From the very beginning, our oldest child liked to exert his independence. Right before he was born, he decided to turn around into a breech position, and we ended up having to deliver him through an emergency c-section. He’s always thrived on making his own choices and being strong-willed.
It was only natural for me and my husband to try to exert some control over him and try to tame him. We were completely unsuccessful. As a toddler, our son would run and hit his friend. I would put him in time-out, then release him. He would then go and hit his friend again. And the cycle would continue. How I wish I had known about The Parenting Pyramid and Positive Discipline back then.
The Arbinger Company created an insightful view of effective parenting, with a model called The Parenting Pyramid (The Arbinger Company, 1998).
At the very base of the pyramid, the foundational level, is the parent’s “Personal Way of Being.” This refers to who the parent is and the state of the parent’s heart. In my view, these questions relate to my “way of being”:
- Do I feel the quiet, calming feeling of peace and intuition?
- Do I have faith in myself and my divine role as a parent?
- Do I unconditionally love and respect myself and each member of my family?
- Do I have faith in myself and my family, even when we make mistakes?
If any of those answers is no, then I need to focus on that aspect for my heart to be in the right place. When I improve my own heart, the other relationships in my family will improve.
For many years, I did a poor job of making my marriage relationship more important than my relationships with my kids. I still have to consciously make an effort to put my husband first, but like The Parenting Pyramid shows, the Husband/Wife Relationship is the second level of importance, after your own “way of being.” Now I have weekly dates with my husband, and I think that gives the kids a good perspective. They see that the world doesn’t revolve around them after all, and that their parents have their own needs and wants. They also feel the safety and security of having parents who love and care for each other.
I have personally seen how important it is to have a strong Parent/Child Relationship (the next level of the pyramid), for any kind of teaching or correcting to be effective. If one of my kids is struggling, I first ask myself if I’ve been giving them enough “special time,” as Positive Discipline founder Dr. Jane Nelsen calls it. Often spending one on one time with my kids naturally improves their behavior. Also, the way I talk to my kids and the way I treat them can improve the connection I have with them. It’s amazing how when you focus on helping your relationship go right, there are fewer things that go wrong.
Teaching is the next level. Our kids will only listen to us if they trust us and know that we love them unconditionally. We can only teach effectively if our “way of being” is grounded in love, respect, and faith, and if our relationships are strong.
The very tip of the pyramid is Correct. We should not be focusing on correction in our parenting. When we do have to correct our kids, which should be infrequent, we need to at the same time work on strengthening the bottom three levels of the pyramid. Otherwise, our kids may become depressed, anxious, or resentful towards us. If the other levels of the pyramid are in place, our correction will come from a place of love and respect. The correction will also come from a desire to teach our kids and help them find solutions to their problems, which are important Positive Discipline principles.
Studies show that teens who came from a home where the parent relationship was strong and the adolescent-parent relationships were strong, “consistently had the best outcomes” (Hair, et al., 2009), with regards to physical and mental health, substance use, education, sexual activity, and religious activity. This shows how important relationships are in a teen’s behavior. If a teen isn’t feeling love in the home, he or she might seek for it elsewhere, by getting into sexual relationships or turning to drugs or alcohol.
When our kids misbehave, we need to look beneath the behavior and figure out the root cause. Is our own heart in the right place? Do our kids see a model of love and respect in our marriage? Do our kids feel connected to us, and know that we love them unconditionally? Do we and our kids feel belonging and significance, which, according to Drs. Alfred Adler and Jane Nelsen, are our basic needs as social beings? If the answers to any of those questions are “no,” that’s what we need to focus on.
It took me many years to figure this out, but once I stopped focusing on correcting my kids and instead focused on my own well-being and strengthening my family relationships, we started having a lot more peace in our family and a lot less misbehavior. Our oldest son, who gave us so much grief in his earlier years, is so loving, responsible, and independent. I’m enjoying my time with him so much that I get tears in my eyes when I think about his inevitable departure in one year. I hope and pray that our close relationship will continue even after he leaves home.
The Arbinger Company. (1998). The Parenting Pyramid. Retrieved from https://content.byui.edu/file/91e7c911-20c5-4b9f-b8fc-9e4b1b37b6fc/1/Parenting_Pyramid_article.pdf
Hair, E. C., Moore, K. A., Hadley, A. M., Kaye, K., Day, R. D., & Orthner, D. K. (2009). Parent Marital Quality and the Parent–Adolescent Relationship: Effects on Adolescent and Young Adult Health Outcomes. Marriage & Family Review,45(2-3), 218-248. doi:10.1080/01494920902733567
Nelsen, J. (2013). Positive Discipline. New York: Ballantine.