Today I am sharing a very insightful interview with the very lovely Kelly Bartlett, a fellow Certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, author and mom of two. Kelly is sharing a bit about her journey into positive parenting, some of her favorite positive discipline tools as well as really helpful ideas on what to do when feeling discouraged about discipline and how to get back into a positive mind set.
Q: How did you get into positive discipline and positive parenting?
A: My first child was a ‘high needs’ baby. She cried a lot, and at that time I began looking for information that would help me meet her needs. Some of the concepts I came across in my research really resonated with me: parent-child attunement, trust in a child’s development and communication, caregiver responsiveness, and the importance of emotional security.
My reading led me to Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn, which initiated a huge paradigm shift for me in the way I approached my responses to my children’s behavior. Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen also contributed to this perspective, as did Hold on to Your Kids, by Gordon Neufeld, and Nonviolent Communication, by Marshall Rosenberg. From a variety of resources, I had pieced together a philosophy of parenting that really clicked, and I wanted to help other families also strengthen their relationships through parenting and discipline. I became certified as an attachment parenting leader through Attachment Parenting International, led a local support group, and I completed an additional certification through the Positive Discipline Association as a Certified Positive Discipline Educator. I also started blogging about our family’s approach to unconditional, connected parenting as a way to help myself sort out information, process my thinking, and share our successes.
Q: What does positive parenting mean to you? Is it about the tools, about the principles…?
A: It’s about relationships. It’s about an unconditional seeker/ provider relationship between children and parents. It’s about allowing that secure relationship to provide the foundation for guiding children through all stages of their learning and development.
It’s also about the tools. Some kinds of parenting tools solve behavior problems but put distance in the relationship (though this is usually unintentional). Other kinds of tools help work through behavior situations AND bring a child and parent closer together. Positive parenting is about finding the tools that work best for your family to solve discipline issues AND preserve (and even strengthen) your child’s connection to you.
Using positive parenting tools facilitates a connected relationship between parents and children, and a connected relationship is conducive to successfully using the tools. The tools are a great place to start as they will enhance the relationship–which will then make those tools increasingly easier to implement.
Q: What is your favorite positive discipline tool? Why and when do you use it?
A: Oh, there are so many great ones! It’s tough to answer, though, because some of the tools may not seem like “tools” at all; they’re not reactive in the same way that, for example, timeouts and sticker charts are. The most effective tools–my favorites–are mostly proactive. When you use them enough and see them work and realize the value they have, they definitely start to seem like tools.
My personal favorite is “Listening.” (See what I mean about how it doesn’t seem like a tangible tool?) I find this to be most effective for working through behavior and building connection at the same time. And it really isn’t as passive or easy as it seems; good listening involves asking questions to draw out experiences, echoing what you hear, articulating feelings, and validating and empathizing to communicate that those feelings are normal and OK. This is my favorite tool because children will listen after they feel listened to.
“Positive Time out” is a very helpful tool. It is about taking a voluntary break to ensure everyone is calm before dealing with discipline issues. If someone’s safety is in question, I will remove/ separate/ stop/ prevent the hurting first-and-foremost, but then I will ensure everyone gets a break to calm down before we deal with anything. I use positive timeout for myself, and my kids are learning how to use it for themselves. It helps all of us from doing or saying anything inappropriate!
My other favorite tool is “Problem Solving.” Rather than thinking, “What can I do to get through to you?” it’s an approach of, “What can we do to solve this problem?” So if a child always has a meltdown at a certain time of day or frequently engages in power struggles, get to the root of the situation and find the true problem. Does the child need more time to get ready? More choices in the routine? Fewer choices? Help with something in particular? More autonomy? More one-on-one attention? Rather than simply addressing the symptoms (the tantrum, the “NO!”, the toys that are not picked up, etc.), solving the problem together not only changes the behavior, but also empowers the child and preserves your relationship.
Another helpful tool that doesn’t seem like a tool is “Understand the Brain.” A human brain takes 21-30 years to fully mature, so a child’s brain is very underdeveloped. It’s easy to mismatch our behavioral expectations with our child’s developmental capability. “Understand the Brain” is a tool to remind us to consider our expectations as they relate to our child’s level of development. It’s about ‘working with,’ not ‘doing to.’
I also love using encouragement over praise, doing daily one-on-one “special time,” parenting with kindness and firmness at the same time, and using mistakes as opportunities to learn. These are all described in more detail in the Positive Discipline books and tool cards.
Q: Do your children ever use PD principles/tools on you or their siblings?
A: I hadn’t really thought about this, but they do! They each will take some time to themselves to calm down when they’re upset; they’ll take a positive time out, or “a break,” as we call it. They also request “special time” with me when they’re feeling disconnected and just need one-on-one time. This helps us communicate and connect, and greatly helps with discipline. They also solve problems together when they have disagreements; they’ll most often work out a disagreement without my help.
Q: What would you say to a parent that is considering positive discipline?
A: You won’t regret it. It makes an amazing difference in the overall atmosphere of your home. Also, it is a long-term approach to cultivating relationships and teaching personal responsibility, so know that you may not see immediate results. Plan to stick with it, and as you do, find a community for support. It helps so much if you have other parents to bounce ideas off of, ask questions, or get suggestions to specific challenges. A network of support, whether online or in person, is essential!
Q: What would you say to a parent that has tried positive discipline but is feeling discouraged about it?
A: I would be shocked to hear of anyone who has never felt discouraged about shifting their approach to parenting. I’ve been using positive discipline for about 7 years, am a certified instructor, and even I have moments in which I question if it’s working of we’re handling things the best way. The concepts of positive parenting are simple, but putting them into practice is not easy! It is impossible not to feel discouraged at times.
What helps is to know that the effects of positive discipline are long term. We’re not looking to treat surface behaviors moment-to-moment; we’re looking to teach our kids, and that takes TIME.
Try this: If you’re overwhelmed or discouraged, forget the myriad of tools and start with one. Just one. Find one thing in your day that you can problem solve instead of punish, or that will help improve your communication or relationship.
-Find 15 minutes to devote to one-on-one time with your child.
-Substitute an evaluative response with an open-ended question when kids talk to you, such as, “Oh? What was that like?” instead of “Oh, that was so good.”
-Get up 5 minutes earlier to hug and connect with them first thing in the morning.
-Ask your child, “What can I do to help you solve this problem?”
-Decide where your positive time-out spot will be and go there. (Mine is my bed.) Collect your thoughts and feelings for 5 minutes.
Then do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And again every day until you get the hang of it. Then add one more tool to your repertoire in addition to that first one. Just one, and work it in over time. Baby steps soon add up to great strides.
Q: What are your favorite positive discipline resources on the web?
A. There are a lot of helpful ones, many more than I’ll list here. These are just the ones that helped me the most and that I continue to reference frequently.
Attachment Parenting International
Membership is free, so make sure you join to receive the newsletter with links to lots of articles about positive parenting, as well as a subscription to The Attached Family magazine.
The blog is excellent as it details each of the 52 Positive Discipline tools. This site also links to the store where you can buy a set of the tool cards to keep on hand. And check out the “private social network”; a forum just for discussions of Positive Discipline in action.
Kelly, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I think its really valuable for readers to find other compatible resources!!
Thank you! I agree, it is so helpful to connect with like-minded parents to find support and learn from each other. Thank you for encouraging parents with positive resources! -Kelly
Kelly Bartlett is the author of Parenting From Scratch. She is a Certified Positive Discipline Educator, an API leader, and an associate editor of The Attached Family magazine. Her freelance articles have appeared in parenting publications around the world. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, children, and a multitude of pets.You can find more of Kelly’s work at www.kellybartlett.com