Creative Child

Positive Intent: A Powerful Positive Parenting Tool

by Rebecca Eanes


A child hits his brother.

Negative intent: He is a naughty child trying to hurt his sibling.

Action: Believing he is acting maliciously will likely incite anger, or at least frustration, in you. This could cause your tone to be sharp. You might verbalize your thoughts, calling him “mean” or “naughty,” and you’ll likely feel he needs some sort of punishment.

The child learns: He is bad or mean. His parent is mad at him. He may believe his brother is favored.

Positive intent: He is needing attention or direction and asking for it in an immature way, as children do. He doesn’t have the words to express his needs.

Action: Because you see that his aggression is a signal for help, you aren’t moved to anger. You are able to address his action calmly. You view him as an immature child needing guidance rather than a mean child needing punishment, so guidance is what you give. You bring him onto your lap and tell him that you won’t allow him to hit and that you will help him calm down. You might look through a book or practice counting to ten while taking big breaths. You’ll then tell him two or three things he can do when he’s upset, practice them, and then as him how to repair the relationship with his brother.

The child learns: Hitting is not an acceptable release of anger. His parent is on his side. How better to handle anger. How to apologize and repair relationships. Emotional intelligence.

Your five-year-old is having a tantrum.

Negative intent: She is manipulating her parents to get her way.

Action: If you feel manipulated, you will likely follow the common advice to ignore her to prove that she has no power over you.

The child learns: Mistrust. Being ignored by one who loves you hurts deeply, and when you feel you can’t depend on someone to pay attention to you in your time of need, mistrust forms. She also learns that she is accepted (she may see this as loved) by you only when she is “good.”

Positive intent: She is a very young person struggling with a heavy load of emotions and needs the help of an adult to wade through them.

Action: Seeing a child as needing help doesn’t move you to ignore her but to actually move in closer and offer support. If a child is kicking and screaming and you can’t move in physically, you remain emotionally tuned in and available. Otherwise, you embrace her while her sobs subside and she returns to calm.

The child learns: She is loved unconditionally. Her parent will be there for her when she feels out of control or upset. Trust.

Learning to ascribe positive intent to what we see as misbehavior is a positive parenting skill that we can learn through reframing and practice. Even if your child has negative intent, by seeing the best in your child and treating them that way, you help lift them to the moral high ground. Love sees the best in others.

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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