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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Nurturing their nature: the power of positive parenting

Positive parenting encourages a mindful, empathetic, encouraging and gentle approach to your children's upbringing

Empathy can create better behaviour in children, say experts including Dr Sarah Rasmi, seen with parents Purvi Kotecha and Sarah Ghobrial at Kids HQ. Antonie Robertson / The National
Empathy can create better behaviour in children, say experts including Dr Sarah Rasmi, seen with parents Purvi Kotecha and Sarah Ghobrial at Kids HQ. Antonie Robertson / The National

If you’re warm, loving, gentle and kind; if you take good care of yourself; are able to refrain from too much shouting; and have figured out how to say “no” to a child without actually uttering the word, or commands like “don’t” or “can’t”, then you’re on your way to becoming a positive parent.

The latest trend in the ever-evolving world of parenting, the positive parenting paradigm reframes everything to move away from the negative, and it shifts the focus away from discipline to feedback, and from reacting to responding, explains Dr Sarah Rasmi.

Rasmi, a Dubai-based Canadian psychologist who has recently hosted a number of sold-out workshops on positive parenting and gentler approaches to addressing children’s behaviour, says that the positive parenting trend is in line with a current global move towards mindfulness and being more conscious in one’s decisions.

“It’s a relatively new approach to parenting, but it’s established and has taken a strong hold,” explains Rasmi. “It has strong lasting power because it’s resonating with the way that the new generation want to parent their kids.”

Dr Thoraiya Kanafani, director and clinical psychologist at the Human Relations Institute and Clinics in Dubai, says positive parenting hinges on the belief that children must be “nurtured” into becoming adults, not only through a set of rules, but also through empathy and kindness.

“Positive parenting has been proven to stimulate and promote emotional growth, behavioural modification, mental health and academic performance. Parents establish realistic expectations and rules for their children, while also providing the resources and support that they need in order to achieve those goals.”

It’s no wonder that positive parenting is taking a hold, says Dr Kennon Rider, a psychologist and a marriage and family therapist at the German Neuroscience Center in Dubai. It’s new, it’s lenient, it makes sense and it focuses on shaping behaviour by rewarding movement in the right direction. “Parents discover it when they are frustrated with the old way of discipline – yelling, punishing, withdrawing – and learning that these ways don’t work very well,” says Rider.

Both he and Rasmi stress the obvious: positive parenting is about “catching your child being good” rather than “catching them being bad”.

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“It’s not rocket science,” says Rider. “All of us prefer to be rewarded for doing good than punished for being bad. And to be honest, many parents know this and try to do it with their children; however, they are sometimes unsuccessful because they did not experience this model growing up and, therefore, it does not come naturally to them, or they lead such stress-filled lives that they are often at the end of their rope when encountering their child’s behaviour. They simply do not have the mental and emotional strength at that moment to handle it with more positive methods.”

Parents who have attended Rasmi’s workshops agree that the thinking behind positive parenting – being a loving, warm parent who listens, who practises empathy, who can connect with his or her child – is easy enough on paper. It’s remembering to embody these qualities at the end of a long, stressful day with a cranky toddler that’s the difficult part.

Rashida Haji says understanding and promoting gentle parenting has become a passion for her. The mother of one, who lives in Abu Dhabi, launched an Instagram handle @being_a_gentle_parent to help to provide other parents with a daily reminder to keep things in perspective and adjust their expectations. “Attending a workshop like this is not as much about learning what positive parenting is, which feels like common sense, as it is about learning how to arm myself with the tools to be a positive parent,” says Haji.

Ideas on how to stimulate children in age-appropriate ways, or how to divert a child’s attention away from an activity without actually saying “no” are skills that she acquires from attending workshops with like-minded parents.

Purvi Kotecha, a mother of two, is in the same boat. “I find that I have less patience with one child compared to the other, and I think I parent by default, which is something I picked up from my own experience as a child. I wanted to try to break that cycle and learn something new; workshops make sense, they are a resource for parents.”

And parents need all the support they can get. What’s unique to parenting in the UAE, says Rasmi, is the lack of a larger social support network made out of families and childhood friends, which is what parents have elsewhere.

“You typically don’t have that here, [and] most people are in the same boat, constructing their own social networks,” says Rasmi.

Besides, taking the time to attend a workshop that can support you is part of self-care, which Rasmi says is necessary to becoming a positive parent.

Kanafani agrees. “Self-care for parents is crucial to positive parenting. In addition to the many responsibilities that parents have with the basics of taking care of children, there are emotional and mental health responsibilities as well. This requires parents to have a healthy mindset and good mental health. This needs to be achieved through self-care – exercising, hobbies, sleep, a healthy diet, spirituality and so on.” So give yourself a break, say the professionals, and do remember that nagging will still happen, even if you’re a positive parent.

“It’s important to know what kind of adult we want to mould our children into because it will help us as parents,” says Rasmi. “There are so many things that happen on a day-to-day basis that are irritating or frustrating, but a lot of times, they are not that big a deal. What’s key is to stop and ask ourselves, when we are frustrated with our child, does this really matter in the long run? Choose your battles wisely.

Dr Sarah Rasmi’s next Parenting Workshop will be held on Saturday at 10am, at Kids HQ in Dubai. She will also address challenging behaviours in a workshop on toddler tantrums, at 10am on October 5 at Kids HQ. To register, visit www.drsarahrasmi.com