Positive Parenting 101

You are constantly telling your children “no” or telling them to stop what they are doing. You feel like you are doing it day in and day out. You probably feel like you’re surrounded by negative feelings and thoughts which can be stressful and heavy. It can feel like being sucked into a vortex of negativity where you don’t know how to get out. Your children may be feeding off of this and acting out accordingly.

I have seen families where this is the only interaction between parents and their children – child does something and parent tells them to stop doing that, often in a harsh tone because they are so fed up of telling them the same thing over and over again.

I rarely use the word “no” with my toddler, not because I’m a better parent than you, but because I have strategies. Strategies that don’t create a negative atmosphere. Naturally, you’re here because you’d like me to share, and I will. But first let me say this; I don’t let my little Sweetpea do whatever she wants, or let her run the show, I simply try to keep the word “no” for dangerous behaviours, such as touching the hot stove, picking up scissors, or running ahead of me on the street.  I am all for children learning what “no” means and being told “no” throughout their lives – I think it is an important lesson for children to learn, however, it isn’t productive when that is the only thing they hear throughout their day.


Ok, I know you are waiting to be pulled out of the vortex…so here it is:

– Tell your children what to do rather than what not to do: “Hands down” rather than “no! Don’t hit”, “talk quietly” rather than “stop yelling”. Sometimes children don’t know what we expect from them and they may not even know what to do with their hands if you say “don’t hit”. This allows you also to praise them when they do what you’ve told them to do. A little positivity added to your day.

– Praise them! Be specific in your praise. Describe to them what they are doing well. Saying “good job” doesn’t tell them what is was that they did well, your child could have done something without you noticing and now they may think you are praising them for that. Rather, say “nice talking quietly!”, “Great job cleaning up your toys”.

– Is this the only way they can get your attention? Are you always chiming in when they aren’t behaving and just expect them to behave? Try giving them more attention for the good behaviours. Even when you don’t think there is anything good going on, look harder. I always say there is something you can praise a child for. It may be that they are sitting, they walked instead of ran down the hall, they were quiet for one full minute (or 5 seconds).

– Have them be your helper/give them responsibilities: This is a great way to spend some positive time together. Children love being a helper and giving responsibilities can give them a sense of pride and accomplishment. Praise and make a big deal about it! At 5 months old, my little Sweatpea would grab at the mail when I was carrying it back to our home. I decided one day to say “do you want to carry the mail?” and handed it to her. From that moment on, she never grabbed for it and carried it all the way home with a smile on her face and I praised her throughout saying “wow, you are doing a great job carrying the mail!” I was shocked that at that age she seemed to have a sense of pride that she was helping out.


Redirect them/distract: Get their mind off what they are doing, or wanting, by pointing out something else they can do. Often distracting them with a preferred item helps best. Your child is attempting to climb into your baby’s playpen during play time. Point out to your child a preferred toy they can play with – “hey, look, it’s Thomas! Come play with the trains”.

– Give alternatives and offer choices: This can also be part of the redirecting and distracting them. “Do you want to play with the trains, or your blocks?” Choices give children a sense of control over their environment when they often don’t have control. Sometimes when children don’t have control, they act out. Only give them a choice of 2 items and if they say no to both, don’t offer more choices.

These changes don’t happen overnight for either you, or your children, so keep at it, don’t give up! Write to us about your parenting challenges, we’re here for you!

Written by: Jennifer Frigault, M.ADS (ABA), BCBA


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