The Key Differences in Positive Parenting: An Interview with Dr. Laura Markham

The Key Differences in Positive Parenting: An Interview with Dr. Laura Markham

Have you ever wondered about the key differences between positive, permissive and autocratic parenting? Looking for the secrets to better behaved children?

I recently had a chance to connect with Dr. Laura Markham of Aha!Parenting and today, I am sharing her insights here on positive parenting connection on parenting styles,  respect vs. control, connection and how to raise better behaved children. Plus, there is a second part coming soon!

Interview with Dr. Laura Markham

Q: Dr. Laura, How did you choose Positive Parenting as the focus of your practice?

A: I wanted to support parents. Every parent loves her child. But most
parents don’t have the information and support they need, to be the parent
they want to be — and the parent their child deserves.

New research in brain development shows that the way we parent determines
the way our child’s brain develops. Loving parents can actually change the
brains of the next generation of humanity. The future of our planet
depends on the parents of today.

Q: How would you define positive parenting?

A: Positive Parenting means a lot of different things to different people. Here’s what it means to me:

1. Children learn to regulate their emotions from parents. Regulating our
own emotions is our first responsibility as parents.

2. Connecting with your child is the most important part of the parenting
relationship and solves most behavior problems. Connection is 80% of our
parenting; guidance is only 20%, because without the connection the child
won’t accept the guidance.

3. A child who is acting out is asking for your help. Your goal is to coach
your child to thrive and grow, not to control her. Respect your child as a
separate person with legitimate needs.

Q. What benefits do you see for families that choose to practice positive parenting?

A: The families I know who practice positive parenting raise wonderful
children. During the toddler and preschool years, these kids are more
likely to challenge their parents, because they expect to have their voice
heard, and because they are more comfortable expressing their emotions.
But kids parented this way from birth learn to regulate their emotions
faster than other children, and are more cooperative.

Once the brain changes at about age six, these kids are clearly more
emotionally mature than other children. They are better behaved, because
they know their parents are on their side and therefore WANT to follow
their parents’ rules. And because their parents have given them empathy,
they are more able to manage their emotions and therefore their behavior.
And during the teen years when other parents are pulling their hair out,
these kids are a pleasure — responsible, considerate, self-motivated, and
connected to their parents.

In order to practice positive parenting, you have to learn to be
compassionate with yourself. And you have to learn to regulate your own
emotions. So this isn’t only good for children. It’s good for parents.

Q: What are the main differences between positive parenting, autocratic and permissive parenting?

A: Autocratic parenting is “My way or the highway.” These parents have high
expectations, which research shows is a good thing. BUT they don’t give
kids the support they need to reach those expectations, so many kids end up
not feeling good about themselves. Even if they do manage to reach those
expectations, they feel unsupported while they do it, so they often end up
being very hard on themselves, and tending toward anxiety or depression.
Because the children of autocratic parents are always worried about
avoiding punishment, research shows that their moral development is
delayed. They don’t “act right” because they’re concerned about the
negative effect of bad behavior, they’re only “acting right” to avoid
punishment. And because they’re trained to be obedient, they are more
likely to succumb to peer pressure.

Permissive parenting is not setting limits. But children depend on us to
set limits. They need us to teach them red from blue, hot from cold, right
from wrong. All feelings are acceptable, but not all behavior. So parents
who are permissive usually give kids lots of empathy and support, which is
great. But they compromise on expectations. They don’t set limits on the
child’s behavior, and they don’t ask the child to rise to the occasion to
do something hard that the child is capable of, given enough support.
Because her parents can’t bear for her to be frustrated, they jump in to do
things for her, so she has lower self esteem because she doesn’t accomplish
as much, doesn’t test herself against challenges, doesn’t mobilize herself
to master things. Because her parents rescue her from disappointment, she
learns that her bad feelings are intolerable, so she avoids them at all
costs, which makes her less resilient. Because her parents routinely put
her needs ahead of everyone else’s — including the other people at the
restaurant, or the other kids on the soccer team, or themselves — she
comes to expect that only her needs count in a relationship, so she isn’t
very successful in relationships.

There is a another style of parenting. You call it Positive Parenting. I
also call it Empathic Limits, because it is high in empathy and support
(like the Permissive Parents) but it is also high in expectations (like the
Autocratic Parents). So these parents really see things from their child’s
point of view and empathize with his experience. They also expect their
child to grow and learn and handle things, and they support him to do
that. They see what is appropriate for their unique child, so they aren’t
imposing some external criteria, like “You should know how to clean up your
room by now!” Instead, they help him clean up his room, as much as
necessary, over and over. They involve the child and make it fun for him
— that’s the positive part. As he begins to enjoy the satisfaction of
seeing how he can transform the room from messy to organized, he develops
the internal motivation, and the skills. He gradually takes over the
task. Positive parents do this every day in every interaction. Their
children therefore develop mastery earlier and are more self-motivated and
self-sufficient. They also have better relationships with their parents.
They are more resilient and able to manage their emotions, because their
parents empathize with their feelings. And they develop a more positive
outlook on life.

Like what you are reading?? Don’t miss the second half where we are talking about rule following and emotional regulation and the wonderful benefits of helping children learn to follow their heart. Plus, Dr. Laura is also sharing some secrets on how to stop yelling at children!


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

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