The fundamentals of a gentle approach

The fundamentals of a gentle approach
Quarrels, conflicts, tantrums . . . Ever thought about putting yourself in your toddler’s shoes to see things from a child’s perspective and handle difficult situations more effectively? This is the idea behind positive parenting.

Quarrels, conflicts, tantrums . . . Ever thought about putting yourself in your toddler’s shoes to see things from a child’s perspective and handle difficult situations more effectively? This is the idea behind positive parenting.

Last September, Livia, age 5, started attending nursery school. After a few days, she began pushing her four-year-old sister, Doralie, when she got home from school. “It was obvious that something was bothering her,” says her mother, Sandra. “After speaking with Livia, I learned that starting school, taking the bus, and being with a group all day was a lot of changes for her. She figured out what would help her feel better all on her own—playing by herself in her room after school.”

Positive parenting is mostly about listening to and respecting your child’s needs. “This approach teaches children to be more confident, to talk about their feelings, to communicate in a respectful way, and to acknowledge other people’s feelings,” says psychoeducator Marie-Hélène Chalifour. “It helps children learn to be independent and accountable for their actions.”

Positive parenting hinges on a body of research on the importance of empathy in communication. It is also based on the latest findings regarding brain development. “In young children, the frontal lobe—the part of the brain associated with reasoning, problem-solving, and impulse control—is still developing,” says Chalifour. “The same goes for the limbic system, which is responsible for managing emotions. Certain neural connections still need to be formed. The brain’s immaturity explains much of a child’s behaviour, and gentle guidance takes this into account.”

Teaching your toddler

“With positive parenting, parents focus on guiding their children as opposed to controlling or dominating them,” explains Marie-Hélène Gagné, a professor at Laval University’s School of Psychology who is studying the Triple P (positive parenting program) approach. “Children are a little like plants, and parents are like gardeners who do all they can to help them grow.”

According to positive parenting, children who misbehave are trying to express a need.

According to positive parenting, toddlers misbehave when they need something. “A three-year-old who hits another kid isn’t mean,” explains Gagné. “He’s frustrated and doesn’t know how to express himself. It’s up to the adult to teach him how to behave properly.” Positive parenting advocates trying to see things from your child’s point of view.

Fewer power struggles

Parents who use positive parenting are still in a position of authority, but they wield it gently. “When there’s a problem, they involve their child in finding a solution,” says Chalifour. “Parents want their children to learn accountability, not obey out of fear.”

This approach does away with punishment on the premise that it makes children feel bad and humiliated instead of teaching them proper behaviour. Positive parents implement a logical consequence or encourage some form of apology when their child misbehaves.

Some people feel that this parenting method is overly permissive. Chalifour disagrees. “Gentle parents don’t let their children run wild. There are rules. However, rather than confronting their children, they get them to cooperate.”

While not everyone thinks that positive parenting is the way to go, those who subscribe to this approach appear to be satisfied. According to a study of 295 parents who completed Triple P training, the approach made them feel more competent. “Parents also say they feel less stressed and that they notice a drop in their children’s problem behaviour,” adds Gagné.

The “perfect parent” trap?

Be warned: positive parenting is not a miracle solution! It may result in fewer tantrums and arguments, but these won’t disappear altogether. And, it won’t suddenly make you the world’s best parent. “Set the bar too high and you could wind up feeling incompetent and guilty,” warns psychoeducator Stéphanie Deslauriers. “In the long run, that can lead to depression or parental burnout.”

Parents need to know it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s normal to be irritable sometimes, to get fed up with constantly repeating yourself, or to lose your cool over your child’s behaviour. “Not being a positive parent 100% of the time does not make you a bad parent. What matters is that you believe in yourself and do your best. If you catch yourself yelling at your child, you can admit that you were in the wrong and say you’re sorry,” Deslauriers adds. “That way, you become a role model by demonstrating how to own up to mistakes.”


Photo: gettyimages/Tatyana Tomsickova


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, March 2018
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Annie Goulet, psychologist