Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Review: Positive Discipline

I've written before about some of the parenting books I found useful, and I have one more to add to the list! I found Positive Discipline A-Z: 1001 Solutions to Everyday Parenting Problems (Positive Discipline Library) at the library. It seemed to fit my general parenting philosophy (no spanking or harsh punishments, but modelling/teaching good behavior), so I thought it would have some good tips.

What I love about the philosophy behind the book is that it's so respectful to children and parents. Too often, parents demand obedience and respect from their children, while constantly modelling and demonstrating disrespectful behavior. It's a recipe for resentment and power struggles. Instead, positive discipline is about treating children with kindness and firmness, so that you neither indulge them or disrespect them. How do you do that? The authors suggest that parents use actions and follow-through to curb misbehavior. For example, if a child refuses to hold hands when crossing the street, parents shouldn't argue or plead, but simply grab the child's hand. Follow-through might mean having a talk with your child about safety, and asking for their cooperation when you're in a busy area with a lot of cars. If a parent shows with their actions how important safety is, children will take it more seriously than if a parent yells or argues.
I read this entire book, even the sections on teenagers (I do teach kids that age, after all), and I was impress by the author's emphasis on learning, listening, and loving. We want children to listen to us, but we forget to teach them good listening skills. Children learn to listen when we model good listening each time they talk to us, especially by asking "curiosity" questions and validating their emotions (even if we disagree with their actions). We also forget how important it is to let children learn from their experiences, including the consequences of their actions (natural consequences, not ones we impose). If we let children figure things out themselves, that's usually a much more powerful learning experience than if we lecture them. That's why its important not to constantly over-protect or pamper children--it makes them feel anxious and incapable, since they never learn to handle negative emotions or consequences.

Finally, the authors strongly advocate for treating children with unconditional love. Especially if they've made a mistake or acted very badly, children need to know they're loved. It's perfectly fine for parents to say "I love you, but I'm very angry that you did this thing," or "I love you, but that is not how we should act." When children feel their parents' love is conditional, they may become desperate people-pleasers who lack independence, or they may rebel and fight back against their parents' expectations. It's important to remember that we can disapprove of a child's behavior without disapproving of the child herself.

I'd strongly recommend this book to parents and teachers everywhere. I've already started using some of the techniques with my daughter and my students, and I feel like it's helped my relationships with them. The book's focus on solutions is a good reminder that while punishment might sate our anger, it doesn't usually have the effect on behavior that we'd like. But positive discipline corrects children's behavior in a firm, loving way, guiding and teaching them to be confident, capable, and to find their own unique strengths.

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