Positive Parenting vs. Humanistic Parenting

Is there a difference between humanistic parenting and positive parenting? Do the differences matter?

To answer these questions, we have to first understand what positive parenting is and how it might contrast with Humanist or Humanistic parenting is. So what is positive parenting? Positive parenting is a parenting style also known as positive discipline. This all has to do with child behavior and how to discipline children effectively so that we raise well behaved adults who embody the values we care about as parents.

It turns out there are a lot of different parenting styles and positive parenting is a reaction against the forms of parenting that use negative discipline or punishment. How to discipline a child is an ongoing discussion for most parents. I know I get asked a lot of questions about it. Now, as a Humanist parent, I do engage in positive parenting or positive discipline. Why? Because it works. Humanism is ultimately a very pragmatic philosophy. We want to do what works.

Here’s why, and if you’ve read my book The Bully Vaccine, you already know this. Psychologists have studied human learning and how best to cause learning and it turns out that punishment is incredibly counterproductive to learning. In fact: if a child or any animal is doing something you don’t want them to do, punishing them isn’t going to get them to stop. Negative reinforcement is still reinforcement. It turns out that if you want them to stop, you have to remove reinforcements entirely, which is why positive parents use time outs and natural and logical consequences to discourage their children from behaving in a way that is not ok. So yes, according to what we know about these matters, The positive parenting style is a good style.

So how does this contrast with Humanistic Parenting? Well, it doesn’t much. Really, it just as matter of why we approach parenting the way we do. A Humanist approaches the question of how to parent compassionately, respectfully, responsibly and with an eye towards raising ethical, compassionate responsible adults. We start with the assumption that the child is an autonomous human being. They are responsible for choosing their behavior, just like we all are. Our job as parents is to help teach them how to make good decisions for themselves. We still have to discipline and encourage our child to behave better, the issue is how.

Most Humanists seem to prefer an authoritative parenting style. (See: http://psychology.about.com/od/childcare/f/authoritative-parenting.htm for more information) To me, positive parenting addresses only the question of how to discipline a child. Humanist and authoritative parenting goes beyond that into also addressing how to get a child to think for themselves to choose good behavior on their own.

Because they don't rely on negative discipline or punishment, positive parenting classes and programs focus on alternative ways to gain child compliance with the needs of the adults and fellow family members. So negotiation, discussion, active engagement of the child in problem solving, natural consequences, removal of rewards and more are all part of the alternatives used. Most Humanist parents use all those tools and more. I think the only real difference is that a Humanist parent is going to prefer those methods that most encourage autonomy and the ability to think independently.


So to answer the question, is there a difference? Yes and no. Positive parenting is just one of the many tools a Humanist parent uses. We are as concerned with raising good thinkers and ethically compassionate kids as we are with raising well behaved kids and our parenting style reflects that emphasis.
What do you think of positive parenting? What parenting style do you prefer?



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