Negative parenting transformed into positive parenting

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In my work with parents and parenting coaches, I am often asked whether “it’s too late” to reverse the tide of negative parenting. The literature on parenting outcomes is very consistent in urging parents to use positive, warm interactions with their children, and to start when they are first born (if not while they are in the womb). This can make it seem that, if a parent has not had the best track record of parenting in a positive way, that the opportunity has been squandered.

I am delighted to introduce you to two articles that can be an encouragement to you, if you are wanting to reverse course and begin your parenting life anew. In one article, by Bell et al (see references below), when negative parenting (which includes  “criticism, negative commands, [and] physical intrusions”) stops, the positive influence on your child begins immediately. In particular, when negative parenting stops, and positive parenting takes its place, children very quickly adapt their behavior to match the positive influence you are modeling. Equally impressive, children’s nervous systems show dramatic changes, indicating that their lives have become more peaceful, and less fearful.

So, now, you may ask, if I stop my negative parenting, how can I start a new script? Well, in a new article about how parents can improve their interactions with their children, researchers trained and encouraged fathers to use something called “shared book reading” to bond with their children, and to practice how to use positive communication. Listen to this description of shared book reading:

“In traditional reading, the parent is the storyteller and the child the passive listener; however, in [shared book reading], the parent uses prompts and feedback sequences to allow the child to become an active storyteller (Whitehurst, Arnold, et al., 1994). The process relies heavily on the use of pictures, so the father does not have to be literate. Feedback includes ample praise and encouragement for the child’s efforts, correction without criticism, and tailoring of feedback and questions to the child’s developmental level, all of which are also components of effective…approaches. Additional guiding principles include following the child’s lead, being sensitive to the child’s interests, varying the types of questions, and keeping the reading interaction fun.”

If you are a parent, wanting to create some new, positive memories with your child, go get a book, sit down on the floor, and use the book to have a conversation. The impact will be immediate.

How about you, dear readers? What do you do to create warm, positive experiences with your children?

References: Bell, Z., Shader, T., Webster-Stratton, C., Reid, M. J., & Beauchaine, T. P. (2018). Improvements in Negative Parenting Mediate Changes in Children’s Autonomic Responding Following a Preschool Intervention for ADHD. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 134-144. Chacko, A., Fabiano, G. A., Doctoroff, G. L., & Fortson, B. (2018). Engaging fathers in effective parenting for preschool children using shared book reading: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 47(1), 79-93.

I look forward to your comments and insights.

Get in touch with me at Thank you for your support.

Dr. John D. Rich Jr. is an educational psychologist and associate professor of Psychology at Delaware State University, a retired United Methodist minister, a full-time husband and father of two sons. His articles appear in Psychology Today, and you can hear Dr. John every other Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. on the Matt Connarton Unleashed radio show on WMNH 95.3 FM. Also, check out for more info. Got questions? Dr. John will help you navigate. Reach him directly at

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