Positive Parenting and Montessori
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Time-outs, name-calling, yelling, and spanking are all-too-common approaches in parenting and child-raising. A growing number of parents are dissatisfied with these techniques. Looking for a more compassionate, respectful approach to child-raising, these parents instead turn to what is often called positive parenting.
For our purposes, we’ll use the term “positive parenting” as an umbrella term to refer to a parenting approach that values a secure parent-child connection, respect for the child, and healthy emotional development. These principles align with Maria Montessori’s teachings, making positive parenting a popular approach among Montessori parents.
While many parents know they don’t want to spank or yell at their children, they struggle to know what to do instead. In this article, we’ll detail a few positive parenting principles. These principles can help you develop a strong relationship with your child and teach them in a respectful, compassionate manner.
Five Positive Parenting Principles
Listening with Love
Many of us grew up hearing phrases like, “Stop crying,” “Don’t be scared,” and “You’re fine.” Positive parenting acknowledges that such phrases can harm children. Dismissing a child’s feelings — like by telling them they’re fine when they’re crying — teaches them to distrust their experiences and bury negative emotions.
Instead, parents can listen to and acknowledge their children’s feelings and experiences. You don’t need to change your child’s emotions. Listening is enough. For example, if your toddler is crying because it was time to come inside, you can get down at her level and look her in the eyes as you listen to her. Some children will appreciate physical touch. You may calmly say something like, “I can see that you feel upset. It’s hard to come inside when you’re having fun outside.” You don’t have to distract her from her feelings, convince her that she’s fine, or try to stop her crying.
Accepting and acknowledging feelings is an evergreen parenting approach. Children (and adults!) of any age feel comforted and seen when their loved ones listen to and validate their experiences.
Respectful Boundary Setting
Positive parenting isn’t permissive parenting. Children need parents who are unafraid to set firm, loving boundaries. Positive parents enforce boundaries consistently and with respect. Janet Lansbury has great content on setting limits with respect. She recommends parents calmly set limits and follow through with them, all while acknowledging their children’s feelings. For example, your child may feel upset at you and begin to hit you. You may say, “I see that you want to hit me. I won’t let you.” Then, you can follow through with your limit by gently blocking your child’s hands.
You don’t need to rely on arbitrary punishments, bribery, or threats to set boundaries with your child.
Seeing the Needs Behind Behavior
Positive parenting invites parents to consider what their children may be communicating through their behaviors. Children don’t misbehave because they want to make us mad or embarrass us. Their behaviors communicate their underlying needs.
For example, your toddler may begin to act aggressively toward your new baby. Understandably, this may make you feel frustrated and upset. Your first priority should be keeping everyone safe. After the fact, you may take a moment to think about what this behavior may be telling you. Your toddler may need more one-on-one time with you, a safe place to talk about their feelings about the baby, or more time outside to burn energy.
Understanding and meeting your child’s needs is one of the most effective ways to prevent future misbehavior. If your child is acting out because they need more one-on-one time with you, for example, sending them to time-out will not solve the problem.
On a related note, positive parenting does not advocate for punishments. Punishments, like spanking your child or taking away a favorite toy, are often disconnected from the behavior itself. They don’t give children the skills or knowledge to behave better. They do not address the need behind the behavior or help children connect with their parents. Above all, punishment doesn’t work.
This isn’t to say you should let your child do whatever they want without trying to teach them better. The difference between discipline and punishment is an important one. Discipline, which means to teach a child, is central to your job as a parent. Punishment is unnecessary and unproductive.
Let’s say your kindergartner drew on your walls with Sharpie. Putting her into time-out doesn’t help her right the wrong, teach her what to do instead, or build problem-solving skills. Instead, you may ask for her help to clean up the Sharpie. After the heat of the moment has passed, you can sit down with her to talk to her about what happened. You may say something like, “It seems like you really enjoy drawing. I don’t want my walls getting Sharpie on them. How can we solve this problem so we’re both happy?”
Together, you can write down suggestions until you decide on a few you both agree on. You may decide to put a roll of butcher paper on the wall so she can draw without ruining the walls. “The Whole Brain Child” by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson gives detailed explanations on why cooperative problem-solving is effective and several examples of what it might look like.
Advocates of positive parenting understand that children will be children. When parents don’t have age-appropriate expectations, they’re likely to feel frustration and anger when their children act their age. It’s not reasonable to expect a 2-year-old to sit perfectly still through a 2-hour event. If your 3-year-old is going through a throwing phase, you probably should put away their metal trucks for a time.
Children have low impulse control, and as parents, we should set them up for success as much as possible. Giving children the rest they need, frequent meals and snacks, and a child-friendly environment can set them up for success.
Applying Positive Parenting Principles
Here, we’ve discussed just a few principles of positive parenting that can make a difference in your life (and your child’s life.) We hope that, as you apply them, your home can become more peaceful and parenting can become more joyful. If you’d like to share your experience with positive parenting, please do so in the comments!