Positive Discipline and Pampering: More on Kind and Firm and the Same Time

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I know that people who are against punishment are drawn to Positive Discipline, but they often see only the kind part and take that kindness to the extreme. Why is it that human beings seem most comfortable when thinking in extremes? The pendulum seems to swing back and forth in argument for being very strict (firm) with children to the other extreme of being very lenient (kind) with children. Why is it so difficult to help parents see the value of being both kind and firm?

I keep hearing reports of children who have complete meltdowns when they can’t have their own way; of children who are obnoxiously demanding; of children who are hitting and screaming and threatening their parents. Much of this is normal testing as children find out what kind of power they have and don’t have. What is not normal is parents who are afraid of being firm for fear it will damage the psyche of their children for life. They “misuse” Positive Discipline parenting tools by being too kind without being firm. They are afraid to allow their children to “suffer.” Note that I said, “allow them to suffer,” not “make them suffer.” Let’s take the example of validating feelings.

            Sally had a temper tantrum because she wanted the toy her little brother had. Her mother said, “I can see you are really angry.” Sally continued to scream that she wanted the toy. Mother tried to reason with her, “Maybe you could wait your turn or find a toy to trade.” Sally continued her tantrum. Mom continued to validate her feelings and trying to comfort her.

            What would Positive Discipline look like? Mom might say, “I can see you are really upset,” ONCE. Then she might say, while leaving the room, “I have faith in you that you can handle this.” I would like to add that the last statement is more for the benefit of the mother than the child.  A huge part of being firm is for parents to stay “firm” in allowing children to experience their feelings instead of rescuing, fixing, and trying to make sure their children never suffer.

Parents need to have faith in their children to deal with the ups and downs of life and to know that this kind of “suffering” is good for their children. Children need to learn that they can’t always have what they want. What do they learn from this? That they are capable, that they can be resilient, that they can survive delayed gratification.

Being too kind can lead to demanding behavior in children—especially in a materialistic world. The answer is not to go to the other extreme of being too firm. The answer is to follow the age-old advice of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs (and taught by Positive Discipline) to be both kind and firm at the same time. It is okay to say, “I love you, and the answer is, ‘No.’”

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