The term "positive parenting" seems to be a well worn clichÃ© nowadays. We may resent being told to be positive, as it may imply that we are doing something wrong if we are not smiley happy parents all the time. As a mom who suffers from depression and is raising a child with special needs, believe me: I am definitely not a perky Pollyanna who feels parenthood is always the ultimate joy-fest. There is great joy in parenting but there is also a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears. It is one of the hardest jobs out there. Positive parenting isn't about fake smiles or saccharine sayings. It is about staying in the ring so you can have the emotional energy and stamina to keep giving to your kids.
So let's get real and talk about what positive parenting really means and why it is important. Positive parenting is a way to survive. If you want to stay reasonably sane and keep getting out of your bed each morning, you have to adopt a philosophy which helps you get through the day. Sometimes this requires a bit of an attitude adjustment.
I am going to tell you ways you can achieve this which have helped me over the years.
1. Know that your child really isn't out to get you. I know that on some days it may seem that way. If you have a child who has behavioral problems it may seem that they understand all of your buttons and how to push them. But children who exhibit behavior problems aren't really thinking about you, they are thinking of getting their own needs met. Some of their needs may seem extreme, perhaps for needing attention, and their ways of getting it may be entirely inappropriate. But to think that they have it in for you only fosters resentment and anger on your part.
Think instead: My child is having problems today. How can I help him or her get his or her needs met in an appropriate way?
2. Stop thinking that the world is against you and your child. It sure may seem that way on some days. Your child has a behavioral problem in a public place and you get "the look" from strangers. You may hear complaints about your child from teachers or other parents. It becomes really hard to think that the whole world is not against you. But it is not true. The other folks may just not understand. And the thing is they don't have to. You can't expect everyone else on the planet to know about ADHD or autism or any other type of special need. Other people simply see behavior and they make their judgments, inaccurate as they may be. It is up to you to explain and educate as you are able.
Think instead: They don't understand. It is not other people's job to know everything about ADHD. I can help educate others if and when I feel it will help my child.
3. Banish the words "always" and "never" from your vocabulary. When we talk about our child and particularly when we have a rough day, we may use descriptors which make us feel hopeless. Here is an example, "My son is never going to succeed in school. He is always screwing up." Words such as this are not helpful to your child or you. Nobody is one way all of the time. When you use words such as always and never, you set up a no-win situation where you have already made up your mind about your child's future. If you begin to believe your own words you won't allow yourself to see opportunities where your child is actually doing well.
Think instead: My child is having difficulties at school right now. But this doesn't mean that we can't help him. And it doesn't mean he will always have these same difficulties.
4. Use concrete, observable terms to describe your child's behavior. What has greatly helped me to remain objective is refraining from using emotionally laden words when I describe my child's behavior. It is so much easier to feel positive about a situation if I am not using words like "incorrigible" or "bad" to describe my child. When a situation occurs where your child's behavior is inconsistent with how you would like them to act, use concrete language to both depict what is presently going on and also what you would like to happen in the future.
I_nstead of thinking, "My child is bad and is acting up" you might think or say, "My child looks anxious. He is pacing and his words are coming out pressured and he is no longer responsive to what I am saying. It is time to help him calm down with some de-stressing techniques."_
The more objective you are in your words, the more you will be able to devise an action plan to help your child.
5. Remain in the present. We once had a wonderful family therapist who gave us some of the best advice in order to begin our journey towards helping our son. She told us - first of all - to forget about "what ifs" and "should bes" and stay in the present. Nobody has a crystal ball to predict the future and likewise whatever we think should be quite often isn't. All we can reasonably deal with at any given time is what is actually happening right now. We do not have any control over the rest. Part of being positive is to drop that excess baggage and accept what is before you.
Instead of thinking, "ADHD or autism is the most horrible thing in the world to happen to my child and he may never get any better," say to yourself, "My child has this diagnosis. He or she is doing the best that they can today and so am I. I don't know what the future will bring but right now my focus is upon loving, teaching, and enjoying my child."
I know firsthand how difficult it can be to stay positive and reframe the negative self talk into more palatable messages. But it is essential for your emotional well-being to do just that. On ADHD Central we hope to give you the support you need to keep up your positivity and not give in to doomsday thoughts. We know it is hard and we are here for you.
If you have any suggestions to add to this list please do share them here. How do you stay positive as the parent of a child having special needs? We love to hear from you