Positive parenting at different ages


Always remember that babies’ crying or not sleeping is just related to babies getting their needs met. They are not doing it to misbehave or to annoy you. The following approaches will help upset and stress to a minimum:

Be loving and comforting with your baby right from the start

  • Gradually introduce simple routines
  • When older babies start to get “on the move”, use distraction tactics when they are about to do something you don’t want them to (e.g. swapping a safe toy for your house keys)
  • So that your baby can enjoy sensible challenges and exploration, without being unsafe or told “no” all the time, thoughtfully “baby-proof” your home
  • Gently show your baby that sometimes you have to set limits. For example, when you need to strap them into their car seat, you can say something like “I know you don’t like it, but we have to do it to keep you safe”. Enforce limits like this with good humour and a smile and it’s far less likely to develop into a battle of wills. Distraction can be a great help here too
  • Never smack your baby or shout at them


All toddlers, as they learn, need to test limits – to see where they are! They will also try to be independent, to learn through exploration or “getting into” everything. As they do this, they will inevitably experience frustration and need to vent these emotions.

Because they haven’t yet got other ways of explaining their feelings (e.g. verbally) and have not yet learned to control and manage their emotions (see Emotion Coaching) they resort to tantrums. All toddlers do this, it is natural and most behaviour in toddlers that we as parents call “naughty” is actually just a part of normal child development.

Our responsibility as parents is to respond positively and appropriately to our toddler’s behaviour, so that he or she learns about the importance of limits, boundaries, discipline and respect, as well developing into a curious, adventurous, confident, caring, happy person.

The following approaches can help you achieve this, while coping well with the parenting challenges that many toddlers bring:

  • Have clear, simple rules and routines to cut down the need for battles
  • Praise every little bit of good behaviour you want to encourage
  • When it is safe and acceptable for you to do so (i.e. the behaviour does not break any of your rules), ignoring behaviour you don’t like, will mean it is less likely to be repeated
  • Avoid using orders and ultimatums with your toddler
  • Keep your use of “no” to a minimum use “later” or “soon” if you can
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings – “I know you are angry” (this aspect of Emotion Coaching can help children recognise, understand and control their emotions)
  • Remain calm and reasonable yourself, even when your toddler is in a rage, by taking a deep breath and waiting before you respond (see also Keeping Calm). You may need to put your child somewhere safe and physically distance yourself from them for a little while to help you calm down
  • Remember that smacking, quite apart from being illegal, is always likely to make toddler behaviour worse and can make your child very afraid of you

Primary school age children

As children grow older, they continue to develop a greater ability and desire to explore, to learn and to assert independence. This involves showing they have a mind of their own, with their own thoughts and needs. It can also involve children appearing (or being) cheeky or disobedient as they continue to test and understand their place in the world and where they stand in relation to rules and limits.

As children age, it is really important that parents review rules and limits and adjust them as appropriate to suit changing circumstances (e.g. as children start to go out on their own for the first times).

Even though our children may seem very independent, they still need lots of love and reassurance from us as their parents.

The following approaches can help positive parenting of children at this stage of their lives:

  • Be sure to give your child some Special Time every day
  • Describe exactly what you want your child to do in positive terms (e.g. “Please talk quietly”, rather than “Don’t shout!”). Tell your children what you DO want them to do, rather than what you DON’T want them to do. Give reasons and make sure that you listen to their views
  • Try not to give too many orders. Constantly saying “Do this” and “Don’t do that” can overwhelm a child
  • Also avoid giving “Chain commands”, which are confusing and unhelpful
  • Always listen actively and listen carefully to your child talking about their friends, interests and what they have been up to. Be alert to any concerns or worries they may have as this can make their behaviour worse. Talk calmly and constructively about any areas of concern or conflict
  • Regularly give your child Effective Praise
  • Ignore minor misbehaviour when safe to do so
  • Keep criticisms to a minimum – and only criticise your child’s behaviour, not your child as a person, which can seriously damage their self- esteem. It is much better to say, for example, “That was a dangerous thing to do because you could have been hurt” rather than “You’re stupid! What did you do that for?”
  • “Pick your battles” carefully. You only need “pick a battle” and stand your ground if agreed rules have been broken. There is no point getting into pointless arguments about other things
  • Where rules have been broken, be sure to follow through with agreed Consequences in a calm, matter of fact way. There is no point whatsoever having rules, if you do not enforce and Follow Through with them in a consistent, persistent way


From pre-adolescence on, it is normal for young people to challenge their parents more. This is partly the continuing process of them spreading their wings and partly the effect of the ever wider and greater influences on them from friends, TV and the Internet. As teenagers continue to develop their own personalities, including their own values and priorities, they (and you!) will find that there are simply some things about which teenagers disagree with their parents. To cope with such inevitable situations, it is suggested that you:

  • Don’t take bad behaviour personally
  • Try to understand how hard it is to gain independence and a sense of identity and think back to how you felt at that age
  • Keep communicating – your teenager still needs your love and respect
  • Try to be “non-judgemental” about their behaviour
  • Keep criticism to a minimum and trust them to make the right decisions, as sometimes they need to learn from their mistakes
  • Adjust your rules, to reflect teenagers’ greater independence, maturity and changing interests, while ensuring that your rules and limits are clear with reasonable consequences
  • Try not to use threats or orders
  • Talk and negotiate solutions when there is a disagreement
  • Never hit a young person. Apart from the legal implications, physical punishment only makes defiant, teenage behaviour much worse and can damage self-esteem (yours as well as your child’s)


10 ways to be a Positive Parent

We have a choice as a parents, whatever our circumstances and however challenging our children can sometimes be, to approach our parenting in a positive or negative way (recognising, of course, that we all sometimes have off-days, when it is difficult to feel at our most positive!)

Mountains of research and evidence shows that Positive Parenting results in better behaved children; happier children with better self-esteem; better achieving children; better parent-child relationships; happier, less stressed parents and far happier family life all-round.

Great! But how can you achieve positive parenting? Here are 10 key things we need to do as parents:

  1. Model positivity yourself. Be the very best role model you can be to your child, by what you say and what you do
  2. Establish positive values and rules in your family
  3. Always be ready to catch your children being good
  4. Give plenty of Effective Praise
  5. Reward your child – when reward has been appropriately earned
  6. Listen and talk to your child in a sensitive, thoughtful way. Take their views into account
  7.  Never smack or hit your child. Smacking is illegal and does not achieve positive outcomes, which positive parenting does!
  8. Adapt and tailor your approach to reflect your children’s personality, particular circumstances and the age of your child (see Positive Parenting at different ages)
  9. Keep things in perspective and retain a sense of humour
  10. Every day, seek to build your child’s Reserve of Self Esteem

Catch your children being GOOD!

Catch your child being goodIt is easy to fall into a habit of sometimes noticing every single thing that our child does “wrong”, does not do “properly”, or does not do as quickly as we would like! This can be especially true if we are not feeling our best for some reason or have had a previous argument with our child and we’re still not feeling that well towards them!

The result can be a very negative atmosphere in the family and a lot of bickering and frustration for parents and children alike.
To avoid this situation and replace it with a far more pleasant one, you need to:

  1. Ensure that you have appropriately dealt with any issue of past bad or poor behaviour by your child (see Rules, Consequences and Follow Through)
  2. Quickly move on from any past upset or disagreement – what’s past is past.
  3. Be alert to everything (big or small) good or helpful that the child is doing and give them Effective Praise for it and, if appropriate, Reward your child too.

Whether, as a parent, we tend to first notice negative behaviour or tend to first notice positive behaviour in our children makes a big difference to parenting and how children and parents feel about themselves and towards each other.

It is, of course, essential that parents establish and enforce clear rules to govern and control their children’s behaviour. Children need these to feel secure and to know what is expected of them.

But, this said, it is also true that children will display more of the sort of behaviour that their parents pay attention to: if their parents notice and praise the good things they do, children will respond to this and keep doing the good things, because they know they will receive positive parental attention for it. The reverse is also true though: if all that parents comment on or pay attention to is poor behaviour, children will misbehave more, because for most children they want and need their parent’s attention and if it can’t be positive attention (i.e. Praise) they will accept negative attention rather than no attention at all. This is often called “The Attention Principle” or “The Attention Rule”.

So, consider how many positive and negative comments you make to your child(ren) each day and, if you feel that you do tend to first notice what children do wrong, instead really focus on catching your child being good, praising them and seeing the positive differences it makes!