We often hear the phrase “positive parenting” floating around in circles of parents or social media posts these days, but what does the term really mean? As with any parenting philosophy or strategy, it has both supporters and detractors. Digging deeper into the concept of positive parenting means addressing some of the common myths that exist about it. Delving into these myths gives us a more complete view of positive parenting and how it can work in our families.
Myth 1: Positive Parenting Has No Accountability or Consequences for Children
The “standard” parenting approach used by many of our own parents a generation ago included an underlying belief that disciplining a child really meant enforcing punishments or retribution when they made poor choices or misbehaved. The thought was that if children felt enough punishment (e.g., privileges removed, harsh language, or even spanking), they would be motivated to change their behavior. From this perspective, positive parenting is seen as “soft” or “lacking accountability.” It seems this is where this particular myth about positive parenting may have originated.
In reality, a positive parenting approach does rely quite a lot on consequences when it comes to discipline. Where it differs from past parenting approaches is that it places much less emphasis on punishment. Parents who use positive parenting approach discipline from less of a retribution or deterrence perspective and more from a teaching perspective. In this way, punishments like yelling or spanking are seen as unhelpful because they do not foster learning. Instead, positive parents focus primarily on logical or natural consequences for disciplining children.
Logical and natural consequences form the backbone of the positive parenting approach. These strategies not only help children learn the consequences of their behavior; they also reinforce the idea that mistakes are opportunities for learning. For example, if a child refuses to wear a coat outside on a cold day, the natural consequence is that they are cold. Presumably, the next time their parents suggest that they wear a coat, they will be more likely to obey. Similarly, a logical consequence ties their behavior to a related event. If your child is throwing a toy around in a way that could hurt others, the logical consequence is to remove the toy so no one gets hurt. In this case, removing the toy is not a punishment so much as the logical consequence of the child not handling the toy in a safe way. Once you feel that the child can play with the toy in a safe way, the toy can be returned.
These examples illustrate how positive parenting indeed relies heavily on consequences and accountability, but perhaps not in the same way as parenting strategies of past generations. Instead of seeing punishment as the only way to hold children accountable for their actions, positive parenting focuses on logical and natural consequences.
Myth 2: Positive Parenting Does Not Promote Independence in Children
Although some cultures value independence in children more than others, in general, one common parenting goal is to raise children who become independent adults. Positive parenting, with its emphasis on emotional responsiveness and close bonds with children, sometimes gets the reputation of not fostering independence. In fact, these hallmarks of positive parenting are some of the exact reasons why positive parenting does promote independence.
Children have an innate need for emotional attachment, usually from their primary caregivers. This attachment involves the caregiver (usually parent) consistently meeting not only the child’s physical but also emotional needs. When this occurs, children feel secure enough to explore and strive for more and more independence. The positive parenting approach helps parents and children establish this secure emotional attachment that fosters independence.
Positive parents focus on meeting their children’s emotional needs through being attuned to them through spending time with them and communicating openly. Even through discipline, parents who use positive parenting are helping meet their children’s needs. By disciplining from a teaching rather than punitive approach, positive parents are encouraging children to gain skills and behaviors that promote independence.
Myth 3: Positive Parenting Means Parents Have to be Perfect
Although no person is perfect, there is a notion in some parenting circles (perhaps due to social media portrayals) that parents who practice positive parenting need to be near-perfect. Obviously, this is a clear fallacy given that positive parenting focuses on the maintenance of the parent–child relationship even in the context of challenges. Positive parents are not expected to meet unattainable standards of patience, calm, and self-giving parenting. Instead, one of positive parenting’s main pillars is that of relationship repair.
All human relationships have a certain amount of strife or conflict. It’s inevitable. The same goes for parent–child relationships. However, in the context of difficulties and strife, positive parenting speaks to the need for repair. In fact, positive parenting promotes the idea of apologies, even when parents apologize to their children. Some scholars in the field of positive parenting have called this process “rupture and repair.” When ruptures in our relationship with our children occur, our goal is to try to repair them as best we can by recognizing the disconnect, validating our child’s emotions, and apologizing if necessary. This rupture and repair process, in fact, can be a key piece of relationship-building with our children. We actually grow closer to our children when we can recognize the experience of emotional disconnection and work to repair it.
It is clear from this emphasis on the “rupture and repair” process that positive parenting does not imply perfection. Inherent in the positive parenting approach is the idea that we will make mistakes in our relationship with our child and the need for repair will be evident. Thus, positive parenting recognizes that parent–child relationships, like all relationships, require constant maintenance and effort.
Looking Beyond the Myths
Understanding some of the myths surrounding positive parenting helps us get to the heart of this parenting approach. At its core, positive parenting focuses on relationships, emotional attunement, and teaching. Addressing these myths gives parents greater insight into how this parenting approach might fit their family.
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.
PsychAlive (2022) Imperfect Parenting: Rupture and Repair. PsychAlive, 2022.
Royal St. George’s College (2019) Benefits of Positive Parenting. Royal St. George’s College News, Jan. 21, 2019.
University of East Anglia (2022) Relevant Attachment Concepts. University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, 2022.
Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child (2021) Positive Parenting : What does the evidence say? Institute for Educational Initiatives, University of Notre Dame, 2021