Have you heard the phrase “positive parenting” used in books or among your friends? Did you think maybe it was just another fad or empty tactic that doesn’t work? In reality, positive parenting is a research-backed approach to childrearing that focuses on relationship-building, communication, meeting children’s needs, and empathy. In contrast to past generations’ parenting styles, positive parenting avoids harsh punishments while still encouraging boundary-setting and discipline. 

Perhaps in the back of your mind, you think this approach to parenting sounds a little too good to be true. How can this non-punitive, positive approach to parenting actually help children develop well? Let’s explore more about positive parenting and why it is beneficial for children’s development.

What is positive parenting?

Over the years, researchers have defined positive parenting in various ways, but all the definitions focus on a few key components–parent-child relationship, meeting children’s needs and care, and unconditional love. The United Nations’ International Federation for Family Development defines positive parenting in this way (using a definition developed by scholars): 

“Positive parenting is a continual relationship that includes caring, teaching, leading, communicating, and providing for the needs of a child consistently and unconditionally.” 

Embedded in this definition is the idea that the parent-child relationship is at the heart of parenting. From this relationship, all other things develop–teaching, communicating, and meeting needs.

Research shows that positive parenting approaches tend to lead to good outcomes for children in many areas of development

What is it about positive parenting that promotes healthy child development? Let’s peek behind the scenes to see why positive parenting works.

  1. Positive parenting fosters emotional skills

Positive parenting, with its emphasis on close, supportive relationships and empathy, helps children develop strong emotional regulation skills. When parents respond to children’s highly emotional moments with calmness, compassion, and emotional support, children naturally learn to regulate their emotions. The model of emotional regulation they see from their parents guides them in this way. 

In contrast, harsh, punitive reactions to children’s emotions can have the effect of increasing their emotional arousal, making it difficult for them to manage their emotions and calm down. Thus, it’s not surprising that positive parenting strategies are linked to higher “effortful control” in children. Effortful control has to do with inhibiting one’s responses and focusing on another task or plan. With better skills in effortful control, children can manage their emotions and show fewer behavioral outbursts or problems.

It seems, therefore, that one significant way in which positive parenting influences children’s emotional well-being is by fostering strong emotional skills, particularly emotional regulation. 

Positive Parenting

2. Positive parenting addresses underlying needs.

A critical difference between positive parenting and other approaches to parenting is in discipline. Other, more punitive parenting strategies tend to focus quite a lot on rewards and punishments when dealing with children’s behavior. With this approach, parents attempt to control children’s behavior by using either rewards to reinforce positive behavior or punishment to try to deter misbehavior.

Positive parenting takes an entirely different approach to managing children’s behavior. With positive parenting, children’s behavior is viewed as a form of communication. That is, behavior is seen, at its core, to be goal-directed. Children behave in ways (both positive and negative) in an attempt to meet their goals or needs. 

Thus, positive parenting approaches behavior from the standpoint of curiosity. For example, if my child is having an emotional meltdown at a store because they aren’t allowed to get a new toy, the positive parenting approach is to look at this behavior and try to understand its reason. Perhaps the child is overtired or hungry? Another possibility is that the child has not yet learned effective coping strategies for dealing with big emotions like disappointment. 

From a positive parenting approach, therefore, the next action on the part of the parent is related to their understanding of the underlying cause of the behavior. Suppose the child’s behavior is the result of underdeveloped self-regulation skills. In that case, the parent could coach the child on different ways of handling disappointment (e.g., deep breaths, taking a break away from the item, reminding them to put the wished-for item on their list, etc.). When it comes to behavior management, positive parenting focuses on meeting children’s underlying needs or building underdeveloped skills

This approach is in stark contrast to a more punitive parenting approach. Parenting approaches that focus on rewards and punishments might address the store meltdown situation with an immediate punishment for the meltdown. While this approach might solve the immediate problem (e.g., a meltdown in a store), it fails to address the core reason for the behavior–the child seems to have limited emotional regulation skills in dealing with disappointment. 

From this example, it’s clear to see how positive parenting leads to positive child development skills for children. Positive parenting helps focus on long-term solutions to behavior issues by addressing underlying needs or skills. Instead of only addressing the immediate misbehavior, positive parenting strategies address the underlying need, thereby helping to build skills that children will need for a lifetime.

3. Positive parenting supports mental health.

Another key area in which positive parenting impacts children’s well-being is their mental health. We’ve known for years that positive parenting is linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety in children, and only recently have scholars begun to understand why this is. One clear factor seems to be self-esteem. Positive parenting strategies, especially those that promote parental warmth, tend to help children develop a strong sense of self-esteem. Self-esteem, then, serves as a protective factor for children’s mental health. It seems that through fostering a warm parent-child relationship, the positive parenting approach sets the stage for children to develop a strong sense of self, thereby protecting their mental health. 

Based on decades of psychological and child development research, positive parenting presents an approach to parenting that differs from previous generations. Positive parenting recognizes the importance of the parent-child relationship and children’s need for attachment and security. Without reliance on harsh punishments or coercive methods, positive parenting shows parents how to find the delicate balance between support and discipline when interacting with children. In sum, positive parenting benefits children’s development because it recognizes that it is in relationships that we grow and learn best.

You can discover more parenting resources on the BYJU’S FutureSchool blog.

The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.

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