How to Shape Your Childs Behavior with Positive Parenting

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Featured Speaker:
Emily Tracey

Emily Tracey, PA-C
Emily Tracey PA-C is an easygoing, compassionate, and trustworthy person, she began her career in medicine in 2010 at a rural family practice and switched to providing general pediatrics in late 2012. She enjoys seeing the big picture and says the relationships she forms with her patients and the community are what she likes most about being a health care provider.

About This Podcast

Helping shape your children's behavior is a key part of being a parent. It can be difficult as well as rewarding. While at times it can be challenging, a few key principles can help. Parenting is one of the most important responsibilities we will ever undertake. Yet what training do we receive for this awesome task?

So, how do you raise happy and responsible children?

Emily Tracey, PA-C is here to give advice to parents on how children learn by watching everyone around them, especially their parents, and when you use manners and good coping strategies, you teach your children to do the same.


Melanie Cole (Host): Helping shape your children's behavior is a key part of being a parent. It can be difficult as well as rewarding. While at times it can be challenging, a few key principles can help you to be a more positive parent. My guest today is Emily Tracey. She's a physician's assistant in pediatrics at Aspirus Health. Welcome to the show, Emily. When we talk about positive parenting, how do you tell parents to shape and manage their young child's behavior?

Emily Tracey (Guest): I think the idea of positive parenting comes from five main principles. The first, which is probably the most important thing, is that attachment; shaping that relationship and working on calming ourselves. The other aspects of this are using mutual respect and being proactive. So, seeing problems before they become a problem, being empathetic. The one thing that we talk a lot about is positive discipline, which is an interesting thing. I think parents need to think about.

Melanie: Let's start then with positive discipline, because people think time-outs, or "I'm going to take your phone away", or "You can't watch any more television unless you go brush your teeth and get ready for bed", or, I mean, there are so many ways we negatively try and negotiate with our children. What would be some more positive ways that we could do that?

Emily: Positive discipline is different than punishment. The word discipline actually means “teaching and learning”, while punishment is taking away something, putting them in a time-out. What we need to do is correct behaviors, not necessarily punish them for making a bad decision because they're going to continue to do the same thing over and over again. When you're thinking about how to perform positive discipline versus punishment, we need to assess the need. So, most kids have behavior that is an indication of some type of need, and this may not be an easy thing to see. I think, for instance, when you think of a toddler who keeps jumping off the couch, obviously that's something you don't want them to do because they could get hurt and they continue to do it. It’s because that need is to find a new boundary. Your child has grown up and now needs a new boundary. The second part I think is important for positive discipline is first to discipline yourself. That means you need to calm down. You need to then bring that to your child and teach them how to calm themselves down. Instead of a time-out, doing a time-in would be very important and that would be sitting next to your child, doing something that’s calming, whether it's reading or drawing. When they get older and they can understand, then you do more problem-solving: talking to them about correcting their behavior and learning from their mistake and teaching them to make the right choice the next time.

Melanie: The American Academy of Pediatrics says that behavior plus attention equals more behavior. People think when a child is behaving well, that's when they leave them alone, because yay, they're behaving well, but that's really the time we should be paying extra attention and rewarding good behavior as opposed to the bad, correct?

Emily: Absolutely. Kids need attention, plain and simple. We need to fill that attention basket full of positive things. When good things happen, we need to give them the positive attention that they need and they crave. Even if this is just taking a few minutes out of your day to spend one-on-one time to make sure that you are distraction-free and you focus on those quality good things that your child is doing.

Melanie: What about modelling behavior? Kids see parents fighting or yelling at each other or not being calm in the face of a child's bad behavior. How can we, as parents, role model positive attitudes to make that positive parenting message ring true to our kid?

Emily: As I said, it's really important to first discipline yourself. A lot of times, children are reacting to what they're seeing or how you are acting. If you're having a bad day, that's going to affect them. You can role play a lot of those behaviors by using a calm voice and having them be a part of the things that you want to do. It's just as important to take care of yourself and your needs as it is to take care of the children's needs.

Melanie: Absolutely, it certainly is. What about ways to discipline in a more positive way? You say "time-in". I love that you use that term, but when we do have to discipline, sometimes parents--we tend to lose it--and we get mad very quickly and maybe not forgive as fast as we should. How can we use that positive parent information to discipline in a way that is not so negative, to hand out a punishment when it needs to be handed out?

Emily: Kids really thrive when they have structure and know their boundaries. That means being clear and concise with exactly what the rules in your house are and that's tough because we can't expect kids to know every single rule. We need to be clear, concise, a few rules that are very important that we do not want to break. That may change as they get older. Once they accomplish “Okay, guess what? We're not doing this anymore,” we're going to pick another one to focus on. Then, we need to be clear about what our consequences are, especially when it's related to specific rules that they know and you want to make it related to the misbehavior, otherwise those consequences don't make any sense. So, if they forget to put away their dishes after the dinner, maybe they should help do those dishes, help to load and unload, but cleaning your room because you didn't do your homework doesn't seem to fit as well. It's really important to be consistent and follow through as a team, both parents, or whoever the caregivers are in the family, to always have the agreed-upon consequence when the kids push those rules.

Melanie: Another thing that helps--not necessarily helps but can take away from that well-meaning positive parenting that we would all like to achieve--are tantrums. You've got your three-year-old, they're throwing a tantrum and, again, you're ready to lose it and you want to walk away from them and ignore them, when they're throwing this tantrum. Is that the way? You see those parents out there, Emily and they’re so calm and collected and they seem like they are, but maybe they're not really and it seems we're the only ones who get upset by these, but should we ignore tantrums? How can we be a good positive role model in parenting when a child is upsetting us so much?

Emily: Before kids have a lot of voice, it's hard to build on those communication skills. I don't think it's something that I recommend, denying your children feelings. Tantrums are a normal part of the developmental process. Even as adults, we have a hard time dealing with emotions, so expecting an 18- month-old or 2-year-old to do so is very difficult. That, again, is a time where I would say, pull them away from the situation. Try to avoid getting them in the situation that got them there. A lot of times toddlers will be upset because they're hungry or they're tired. Something's not right and they can't communicate it. Really being in tune with your child and knowing what their needs are and putting yourself in a situation where you're not going to put yourself in failure is important. When those things happen, like they do to everyone--they happen to me all the time--it's getting to their level, figuring out what it is, shaping that relationship and respecting them. They have a personality, they have their own body, they have their own spirit and we need to realize that. Take them out of harm's way if they're going to hurt themselves or hurt others in this tantrum, but, otherwise, try to distract them or do a time-in. Lots of kids are easily calmed down by something as simple as taking a book out, having them sit on your lap and read the book. It's hard to negotiate sometimes with toddlers, so it's either doing it that way or sometimes you do have to walk away. Just like at times you need to talk away from a crying toddler. If you're getting at a point where you can't handle your emotions, not walking completely away, but taking a deep breath while your child is screaming is okay.

Melanie: Taking a step back from that situation. So, wrap it up for us, Emily, about spending more quality time with our children, things that mean a lot to kids that we might not even think about, and the best ways to be a positive parent.

Emily: I think the biggest thing that you can do is taking that time specifically with your children and that’s filling that attention basket. Kids need good attention. Make sure that it's undivided attention. If it means that if you're reading Goodnight Moon for the 10th time, you're reading Goodnight Moon for the 10th time. But, take time for that attention. Take time for training and that means helping them make better choices, using a calm voice, and role modelling. Kids want to be like their parents, so show them that it's fun to do that and they'll work hard to help you clean up the playroom and help you with other things around the house when you acknowledge and fill that attention basket.

Melanie: Thank you so much for being with us today. It's great information for parents. You're listening to Aspirus Health Talk. For more information you can go to That's This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.