3 Techniques to become a more positive parent
All our children are unique – perfect in their imperfections, beautiful in their innocence, and challenging in their curiosity. Their birth is our birth, as parents. But children don’t come with a manual, and we, with all our good intentions and eclectic learnings, embark on our lifetime roles hoping that we get it right.
While there is no one perfect way to raise a child, certain approaches are promising, one being positive parenting. Positive parenting centres on nurturing good behaviour, rather than punishing bad behaviour. Developed by psychiatrist Alfred Adler, he believed that children act in healthy ways when they feel encouraged and appreciated, and when parents foster these feelings, the children will naturally behave better.
If you’re a parent wondering if this will work for your ‘difficult’ ADHD child who doesn’t listen or follow instructions, it’s important to realise that so much of your child’s behaviour is reflective of your acceptance of your child’s challenges, your own triggers, your compassion and your communication style. Backed by parents, research* and calmer kids, the positive parenting approach is effective for the many ADHD families who practice it.
Here are three techniques to help you become a more positive parent:
Along with unconditional love, the most important thing that you can do for your child with ADHD, is to listen and validate their thoughts and feelings. You do this by showing interest and empathy in what they’re saying or doing, which makes them feel loved and understood. For young children, this can mean empathising with their feelings; for teens, this could mean including them in decisions which impact them. Here are a few validating phrases:
• “I know it’s hard to wait…”
• “That must have hurt…”
• “It’s hard when you don’t do as well as you wanted to…”
• “It feels bad to lose…”
• “We all get angry when…”
• “I can see you are feeling…”
• “That can be really annoying…”
• “I feel the same way when…”
• “I know that you are sad because…”
• “I know what you mean…”
• “How can I help you?”
Speaking to ADDitude, Dr Jeffrey Bernstein, author of 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child said, “Contrary to
what many frustrated parents may think, particularly during those stressful times of conflicts, validating feelings is not condoning bad choices or giving in to defiant behaviour. Validating your child conveys deep empathy.” This principle applies not only to parents, but to teachers as well.
To build and keep an emotional connection with any loved one, Dr John Gottman, relationship researcher and co-founder of The Gottman Institute, advocates for answering “bids for connection”. According to Gottman, a bid is an attempt to get attention, affection, or acceptance, and how we respond has a great impact on connectedness. Bids can be verbal or non-verbal; it can be a sweet request, “Mommy/ Daddy, let’s play” or a screaming tantrum (or any poor behaviour), but the message is the same: “Notice me. Show me. I matter.” There are three responses: positive (turning toward), negative (turning away), and no response (turning away).
The logic is that we “fill our child’s emotional bank account”, and a child with a “full bank” is less likely to make bids in negative ways. Here is how to “turn toward” your children when a bid is made:
• Be attentive when they’re speaking to you, and focus on them.
• Be concerned about what they are concerned with.
• Say “yes” to play.
• Greet them with warmth and enthusiasm after school or after any extended separation.
3. The Nurtured Heart Approach® (NHA).
Created by therapist Howard Glasser in the late 90s, the Nurtured Heart Approach is centred on the way adults use their “energy” to relate to children. Here are its three main principles:
Stand One: Refuse to energise negativity
Children naturally get more attention when they’re doing something wrong. Stand One flips that dynamic: when the child is exhibiting challenging behaviour, don’t connect in an energised way. It’s vital to do this before continuing to Stand Two.
Stand Two: Purposefully energising success
This Stand is about recognising and acknowledging positive and neutral behaviours, i.e. any behaviours that
don’t involve breaking rules. Since energy is given for positive and neutral behaviours, the child comes to expect to be rewarded with appreciation for not acting out, and therefore their behaviour shifts. To master this Stand, you have to be truthful in your recognition and consistent in your appreciation.
Stand Three: Clear rules and consequences
The third Stand is to be absolutely clear about the rules of the household/ classroom. With the NHA approach, you state rules using a “No…” format: “No hitting,” “No lying,” “No teasing,” “No leaving a mess”. They found that “positive rules” such as “Keep your hands to yourself” or “Be kind” or “Clean up after yourself”, allow for more leeway, and the child will want to test the boundaries. As a result, you have many rules but it does allow for many Stand Two appreciations.
When a rule is broken, use an un-energised “reset” as a consequence. This is similar to a time-out, where you don’t react to the rule-breaking behaviour and say, “Dylan, reset”. You watch if the rule-breaking
is lessening or stopping, and then go back to Stand Two: “Thanks for resetting. I see that you aren’t
fighting with your brother anymore, and that shows me you are using your self-control and being kind.”
As parents of an ADHD-diagnosed child, dealing with the everyday struggles – the sloppiness, the defiance, the lack of motivation – is frustrating and exhausting, but understanding that these are often uncontrollable and physiological leads to the compassion necessary for behaviour change – for yourself, firstly and then for your loved one.
* Yusuf, O., Gonka, O. & Aynur, A.K. (2019). The effects of the triple P-positive parenting programme on parenting, family functioning and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychiatry and Clinical Psychopharmacology. 29:4 (665-673). DOI: 10.1080/24750573.2018.1542189
1. Eanes, R. (n.d.). Turning Toward Our Children: Answering Bids for Connection. The Gottman Institute. Accessed on 21 September 2022. Available from https://www.gottman.com/blog/turning-toward-our-children-answering-bids-for-connection/ [GI]
2. Glasser, H. & Lowenstein, M. (2022). A Radically Positive Parenting Technique: The Nurtured Heart Approach. ADDitude [Online]. Accessed on 19 September 2022. Available from https://www.additudemag.com/behavior-punishment-parenting-child-with-adhd/ [ADD3]
3. Prodigy Education. (2020). 11 Positive Parenting Strategies You Need to Start Using. Prodigy Game [Online]. Accessed on 20 September 2022. Available from https://www.prodigygame.com/main-en/blog/positive-parenting/ [P]
4. Sarcia, M.R. (2021). Dear Parents: You Are the Solution…..ADDitude [Online]. Accessed on 19 September 2022. Available from https://www.additudemag.com/positive-parenting-adhd-truths-therapy/?src=embed_link [ADD4]
5. Williams, P. (2022). The Single Most Helpful Strategy in Raising Your Child. ADDitude [Online]. Accessed on 19 September 2022. Available from https://www.additudemag.com/the-single-most-helpful-strategy-in-raising-your-adhd-child/ [ADD]
6. Yusuf, O., Gonka, O. & Aynur, A.K. (2019). The effects of the triple P-positive parenting programme on parenting, family functioning and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychiatry and Clinical Psychopharmacology. 29:4 (665-673). DOI: 10.1080/24750573.2018.1542189