I recently finished a book that I highly recommend – Positive Parenting: Ending the Power Struggles and Reconnecting from the Heart, by Rebecca Eanes. It was another signpost on my journey to parent mindfully, and reminded me again that the parenting journey is not static. There are always new angles for introspection and practice.
This month, my journey has been about deepening in my own self-work around how I want to parent. If kids ‘follow their leader,’ as Rebecca suggests, what is my role when things are spiraling into chaos in my home? How can I cultivate more peace and steady rhythms in our daily family life? How can I facilitate true problem-solving when conflict arises between my boys? How can I create a strong family culture rooted in a sense of shared values?
Here are 5 ways to practice positive parenting, drawn from lessons gleaned from Rebecca’s book.
- First, discipline yourself. Rebecca writes that “We must be who we want our children to be.” Of course our example matters, so starting with myself and my own responses and reactions makes sense. When a challenging situation arises (and I happen to have many right now), rather than defaulting to ‘disciplining’ my children first, I’m working on taking time to calm myself before I do anything else. Rebecca suggests repeating affirming mantras to oneself when conflict or difficult behaviors emerge. “I have a choice in this space,” or “I am calm and capable of handling this.” In this way we can stretch out the space between actions and our reactions, and take more time to respond skillfully.
- Take time to identify triggers. She also reminded me to take time to identify my triggers – and practice creating space between actions and my reactions. This was an enlightening exercise and helped me to realize why my patience runs thin at times. I was being triggered many times throughout the day and it was building up. For example, my triggers include when my children aren’t taking care of our things, when they begin to fight physically, or when they ask me to do something for them in a demanding way. When my kids talk to me in a certain way, it triggers my feeling under-appreciated and taken for granted. There were deeper layers going on that I could now be aware of. I could take some time to notice my own triggers and the feelings behind them – and then choose to respond to the moment at hand in a way not burdened by my own deeper storylines.
- Work to build problem-solving skills. In any conflict, make the priority building problem-solving skills. Again, rather than defaulting to ‘disciplining’ my children, I can choose to loop back around to what happened after we’ve all calmed down and focus on what was learned and what can be done differently next time. We can ask, “How are you going to fix this?” “What caused this?” or “What can you do next time?” In this way we can seek solutions when mistakes are made rather than focus on negativity, guilt or blame. Rebecca also suggests having a ‘peace table’ where family members can go to talk out issues and practice listening to one another.
- Practice positive thinking. One of the great ‘aha’ moments for me in reading this book was around how I need to practice positive thinking myself first in order to practice ‘positive parenting.’ This may seem obvious to some of you reading, but for me I realized there was a lot more I could do to practice positivity in my daily personal life. For example I can pay attention to any negative recurring thought patterns about myself, my life or my children and work to reframe those. I can choose to do a daily gratitude practice, taking time to note what I’m grateful for in each of my children. I can leave love notes in lunch boxes and do a daily appreciation ritual during family dinner. This all adds up to create a more positive family culture – and leaves me feeling happier, too!
- Create an intentional family culture. Perhaps my favorite takeaway from the book is the practice of creating an intentional family culture, complete with a family mission statement and list of values. Just like a strategic plan I might draft at work, Rebecca suggests sitting down with the whole family over several ‘meetings’ in order to draft a family plan around how we will live out our values, beliefs, and goals. She suggests creating something together, integrating art, each family member signing it and then hanging it in a place where it is visible to all. On the day we went to get our Christmas tree I took my first crack at convening a family meeting. Rebecca suggests asking these questions: “What kind of family do we want to be? What values will we uphold? What kind of atmosphere do we want in our home? What kind of relationships do we want? What traditions do we want to uphold?” While the moments of focus and engagement varied, we did make our way through the suggested questions. Our first draft is now displayed on the fridge.
As Rebecca says, “One final piece of advice. When you lay your head on your pillow at night, ask yourself this one simple question: Did my people go to sleep tonight feeling loved and valued?” As I continue to walk this parenting journey in the spirit of positivity, I’ll take this one question with me and let it be the benchmark of each day.