In recent years, there is considerable talk about positive parenting. This takes all forms: Positive reinforcement, positive praise, positive attitude, positive discussions, and so on. Before we dig deeper, none of these ideas are bad ideas. In fact, each is a worthy component of a well-thought-out parenting plan.
In working with various families with a wide range of challenging child behaviors, I find that most parents are very positive and are consistently upbeat with their children. Of course, this is not always the case.
However, the trend toward positive responses (regardless of a child or adolescent’s behavior or attitude) is not a healthy one. In fact, this is part of the problem and not the solution. If positive parenting were the answer, I doubt that most psychologists would be in business.
The Problem with Positive Parenting
The notion of positive parenting somehow implies that parents should always be positive and that being positive is the answer. It is not! In fact, bringing positive energy to negative behaviors is not only detrimental, but it is also virtually guaranteed to make your home environment chaotic and your children unhappy. Again, please don’t misunderstand me; there is nothing wrong with being positive. In fact, parents who are happy, optimistic, and positive tend to create happier children.
It is just that good parenting requires more than this. It requires discretion, good judgment, and a superb understanding of how to nurture positive behaviors and eliminate negative patterns of behavior. Being positive will not put an end to whining, temper tantrums, picky eating, homework struggles, or disrespectful children.
Why Reality-Based Parenting Wins Over Positive Parenting
Reality-based parenting is based on the way the world really operates. It is not based upon the way we wish the world operated, or the way that we believe that it operates. This approach is grounded in the reality of how the world functions, whether we agree with it or not. We see that when parents honor the rules of the real world, children become prepared for reality. They are not surprised by how tough the world can be, nor are they fearful of the challenges ahead of them. As such, happiness can easily be found in the acceptance of the world and its challenges, and success is equally available as young adults find themselves prepared for reality.
On the other hand, when we do not honor the rules of reality, we often raise our children to be unprepared for reality. They have false expectations of how things really work and are often disillusioned with life and its rewards. They may grow up thinking that whining and complaining are valued pastimes, and then discover that only other whiners and complainers end up wanting their company. They may believe that average efforts should bring tremendous rewards, and thus are severely disappointed with life and work.
One of the key lessons to come from the “real world” is that you find few healthy, happy adults wanting to be around other adults who are consistently miserable, unhappy, or throwing ugly explosive emotional fits. In other words, happy people tend to like to be around pleasant, happy people.
The same is true for children. Children who are happy, well-behaved, and responsible tend to want to be around peers who also enjoy life and engage in responsible behavior.
The bottom line: happy and responsible humans like to give their attention to other happy and responsible humans. They tend to distance themselves from irresponsible, unhappy, or whiny humans.
Another key lesson from reality is that effort brings rewards. The smart, focused effort brings even better rewards. But lazy, average efforts only bring mediocre rewards. And most of us want more than mediocre.
If not careful, we can teach kids that poor efforts still earn you the good stuff. This is generally not true. But many children and adolescents live with abundance and entitlement that has no requirement for effort. This is a formula for both misery and failure.
The rewards of hard work, that is intelligently focused, and goal-driven tends to bring remarkable returns. However, we must start teaching these lessons early, and not rely upon lectures and words later in life.
Study and Learn from Reality
I encourage you to study and notice how the world works. Abandon your bias on how things should be and see it the way it is. Then, consider setting up a home that reflects the key lessons you can pull from reality. This is the key to preparing your children to thrive in a world exquisitely prepared to reward them with happiness and success! Just don’t pretend that you see bad habits and ugly behavior, and your positive approaches will cure that. They will not. Instead, inject a consistent dose of reality, and this will get you back on track.