3 - 32 min read

What To Do When Positive Parenting Isn't Working

5 things to do when you feel like positive parenting isn't working for your family

I’ve been practicing and teaching positive parenting for nearly 13 years now, and in that time, the vast majority of parents have been very pleased with the positive behavior changes and deepened relationships this parenting style has brought them. However, there are always exceptions. Sometimes parents say that positive parenting “isn’t working” for them, and when that is the case, it’s important to explore why before giving up. 

Firstly, let’s discuss what “working” really means. 

As a new mom, I thought my parenting style dictated not only my children’s behavior but their entire life path. I thought that a particular style would lead to a particular outcome. I did not consider the variables. Therefore, in my mind, for positive parenting to “work,” that meant:

  • My child behaved well in general.
  • My child listened to me and did what I asked.
  • I had a strong and connected relationship that never wavered.
  • There was mutual respect in the home.
  • My child contributed to the household without nagging. 
  • Siblings would get along beautifully.
  • Everyone would manage their emotions well.
  • My child would be resilient, emotionally healthy, responsible, and all the wonderful things that a secure attachment promised.

In other words, I wanted control. 

Here’s the tough lesson I learned 15 years into this parenting gig. Control isn’t the goal. It’s an illusion. The truth is that we have very little say in the grand scheme of our children’s lives. There are limitless variables when you’re raising children, and to be honest, our best is all we can do. My best friend has raised three children who are grown and flown and has two more left at home, and she recently said this to me, “Nobody succeeds at parenting. We all gamble and some win.” I chose to place my best on unconditional love and connection, and to me, that was the best I could do. 

If “working” means that our kids will be perfect, positive parenting will not work. 

If “working” means that they will jump when we say jump without fail, positive parenting will not work.

If “working” is turning a difficult child around in days, positive parenting will not work.

If “working” is having a seven-year-old with the maturity of a 27-year-old, positive parenting will not work.

You get the idea. Kids are kids no matter what. They’re brain is underdeveloped. They’re immature. They’re impulsive. They’re self-centered. There isn’t a parenting style out there that makes them develop all at once or that guarantees a perfect kid.

The good news for positive parents though is that the odds are in our favor. Research does show that the best outcomes occur with authoritative parenting, and that’s just what positive parenting is. It’s kindness and firmness. It’s having boundaries while also being responsive to the child’s emotional needs. It’s being the captain of the ship and a soft place to land. 

What To Do When Positive Parenting Isn't Working

If you find that you have been practicing positive parenting for some time, and you’re still seeing frequent troubling behaviors, here are five possible reasons why.

You’re being too permissive.

I remember when I first transitioned to positive parenting. I knew that our relationship was the most important factor so I was afraid to do anything to damage it. That meant that I wasn’t always a strong leader, and my boundaries weren’t strong. 

It’s true that connected relationships are the foundation of positive parenting. When a child has a secure attachment with his caregiver, he is more cooperative. As parents, we have the most influence on children when we have their hearts. This doesn’t mean, however, that we tiptoe around our kids, afraid to set any limit that would cause them to be upset with us for fear of damaging the relationship.

Positive parents are still very much in the leadership role and we must set limits and maintain boundaries.

So, if you’re finding that you’re letting your child overstep boundaries just to avoid conflict or confrontation, it’s likely that you’re being too permissive. Work on being firm and kind at the same time. Envision yourself as a calm and capable pilot. A little turbulence doesn’t fluster you. If you’re unsure what to do when your kids overstep their boundaries, try these positive parenting alternatives to time-outs that work.

You’re not modeling what you’re teaching.

Who we are to our kids matters more than what we say. Children watch us – how we handle ourselves, how we react, how we behave – and they imitate what they see. The old “do as I say, not as I do” adage doesn’t work in positive parenting because it requires escalating punishments to make kids comply when their natural inclination is to do what their parents do. To have the greatest positive impact, make sure your own behavior is in line with the messages and values you want your kids to live by.

You and your partner are sending conflicting messages.

It’s confusing for kids when one parent is trying to be positive while the other is punitive. For positive parenting to work best, both parents need to come to an agreement that this is best for their family and commit to practicing it wholeheartedly. My book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide and the accompanying workbook will help you and your partner work through your differences and get on the same page. 

There’s a strong negative influence in the child’s life.

It could be a friend to whom your child has an attachment, something from the internet, or even a TV show. I once had to cut out a certain cartoon until my children were older because they mimicked rude things the cartoon characters said. Children are great imitators.

If they see and hear their friends exhibiting a certain behavior, they may try it out, too. Be aware of who and what is influencing your child as best you can, though this certainly gets trickier as they get older. Set clear limits, maintain your boundaries, and most of all, see the light in them and trust that they will find their way.

Your expectations are too high.

If you’ve recently transitioned to positive parenting, it will likely take some time for everyone to adjust to the changes. Don’t give up too soon. Also, ask yourself if your expectations are reasonable for your child’s age and circumstances. Oftentimes, what we think of as bad behavior is developmentally normal. This doesn’t mean the behavior is ignored but rather that you can learn how to boost their brain development and teach important skills instead of using arbitrary punishments. Finally, is it possible that you’re comparing yourself or your children to others? This is something to be mindful of as well as every child blooms in their own time.

Parenting is tough. It’s common to feel like giving up and turning back when the waters get rough. Hang in there! All storms come to an end.

*Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother.


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