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I have two children (age 8 & 6). Both are very strong-willed. The stress of the pandemic and remote learning have taken their toll and caused their behaviors to escalate. They are now more emotional and short tempered. We are constantly engaged in a power struggle to get them to comply with simple directions. I have read a few articles about "positive parenting" and I think the techniques could be helpful with my children. What are the best positive parenting tips and resources?

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I would absolutely encourage you to try. Positive parenting is a rather wide umbrella, most of which has some evidence to back up its claims, so the "will it work" question in your title is too broad to give a detailed answer to, but could answered in general terms: yes, probably.

It's not an all-or-nothing package; I think you should start out with what resonates with you. Ultimately, I find that most of what positive parenting teaches is a change in perception, which to a degree renders the question of what "works" obsolete. One key concept, for instance, is that you'll focus on fostering autonomy rather than obedience. Once you realize that you want your children to grow up as autonomous and self-reflective adults, rather than obedient adults, you may find that some of your past methods are hard to revert to, regardless of outcomes. You may find that to the extent your old methods "worked", they were successful in attaining something you are no longer pursuing.

Similarly, once you promote your children to the position of fully equal human beings, you may look at methods such as providing a consequence or sending to time out (caveat, I don't know what your current methods are) in a new light, and ask yourself "how would it be received if I tried this on my spouse?" We rarely even ask the question how to get our partners to comply with simple directions. After that change in perception, it is difficult to go back, even if our previous toolkit did give us more peaceful mornings.

It is not uncommon for parents to turn to positive parenting after having exhausted some other option, which is another important thing to keep in mind. Even if you were to find that your new methods don't work, you may recall that nor did your old methods, and in the event that nothing works, I still think you'll find positive parenting comes with a higher quality of life for both you and your children. But with that being said, I do think your new methods will work.

I am hesitant to even call the methods of positive parenting methods, but have done so for lack of a better word. But really, we are no longer looking at children as exhibiting a set of problem behaviours that we want tools to solve, but instead as complex humans who are struggling to succeed in life, and we want to create an environment that can accommodate their needs. Some key concepts, that I often come back to on this site:

  • Foster autonomy, not obedience: Again, you don't want your children to grow up to be obedient adults. Personally, few things frighten me more than clusters of obedient adults. Obedience is a shortcut to make your life more convenient, but not something that adds value to your child's life. Don't take shortcuts in parenting.

  • Children do well if they can: When faced with misbehaviour, the first question you should ask yourself is why. What demands were you placing on the child? That could be anything from demanding too high language skills, if you've given verbal instructions that were too complicated for the young child to follow, to demanding too high ability to filter impressions, if you expect your child to perform in a room with many distractors; demanding too much will power, if you expect your child to behave well even when they're tired and hungry, or demanding too much mentalisation, if you expect your child to see their actions from another person's point of view to an extent beyond their capability. Always assume that the demands were too high, because obviously the child wasn't able to live up to them. Once you start assuming that the child wasn't doing its best, you're following a problematic path.

  • The person who accepts responsibility has the power to change: following on the last bullet, if you view conflicts in the light that you were setting too high demands, then you have the power to change those settings next time around, and bring about positive change. If you instead take the position that you did nothing wrong, but the child needs to step up, you're only rendering yourself powerless. You've removed yourself from the equation, and hence also from the possible solution. Your remaining option becomes to hope that the problem goes away.

  • Children behave the way they do for a reason: Children are logical. They do not possess adult reasoning skills and may not make the best options, but they're not irrational beings acting at random. The behaviours they exhibit are their solution to some problem, or their way to fulfil some need. Attempts to address the problem behaviour without a real understanding of why it's there will almost always be fruitless. Extreme case in point, self harm: you may find children who exhibit relatively safe self harm behaviours, such as biting their hand. If you address that by forcing them to wear gloves, you haven't removed the need the child has to harm themselves, so they may start banging their heads against the wall instead. If you pad the wall, they'll bang harder, achieving no bruises, but suffering internal damages instead. You cannot address the behaviour in isolation. The problem behaviour is the symptom of an issue. Always get to the bottom of the why before coming up with interventions.

    Sometimes, a behaviour will be problematic to you but not to the child. You cannot solve that problem in a manner that ignores the child's initial problem or need, which would then create a problem for your child. It is your responsibility as an adult to come up with solutions to the child's problems that aren't as problematic to you.

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my son(7 at the time, 8 now) is also very strong willed. Essentially, he'd build a wall and nothing seemed to work. The issue wasn't only at home, but everywhere. Even teachers at school were asking for help to get to him.

The solution was simply sitting with him and asking him questions until he finally started talking. It took 4 hours of just sitting in his bed and suffering a few bruises from his attempts to push (kick) me away. After talking I gave him only words of encouragement - no punishment, not even for the kicks, which should fit the positive parenting part. I think/hope that's what changed his attitude and/or confused him so much that he forgot how to misbehave.

The idea behind the questions I was asking was to force him to think out his reasoning and put it into his words and essentially accompany him through his reasoning with more questions.

Now, we get apology letters after we let him know his behavior is hurtful to us begging us to love him again. I think it's part manipulation, part wanting to be re-assured. It's been a complete 180 from his previous behavioral pattern. So if you try that, I hope it turns out as well for you as it has for us.

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