Positive discipline in everyday parenting
Esther Anigbogu, Student Counsellor, GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi & Alison Haswell and Melanie Moses, Student Counsellors at GEMS American Academy – Abu Dhabi discuss positive discipline in everyday parenting course and the top tips parents can take away from it.
By Esther Anigbogu, Student Counsellor, GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi
Positive Discipline in Everyday Parenting (PDEP) is the leading United Nations parenting course that provides a non-violent approach to parenting. The entire concept revolves around teaching parents how to look at their children as human beings and support and guide them in everyday life.
To become a PDEP facilitator, educators are guided through the training as if they were parents. I had the opportunity recently to be among a select few UAE teachers to complete a pilot training course in PDEP. We were taken through the intricacies of the programme, which addresses the different stages of childhood, from birth to young adulthood.
At GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi, we have now made the PDEP course available to our parents. Participants cover various levels, starting with an introduction to how some parents view their children in the present and what they hope for their children in the future. Parents who complete the course are supported with rethinking their whole approach to parenting.
Topics covered include how parents can regulate their emotions, why it’s important to take a step back and think before speaking, how to meet each child at their age level, and ways to provide children with warmth and structure. The overall goal is to show parents that their children are human beings and that they have rights to a safe and secure life.
Being part of this movement has not only given me more tools to support families, but also allowed me to see communities develop among the parents who participate in the programme. Most parents have reported back that the programme has changed their way of thinking as a parent, ridding them of the parenting styles they saw and experienced when they were growing up. It has allowed them to form a stronger bond with their children.
By Alison Haswell and Melanie Moses, Student Counsellors at GEMS American Academy – Abu Dhabi
Parenting is a joyful, frustrating, exhilarating, exhausting journey. The challenge is enormous. There are times in all parents’ lives when the challenge seems overwhelming. Sometimes we just don’t know what to do. Most of us learn parenting on the job. We have little information about child development, so we rely on our instincts or childhood experiences. But often, our instincts are just emotional reactions that aren’t well thought-out. And sometimes our own childhood experiences were negative, or even violent.
As a result, many parents think that discipline is simply telling off and hitting. Others feel bad about losing control of their emotions. And others feel helpless. But there is another way: ‘discipline’ actually means ‘teaching’.
An essential step in moving away from punishment and towards teaching is regulating our own emotions. We are role models for our children. If we are shouting and screaming when they do something wrong, we teach our children to behave the same way. Hence, when you feel frustrated with your child, this signals that you have an opportunity to teach your child something important – something much more important than merely putting her shoes on, for instance.
You have a chance to teach your child how to manage stress, communicate respectfully, handle conflict without hitting others, consider other people’s feelings, and achieve your goal without harming others physically or emotionally. This is likely to require parents to learn some strategies to self-regulate so they can teach these to their children – strategies like deep breathing, having a glass of water and walking away.
Positive Discipline changes the way we view children. It is based on the idea that children are born without knowing what we expect of them; they are seen as learners who learn best with support and information. The parenting course identifies building blocks, such as attachment and trust, that are required to meet the holistic needs of children. Parents are taught about brain development and temperament, providing an in-depth understanding of their child’s needs. Fundamentally, the PDEP approach views children as individuals who need to be loved, understood and supported to become the best version of themselves in adulthood.
Key takeaways from the course include:
- Avoid threats
Threats include hitting, taking away love, monsters or other things children fear. Parents should be a source of safety and security for their children; therefore, we should avoid physical and emotional punishment.
- Develop clear communication with your child
View your child as a learner and yourself as their primary teacher. As their teacher, you must provide them with information to make good decisions and problem-solve. For example, if they make a mistake or do something wrong, refrain from ‘telling them off’ or punishing them. Instead, clearly explain the problem, try to find out why they behaved that way, and then think of ways to solve it. This approach applies to an older child.
For a younger child, you may want to be their role model – for example, if your child throws their bowl on the floor, you might explain that ‘bowls are for the table’ and ‘we need to clean up’. Then, depending on their age, the child can help with tidying up. This approach helps children learn from their mistakes, develops open communication and supports problem-solving.
- Understand how your child thinks and feels
With an understanding of how children think and feel at different stages, parents are much better equipped to respond to challenging situations positively and constructively. Instead of simply reacting in the moment, you can think about your child’s behaviour and developmental age. Take, for example, when your three-year-old is having a tantrum because you said ‘no’ to a sweet – we need to think about the situation from their point of view; at age three, it’s hard for them to control their emotions, so outbursts are normal. They also struggle with the word ‘no’.
When we see the world through the eyes of a three-, five- or 13-year-old, we can understand their behaviour. Then we can be much more effective teachers – something that doesn’t involve giving in to all their demands. This is important, because when we misunderstand our child’s behaviour or think they are defying us or trying to make us mad, we respond with anger and punishment. When we understand that they are doing what they need to do to grow into the next stage, we are more likely to respond with the information and support they need.
- Provide warmth
Children aged 0-18 need to feel unconditional love from their parents. A baby may require lots of hugs and physical closeness, a five-year-old may want high fives and a bedtime story, while a 14-year-old may benefit from hearing ‘I love you’ or watching a movie together. There are always ways to show your child how much you love them. Children need emotional security to grow and develop.
- Provide structure
Positive Discipline is not about letting children do whatever they want. Structure gives your child the information they need to succeed. Structure promotes having clear guidance for children, being a positive role model, and encouraging your child’s independence and problem-solving together. Parents can provide structure for their children in numerous ways, including: preparing their child for difficult situations by telling them what to expect and how to cope; explaining their reasons; hearing their child’s point of view and solving problems together; helping their child find ways to fix their mistakes in a way that allows them to learn. Structure is challenging to conceptualise, so the course devotes plenty of time to explore this concept.
And there is so much to gain! Children who learn early in life that their parents can be trusted are likelier to listen to their advice. Children whose parents nurtured their independence when they were young are less likely to be negatively influenced by their peers. Children who had their feelings respected when they were little have more potential to express their fears and worries to their parents.
Children whose parents fostered their confidence early on are likelier to believe in themselves. Children who have received support and guidance from their parents are more likely to go to them before trouble strikes. The relationship you build with your child will be their anchor as they journey through adolescence and adulthood.