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If It Isn’t “Positive Discipline,” is it “Negative”?

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

There is no shortage of parenting methods out there these days.  Beginning in the 1960’s and ’70’s, the practice of child psychology became a multi-million-dollar industry, and at the same time, threw millions of parents (especially mothers) into a tizzy of self-doubt and confusion.  It was no longer enough to teach your child to be respectful, responsible and resourceful, now it was necessary to examine his motives for misbehaving so that you could figure out the correct technique for modifying his behavior.  

Parents were instructed to allow their children “a voice” in family decision-making, to talk so their children would listen and listen so they would talk, and to constantly affirm their “self-esteem”.  Fathers were encouraged to be their children’s “buddy” and mothers were required to be “involved” in their children’s lives to a ridiculous degree, leading to the term “helicopter parent”.

So-called “positive discipline” is a parenting method that has been enjoying great popularity recently.  There is a non-profit organization with the same name which runs workshops and teacher-training seminars, and sells books and other resources to parents and educators.  I’m very much in favor of being a positive parent; however, I am concerned with the assumption, implicit in the term “positive parenting”, that anything that doesn’t fall within the philosophy of this particular group is necessarily negative.  

In an article entitled “Beyond The Naughty Step” in the January 11th, 2014 issue of The Economist, the goal of this method is described as being “. . . to connect with a child, rather than simply barking ‘Shut up!’ or ‘Go to your room!’ “.  Adults, instead of “screaming at” children, should suggest that children come up with “their own way” of solving problems, and adults should “think harder about the causes of bad behavior”.  But wait–is it really an either/or situation?  Are these the only two options were to be given–screaming and yelling, or engaging in the fruitless pursuit of the “causes” of children behaving in a sinful way?

The fact is, it’s often the influence of so-called parenting “experts” that leads to much of the yelling and screaming!  Let me explain, from my experience:

~When parents try to “understand” why their children behave in disruptive and obnoxious ways (as if being human isn’t reason enough!) they begin to go crazy.

~ When parents are fearful of using straightforward instruction rather than threatening, persuasion, nagging, or  “deal-making” (one of the methods of the “positive discipline” group), they become hesitant and unsure of themselves.

~When parents are told (by “experts”) that certain tried and true consequences for misbehavior may cause permanent psychological damage to a child, or that they should never make a child “feel bad”, they are left with a sense of helplessness and mounting frustration, which often leads to raised voices, conflict, and tears.

The psychological approach to childrearing, and the resulting  sense of insecurity among parents, is very often the cause, not the cure, of many parenting issues!

Here’s the thing:  children are childish, foolish, and this lasts all the way through adolescence.  They do not have the knowledge, wisdom or experience to know what is good and right and true, or the self-discipline to do it–it is the job of loving parents to teach them and train them, and to reinforce that teaching with consequences.  The purpose?  It’s not behavior- modification; it’s not simply to keep children quiet, or prevent major tantrums, or keep kids from embarrassing their parents.  The purpose of parenting is to teach children to know and love what is good, and be able to choose to do it, including putting the needs of others first, being kind and forgiving, and all the rest.  This comes, not from nagging or threatening, not from building self-esteem, and not from having a democratic family.  It comes from stable, loving parents who give their children the gifts of routine, responsibility, time for reflection, and lots of affection.

No situation is perfect.  There will always be difficult situations in life, times when we become angry or frustrated with our children, and times when we fail them. But our frailty and our failures don’t change the fact that children need to be given limits, and be able to test them, knowing that those limits are real–that consequences do happen, and that feeling bad is a natural consequence of disobedience.  Fear not!  Don’t be confused, and don’t be misled–this is positive parenting!

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