Your Positive Parenting Crash Course for Stuck-At-Home Life:
What the heck is positive parenting? And how can a positive parenting crash course make life cooped up at home easier?
As parents, it can be hard to focus on praising our kids’ positive actions, rather than correcting undesirable behaviors. It’s easier to tell kids what they should NOT do, what they can do BETTER, etc. than to constantly highlight what they’re doing right.
But oddly enough, focusing on positive feedback tends to give better results over the long run.
And what better time for a positive parenting crash course than when we’re all stuck at home?
I’m far from an expert in positive parenting. But it’s hard to miss that these past few months of being cooped up 24/7 with our immediate family have been … trying.
(OK, I’ll be more blunt: enough to make a parent lose their mind.)
Whether homeschooling/supervising virtual school, or trying to get our own work done WHILE supervising our children, it’s surprising any parent has even a shred of sanity left.
That’s where this positive parenting crash course comes in.
Why Positive Parenting?
Days before the world shut down in mid-March, I attended a positive parenting workshop at one of my daughter’s schools. It reminded me of the “positive behavior intervention and support” (PBIS) system my other daughter’s school has in place. The basic idea behind positive parenting works something like this:
The way to get the behaviors you want is to reinforce THOSE behaviors, NOT by reinforcing their negative opposite behaviors.The way to get the behaviors you want is to reinforce THOSE behaviors, NOT reinforcing their negative opposite behaviors.Click To Tweet
Kids crave their parents’ attention and time. And they are really good at doing whatever it is that will give them more of that attention and time. Even if the behaviors that get them the most attention are NEGATIVE behaviors.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you want Mama’s undivided attention and she won’t give it to you when you’re doing what you’re supposed to, then you’ll have to resort to Plan B. Even if it means doing things that will get you yelled at/attract negative attention, like tugging her sleeve constantly while she’s on the phone.
Positive parenting is proactive. It plans ahead so the kid reacts in the desired POSITIVE way, vs. reacting to the negative consequence. As such, it focuses on rewarding (thus reinforcing) positive behaviors, not reacting to less-desired ones.
So what DOES positive parenting look like? And how can we make the most of its principles while we’re all stuck under the same roof during #stayhome?
Using Positive Parenting Principles When You’re All Stuck At Home:
Sometimes I’m a slow learner.
This workshop I attended in March (literally days before our state closed due to the current global pandemic) was not the first time I’ve heard these ideas.
But it was only in early May that I really started focusing hard-core on positive parenting every minute of every day.
That was around when the fatigue of being home together, all day every day, really started to set in. Virtual schooling, missing their friends, lack of playdates, etc. were all catching up with the girls.
And their behavior/everyone’s moods were going downhill, at lightning speed.
Plus, the girls were getting further behind in their schoolwork. Particularly our daughter who has learning differences.
I was getting desperate,
and it seemed we’d tried everything else. That’s when I remembered those notes from the workshop I attended, hours before we learned our kids’ schools were closing.
What Is Positive Parenting?
Here, then, in no particular order, are some of the positive parenting crash course ideas we’ve been using in the past few weeks, with dramatic results:
1. Empathize with your kids/validate their feelings
Yes, the chaos caused by the pandemic [sucks – insert your euphemism of choice] for everyone. Especially our kids, but also their teachers and us as parents.
It’s no one’s fault. And we all have every right to feel the way that we do.
It’s not fair that kids are missing out on graduations, proms, spring concerts/plays/art shows, school carnivals and field days, etc.
And it’s super-frustrating that life has to be this way right now, to keep everyone safer and healthier.
I don’t know the psychology of how this works, but somehow, it just makes a lot of us feel better to know that other people understand what we’re feeling and going through, and are in the same boat.
When we have our own adult worries and frustrations – especially if we’re struggling to pay the bills, keep our businesses afloat, and/or care for elderly family members from a distance – it can be hard to remember to honor our kids’ perspectives.
But I guarantee you that trying to see this mess through their eyes is the first step toward getting them to a better place.
However, there’s only one way you can do this effectively and consistently:
2. Be a Zen parent
Which means you have to take care of yourself first.
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It’s a lot harder to step outside ourselves and help our kids work through their big feelings, if we’re so exhausted and frustrated that we can’t keep it together.
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Being a “Zen Parent” is akin to what I called using my “Calm Mommy” voice in my very first blog post. Basically,
- Speak calmly (don’t yell, and don’t get frustrated);
- Keep your voice low and level (don’t raise it in volume or pitch);
- Keep a neutral tone and approach (avoid anything that sounds like anger or frustration).
As a semi-reformed yeller, I promise you, this gets easier with practice.
But I can also promise you that if you’re not caring for your own needs first, staying calm with your kiddos will be darn near impossible.
3. Model the behavior you want
Taking care of yourself is also a step toward showing kids what you want them to do, not telling them to do one thing while you do something totally different.
- You’d like them to limit their screen time to daytime “school hours”? Try to make sure they’re seeing you do the same (i.e., catch up on your work when they’re not around).
- You want them to do their assigned 20-minute reading blocks? Get out a book and read alongside them.
- You want them to take exercise-related “brain breaks” so they can get their work done better? Make sure you join them!
- You want them to save computer games for break times? Make sure you’re not taking too many Facebook breaks while you’re all in “work hours.”
Modeling good habits for your kids won’t guarantee they’ll do what you or their teachers want. But NOT doing so will definitely make it harder.
4. Focus on the things your kids do “right,” instead of where they come up short
This is the one our home school district uses the most, and it really seems to work. Before the shutdown, they had an elaborate system of reward tickets (complete with congratulatory calls home from the principal’s office!) to acknowledge kids who followed the school’s guiding principles. Those who earned reward tickets got a prize, and also got entered into a raffle for periodic prize upgrades.
Now that we’re into virtual schooling, the school has continued with this policy of highlighting and reinforcing desired actions. Instead of the teachers calling out kids who aren’t doing their work on time, at least once a week we get a school-wide email in which each grade’s teachers give individual “shout-outs” to all the kids who are completing their assignments on time, showing up to all their teacher meetings, working extra-hard through tech difficulties and other barriers, etc.
And remember to focus on specific behaviors (growth mindset vs. fixed mindset)
Even kids who are usually successful students, well-behaved kids, or happy little people are struggling right now.
Praising them for things that relate to who they are (“Good boy!” “You’re so smart!” “Good girl!”) is NOT the way to go in normal times, and is especially ineffective right now.
Telling kids things that tie to “who they are deep down” will lead them to believe that these qualities are fixed and unchangeable. And then, when they later come up short, they will think they are no longer “good enough” or just CAN’T do it. This is called having a “fixed” mindset.
On the other hand, focusing on specifics pertaining to their actions and behaviors, NOT who they are – what’s called a “growth mindset” – yields better results in the long run:
- Kids who hear “You worked really hard on that assignment” are more likely to show up and work hard again next time, even if they didn’t get a “perfect score.”
- Kids who hear “That piece sounds better with each time you practice playing it” will go a lot farther in developing their musical ability than either those who only hear “You missed a note there” (focusing on the negative) OR those who hear “You’re such a talented musician!” (focusing on who they are vs. what they do).
4. Instead of nagging, use consequences and follow-through
If you have to ask your kids ten times to do something, there’s something wrong:
- Maybe they can’t hear you.
- Maybe they aren’t processing your request (even though the sounds are hitting their eardrums), because their minds are somewhere else.
- Or maybe they just don’t want to do whatever it is, so are refusing.
It’s easy enough to rule out the first two options. A gentle touch on the shoulder and making eye contact go a long way toward this. This leaves the third option. Which most families face at some point over the subject of chores.
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What do I mean by consequences and follow-through?
Here are some examples:
- Give your kids a simple choice that’s enforceable. E.g., “If you get ready for bed in only 10 minutes, then we’ll have 20 minutes before bed to watch some more of that movie.” Or “If you can finish all your schoolwork by noon, then we’ll have time for a picnic lunch.”
- If your kids don’t uphold their end of the bargain, say, “I’m sorry we don’t now have time left for [that fun activity]. We can try again tomorrow.”
- Alternately – another regular set of consequences around our house – “If you leave your toys outside/all over the living room floor, they will have to go on vacation” [i.e., be confiscated for a day to a week].
- Then follow through. Even if it means your kid can’t ride their bike for a few days, or play their favorite game.
5. Celebrate the little victories, and focus on the big picture
We don’t know when life will become something close to “normal” again. And we still don’t know whether one, both, or neither of my girls will be returning to their school buildings in the fall, or whether my husband will be teaching his own classes in person.
We are in this for the long haul. Kinda like parenting.
This is particularly true for our daughter who struggles with organization and time management. One productive afternoon or day does NOT guarantee that the same will happen the next day, or the day after that.
Every time she starts to get down on herself again, we have to remind her of the times she’s succeeded and finished assignments, not the times she got stuck halfway through.
A lot of times, it feels as if all these positive parenting efforts are two steps forward, one step back.
But, just like with a job or with raising our children, that’s why we need to keep at it, day after day.
And little by little, we’re seeing real results.
How our Positive Parenting Crash Course Has Helped Our Family Survive Being Stuck At Home:
Ever since Dear Husband and I revisited those positive parenting workshop tips, things have improved noticeably for our girls. And for our family as a whole, as we try to coexist peaceably under the same roof 24/7.
For our daughter who was really struggling to maintain attention, make a plan for her schoolwork, and then follow that plan, we started trying to focus more on the times she DID submit assignments, than the times she DIDN’T get her work done. (Since she’s using my old laptop for her schoolwork, I also logged on one night and disabled the computer games that were her biggest distraction during work time.)
Not surprisingly, as soon as we started to celebrate each little task completed with her, she found it easier to reach for that next success, instead of staying stuck in a mental negative feedback loop.
We’ve worked hard to reinforce this “I can do it!” feeling every step of the way:
- I’ve asked her to close her eyes and remember that feeling of success.
- I’ve had her visualize repeating that achievement over and over again.
- And I’ve told her (hoping it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy) that she will start to crave that feeling of accomplishment, and become addicted to it, so she’ll keep doing whatever it takes to get herself to that happy place.
(A Mama can dream, right?)
This has also worked with our expanded family gardening efforts this spring. On several occasions I’ve invited the girls to help with gardening work, with mixed results.
But whenever one of them does choose to help, thanking her repeatedly for her help while she’s there working with me has increased odds she shows up again next time. (I also remind each one of how yummy those fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, or whatever-we’re-working-on-that-day will taste over the summer when they’re ready to harvest, and how proud each girl will be that SHE got to help feed our family when that time comes.)
Are you already familiar with principles of positive parenting? Have you tried them with your family during your time at home? How has it gone? Let us know in the comments!
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