The positive parenting approach to raising kids is very popular right now. It’s based on treating children with respect and consideration, encouraging them, and teaching them to be responsible. But positive parenting is nothing new. Good parents have always treated their children respectfully and have encouraged them while teaching responsibility. One great example of positive parenting is the father in To Kill a Mockingbird, the classic book written in 1960. If you haven’t read it before, not only is it a great story, it’s practically a how-to for being a positive parent.
Now I know that Atticus, the father in the story, is not a real person, and that no parent can be “Atticus-like” every waking moment. But the book does give lessons we can aspire to, especially if we are already trying to raise our children in a loving, respectful way. Here are 5 positive parenting techniques from To Kill A Mockingbird.
1. Focus on the big stuff.
Atticus Finch is a single parent. He admits to his sister who thinks he should control his children better that he only has so much time to give. With that time, he chooses to focus on what’s really important—for example, teaching his daughter to control her temper, instead of getting sidetracked by the pressure to get her to wear dresses instead of overalls. He understands that reaching the hearts of his children is the big stuff and that’s where he directs his parenting efforts.
2. Teach empathy.
Atticus also understands that having empathy for others helps children become kind and compassionate. So when his daughter Scout complains about how her school teacher acted that day, Atticus tells her, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Scout remembers Atticus’s words and develops the ability to empathize with others regardless of race, economic standing, or even unusual behavior.
3. Natural consequences trump anger.
When Atticus’s son, Jem, decided to stay all day and into the night in his treehouse, Atticus didn’t scream and holler for him to come down. He didn’t interfere, knowing Jem’s discomfort would eventually work as reality discipline. As Scout says of Jem, “…he would’ve remained overnight had not Atticus severed his supply lines… I was carrying him blankets for the night when Atticus said if I paid no attention to him, Jem would come down. Atticus was right.”
4. Listen to your children.
Scout said that her Daddy always listened to both sides of the story before he made a decision of whether to punish her or not, while her Uncle Jack, who had no children, didn’t. When our children want to be heard, we should do our best to listen. Of course, their part in the listening equation is to be respectful in their communication, and our part is to let them share how they feel. (An exception would be the child who just wants to argue a point.)
iMOM Director Susan Merrill says the next step after listening to your children is pondering what you’ve learned. Here’s how pondering your children works
5. Believe in your children.
Atticus is realistic enough to see the weaknesses in his children, but he doesn’t make them feel badly about their struggles. “Jack,” he tells his brother while talking about Scout, “she minds me as well as she can. Doesn’t come up to scratch half the time, but she tries… she knows I know she tries. That’s what makes the difference.”
Attitucus’s children knew he believed in them, and that made them want to please him. Don’t you agree that that is one of the greatest outcomes of positive parenting?