A? Why is he doing so well in that class? What’s the teacher doing to bring out the best in your child? Figure out how you can implement that strategy into the other subjects.
I once went to Parent Teacher conferences with grades like this. In visiting the teacher with the A-, his first instinct was to become defensive and apologize for the grade only being an A- instead of an A. He didn’t understand that I was there to find out what he was doing right. No parent had ever come to him to learn from his positive teaching style.
Pick your battles
- Not every mistake your child makes is the end of the world. Choose the boundaries and values that are important and focus on them and let the other things slide. Being overly concerned with minor details causes us to nag and knit-pick.
Find out what motivates your child
- This is different for every child. Perhaps they like recognition or rewards. Maybe spending time with and gaining positive feedback from you is a motivation. They could even be inwardly motivated, where their own feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment guide them. Whatever it is, make it your mission to find out. Knowing what motivational tool to use is invaluable in bringing out the behavior you’re guiding your child toward.
Parenting on the positive side does not mean sugar coating bad behavior or letting poor grades slide. By all means these things need to be addressed. Consequences will always be a part of parenting. However, with a little practice, and a lot of patience, parents can learn to modify those behaviors and bring about positive change instead of resentment and rebellion. Looking on the bright side will remind us of why we wanted to be parents in the first place.
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