Positive Parenting: 5 Steps for Smoother Days

A mother is smiling at daughter who is wearing a brown dungaree

Positive parenting is a parenting style characterized by continuous care, teaching, leading, and communication to support your child’s development. As opposed to stricter parenting styles, the goal of positive parenting is to teach discipline in a way that allows for open communication between you and your little one, allowing for both of you to set healthy boundaries.

Those who follow the positive parenting model have seen improvements in their children’s confidence and self-esteem, problem-solving abilities, and social skills, benefits that stem from the style’s promotion of indepence, creativity, and belief in one’s self.

As a result, parents may find that their little ones start to understand accountability and begin to take responsibility for their actions.

Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory

Although psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s theories about childhood development can provide insight into how your child’s brain grows and changes as they go through infancy and early childhood, looking to other psychologists can provide a more complete picture of this process. German-American developmental psychologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Erik Erikson drew on some of the foundational ideas established by Freud to develop his theories on psychosocial development. One such theory is his eight stages of psychosocial development, five of which occur during childhood.

1. Trust vs. Mistrust (0-18 months)

An infant smiling at the camera

In the earliest stage, your little one will learn to trust the world around them, typically branching out from parents to siblings, grandparents, and caretakers. As they do so, they’ll become less wary of those outside their immediate circle and can expand connections and support networks.

2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (18 months - 3 years)

Little girl in a blue top running with a flower in hand towards a Found It Indoor game card by Skillmatics

During this stage, your little one will begin to recognize their own identity and existence as they start to acknowledge the existences and identities of others around them. This development leads to the realization that the world does not revolve around them and that others have needs, expanding your child’s sense of empathy and connection.

3. Initiative vs. Guilt (3-6 years)

Little boy in a striped t-shirt raising his hand in class and smiling.

Once they establish their own identities, your child will begin to take initiative and push their boundaries. Little ones will start to navigate feelings of “guilt” and will test their ability to negotiate between what their emotions and morals tell them to do, leading them to develop their own standards for what they think is right and wrong.

4. Industry vs. Inferiority (6-12 years)

Girls and boys sitting in a class room interacting with each other.

At this stage, your little one will start to feel successful with each new responsibility and undertaking. As they navigate school, they’ll begin to gain confidence, something that can be cultivated and encouraged through positive feedback from parents and teachers.

5. Identity vs. Role confusion (12+ years)

Teenagers sitting on a bench and laughing, talking

As your child reaches adolescence, they’ll  learn to be more independent. Doing so allows them to continue developing their identity, oftentimes distinguishing themselves outside of their family, and growing into their own interests and passions.

Positive Parenting – Practically!

Father and Mother hugging little girl and smiling

Parents can use their understanding of Erikson’s developmental stages and the positive parenting style to raise empathetic, independent, and communicative kids. Here are some tips for implementing a positive parenting style into everyday life:

1. Give Choices

If your child is old enough to make simple decisions providing them with two alternatives to choose between will give them a greater sense of autonomy. For example, you can ask if they’d like to take a bath before dinner or right before bedtime.

2. Increase Involvement

Asking your child for their opinion and involving them in important decisions will help them feel valued by you and will increase their own value of their ideas. For example, ask them to help plan a family member’s birthday dinner.

3. Stay Neutral

When dealing with the dynamic between siblings or even between your child and a friend of theirs, refrain from taking sides. Listen to both kids, explain each one’s thought-process to the other, and then encourage them to resolve the conflict together. Staying neutral keeps you from getting wrapped up in kids’ squabbles and prevents them from feeling jealous or inferior because you sided with someone else over them.

4. Focus on Reasoning

Maybe you don’t agree with something your child did, but knowing why they did it can help you understand their behavior and how to reinforce or change it. For example, if your child hits their sibling, if you get to the root of the problem and understand that they were angry the sibling took their toy, you can explain that using words is a safer, kinder, and more effective way to solve the problem.

5. Be Available

To form stronger bonds with your little one, remain present and approachable. Doing so will help your child understand that you are there for them and will condition them to trust you with everything from exciting news to difficult decisions. For example, when your child tells you something funny that happened on their favorite TV show or a problem they had at school, put down your phone, or close your computer. If you’re making dinner or working in the yard, set them up in a spot where you can hear them clearly, and ask them questions to learn more and show you care.

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