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Can positive parenting help prevent bad behavior?

Changing the way you think about something can open up new solutions.

Often, we think of parenting skills as something to manage specific problems, such as misbehavior. But parenting is much broader than that and it needs to be focused on helping our children develop so that they reach their full potential.

The Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics have endorsed parenting programs as treatment in early disruptive behavior. This is not to make parents feel that they are to blame for their child’s behavior, but to empower parents with things they can do to encourage positive communication, positive reinforcement, structure and discipline.

A study published this month in Pediatrics asks us to challenge the traditional way we think of how we care provided for our nation’s youth. The researchers share findings that positive parenting, which emphasizes improvement or enhancement of positive parent-child interactions, provides learning opportunities. In a review of 13 studies, they found programs offered in a primary-care based setting modestly affected positive parenting behaviors important for early childhood development for children under 3.

Other hallmarks of the technique include maintaining a schedule and following routines around such everyday activities as meals and bedtimes. This type of parenting stresses setting appropriate boundaries and limits enforced by positive discipline (such as praising good behavior and ignoring bad behavior), and learning to solve problems. Positive parenting results in improved behavior, development of self-control, enhanced language, and cognition.

Positive parenting can promote positive results for many youngsters. Most of us have heard the adage “parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual,” but positive parenting skills can be learned. As we come to more fully understand how parenting can affect economic and educational attainment later in a child’s life, there is also research that investigates how parenting affects long-term health outcomes.

Yet the child isn’t the only one who benefits. Parents feel better about themselves and their relationships with their children, as well.

As a practicing psychologist in inner-city Delaware, I saw the effects of teaching caregivers positive parenting skills first hand. Take the case of 4-year-old Alan whose screaming tantrums brought his weary mother, Angela, in to see me. I first worked with Angela teaching her how to play with Alan and relax again to improve her interactions with him. That was followed up with a couple of sessions on how to set limits and use timeouts as well as developing schedules. Weeks later, Angela reported profound changes in Alan and reported feeling more equipped to handle an outburst when it happened.

The ideas of positive communication, positive reinforcement, structure, and positive discipline are simple, but carrying them out well requires a great deal of effort—with success and failures along the way.  But if we, as parents, stay focused on the goals for our children, these principles with effective advice can help.

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