7 Simple Ways To Practice Positive Parenting

A pediatrician explains the benefits of the positive parenting approach and how to practice it in your own family.

If you scroll through social media or visit your local bookstore, you’ll find an abundance of parenting advice. And for parents, it can be overwhelming to figure out which methods might work best for your child. But the positive parenting approach offers key principles that have been proven to help anyone on their parenting journey.

“Positive parenting is an approach based on trying to understand, empathize with, and respect children, while also guiding them in a positive way,” says Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a pediatrician at the NewYork-Presbyterian Ambulatory Care Network.

Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez

As the phrase implies, the concept leans into empathy, encouragement, and positivity — and away from negativity and strict punishment.

“The positive parenting approach can help build confidence and self-esteem in children,” says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez. “And focusing more on your child’s positive behaviors, rather than their negative ones, can also contribute to the overall well-being and peace within the family.”

To get some practical tips for putting this approach into practice, Health Matters spoke with Dr. Bracho-Sanchez, who shared advice on how to set boundaries, navigate tantrums, build empathy, and give yourself a little grace along the way.

Meet your child where they are.

It’s important to keep in mind where your child is developmentally. “Sometimes the behaviors that frustrate us are actually indicators of a new skill or the result of a child exerting independence or autonomy,” says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez.

Understanding that a behavior is developmentally appropriate and is to be expected can make the behavior easier to accept and address. So when you notice new behaviors in your child, you can check with your pediatrician to ask if the behaviors are in sync with the developmental milestones expected at their age.

Take lying as an example. It can be frustrating to hear a child tell a lie, but it could also be a normal stage of development. “There are many things a child has to understand to be able to tell a lie: what they want, what’s acceptable, what they can get away with,” says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez. “There’s a level of sophistication and reasoning that’s needed. And in positive parenting, it’s about being able to see the moment within that developmentally appropriate framework. From there, you can set boundaries.”

Always be communicating.

Communicate with your child about the plans for the day, suggests Dr. Bracho-Sanchez. “It helps prepare children and set their expectations.” When you’re about to change locations or change activities, say so out loud. “Talking about what you’re going to do next eases transitions,” says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez. And this, in turn, can decrease the likelihood of a tantrum.

Keep your cool during kid meltdowns.

Parenting is like a choose-your-own-adventure book: There are numerous outcomes that may arise from a given situation — the variable is how you choose to handle it. For example, if you respond to a tantrum with yelling, you might be met with more yelling and frustration in return. Instead, when faced with a heated moment, try to keep calm and identify the emotions you’re seeing in your child, says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez. “You can say, ‘I can see that you’re upset,’ as a way to acknowledge the emotion. Then reinforce your boundaries by saying something like, ‘It’s OK to be upset right now. But it’s not OK to hit.’”

After that, give your child a choice: Ask if they want some space or if they want time to calm down. When your child is calmer, you can try transitioning them to another activity.

Reinforce good behavior in the moment.

Positive feedback is another pillar of the positive parenting approach, says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez. You want to find opportunities to offer praise. Just as you might catch your child doing something wrong and immediately correct it, turn equal attention to spotting them doing something good. When you notice good behavior, stop and recognize your child for it, which will help them learn to recognize the positive behavior, too. “This is a kind of positive discipline strategy,” says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez.

When your child is doing something wrong, try to find a natural consequence that you can enforce. For example: If your child doesn’t put away their toys, then a consequence can be that they don’t get to play with them. Short-term consequences related to their actions often work best. In this example, if the consequence was that they don’t get ice cream after dinner, your child may have forgotten that it’s because they didn’t put away their toys.

Allow for choices within boundaries.

When you make rules and set boundaries, it’s important to consistently follow them. Within those boundaries, you can allow children to make little choices every day. If your young child is, say, refusing to go to school, you can explain that school is nonnegotiable but offer other choices so that they can feel a sense of autonomy. An example could be choosing what to wear or what to bring to school for a snack. “This helps them assert some level of control,” says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez . Then try telling them how proud you are of their good choices. In the long run, these practices help raise a more autonomous child.

Be consistent with other family members.

“When we talk about parenting, it’s not just about mom and dad. Parenting can come from any person who’s spending a lot of time with a child and is involved in their upbringing,” says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez. It’s important to tell every caregiver involved in your child’s upbringing about the rules and disciplinary styles you’ve set. “Even the techniques being used in a day care or school are important to assess, so you can find ones that align with your style,” says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez.

If you’re feeling like a family member might not be on board with your parenting approach, Dr. Bracho-Sanchez suggests reaching out to your pediatrician for help. Ask if they can take part in a conversation with your family member to explain your approach and its benefits.

Give yourself grace.

This approach is all about intention, not perfection. It’s about trying to give every situation your best effort. “It’s something you’re consciously doing and working at,” says Dr. Bracho-Sanchez. What helps is to stay present in every moment. “I know I can’t be e-mailing and responding to a co-worker while at the same time trying to address a tantrum — and I don’t know that anyone can.”

To help you stay patient in any given moment, do a bit of self-care. For example, before a hectic school pickup, take a few minutes to do something for yourself. “Listen to something soothing on the way; take deep breaths,” suggests Dr. Bracho-Sanchez. Creating little calming rituals and mindfully meeting your own needs can help you be more present for others.

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