Positive Parenting Toolkit: 6 Versatile Tools Every Parent Should Use

When you’re a new parent (or even a seasoned parent), all kinds of parenting advice bombard you from every direction. Books, relatives, and popular culture fill our minds with expectations of what our kids should be like, the belief that it is the mother’s fault if they do not meet this standard, and simplified strategies for “fixing” them up quick. The pressure even comes from within ourselves–those voices from our pre-child days that confidently declared what kind of child behavior we would allow in our presence and what we would do to make sure we got it.

But here are some truths about children:

  • They have strong feelings.
  • They can’t always control their feelings and express them in adult-approved ways.
  • Their behaviors are usually not about us.

Despite these truths, it can be overwhelming in the heat of the moment of a child’s misbehavior to decide how to respond. We want our kids to behave. We want to be a good parent. In-the-moment is not the time to decide whether you believe in spanking or not. In-the-moment is not the time to sort through all the parenting advice we’ve heard over the years and choose the strategies that best reflect our values. In-the-moment is not the time to make your plan.

We must have a handful of strategies ready to use at the drop of a hat (or the stomp of a toddler foot), or we will find ourselves staring at a toddler terror in the middle of Target, desperate and embarrassed.

No one parents their best in moments of desperation.

As an early childhood educator of many and parent of three, I’ve learned that I can’t always control how my kids behave. And when they do misbehave (as all children do), I don’t have to take their misbehavior is an indicator of my failure. Personalizing it only causes overreaction.

What do I have control over? Myself. I get to control how I respond to my child’s behaviors. I get to control how I speak. I get to control my tone of voice and the words I choose. I get to control my actions, and the way I use my body. And I get to control whether or not my child’s behaviors will derail me emotionally.

So instead of focusing time and energy on fixing my kid, I can choose to spend that effort on the one person that I am in complete control over: me.

There are many ways to respond to a child who is acting out. Some responses will leave you feeling embarrassed, guilty, or frazzled. Some responses will leave your child feeling ashamed, hurt, or angry. Those kinds of responses (time-outs, spanking, yelling, punishment, etc.) may have their place in your parenting repertoire, or they may not. I’m not going to argue for or against any of those strategies today. Instead, I’d like to outline a handful of potential responses that are positive, versatile, and empowering for both you and your child.

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You don’t have to wonder whether the timing is right to use any of these strategies. You don’t have to judge the severity of the offense or the intentions of the child to decide on the “correct” tool. You don’t have to worry about being too harsh, or too soft, or too anything. ALL of these tools are appropriate to use ANYTIME. No gimmicks, no hoops to jump through, no books to read or reward charts to make. Just pull out a tool, any tool, and use it. Think of this list as your Positive Parenting Toolkit:

6 Versatile Positive Parenting Tools 

1. Modeling

Choosing actions and words that you would want your child to imitate. Making sure you’re worthy of imitation, acting as a pattern for your child to follow. 


“I’m feeling upset right now. You are throwing a fit and that makes me mad. I need to take some deep breaths to calm down. Ok, now I’m ready to keep shopping. I’m going to look for bananas! Would you like to help me?”

Why does it work?

Kids copy what they see. How we act creates their reality of what people do. Yelling, threatening, and making demands teaches them to yell, threaten, and make demands to get what they want. Showing them how to handle stress, respond to negative emotions, and overcome challenges will teach them the same.

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2. Connection

Reaching out to your child, either verbally or physically (ideally both), and strengthening the bond between you.


“Your face looks sad. I’m sorry you’re feeling upset. I know just how it feels to not get what you want. Would you like me to hold you for a bit?”

Why does it work?

Everyone just wants to feel heard. When they feel understood, their fight-or-flight ticking time bomb is diffused. Connecting with your child shows them you are on the same team. It’s not you versus them; it’s both of you as a team overcoming a challenge together.

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3. Teaching

Offering your child information about the world to fill in any gaps in understanding and increase awareness about the consequences of the child’s actions.


“Look around you: see all of the people in this store who are buying things they need? Your screaming is hurting their ears. When we are in public we have to be respectful of the other people around us. When you are ready to use a quiet and kind voice, we can look for the next thing on our list.”

Why does it work?

Kids are insatiable learners. They want to understand the world better. They want to know the secrets of being successful and socially adept. They are more likely to accept information coming from a kind teacher than an angry tyrant.

4. Narrating

Verbally describing the facts that you see about the situation, giving words to the emotions, behaviors, and outcomes that are taking place.


“You wanted to buy that toy really bad. It makes you feel sad and angry that Mommy said no. You are screaming because it feels disappointing to not get what you want. We are going to the car so we don’t bother others with the noise.”

Why does it work?

When a child is feeling out of control, a succinct description of the events helps them to make sense of things, switching from a whirling cloud of emotion to a fact-based narrative of cause and effect. Giving names to their emotions helps them recognize and understand their feelings. Sticking to “just the facts” helps you avoid lecturing, escalating, and shaming.

5. Holding a Limit 

Calmly enforcing a rule or standard that has been set.


“Daddy and I have chosen not to buy candy in the checkout line. We like to buy you special things, and we all like to have treats sometimes, but the checkout line is not the place where we will get them.”

Why does it work?

Parents make the rules. However, we don’t need to yell or threaten or use a scary voice in order to make it so. Following through on a previously set rule shows that we are a confident and fair leader who can be trusted. Doing it calmly helps deescalate the situation and shows the child that their strong emotions do not change the rules.

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6. Taking a break 

Removing yourself from the situation to give yourself time to calm your emotions, collect your thoughts, and gain some perspective.


“I’m feeling angry. I need to take a break. I am going to be quiet for a bit, and I will talk to you again when I’m feeling more calm.”

Why does it work?

Taking a break prevents you from reacting out of anger. It is a fabulous tool to model for your kids. It can give you the perspective you need to decide how to proceed. And you might just find that the problem isn’t such a big deal after all.

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No matter what parenting strategy you employ, you won’t stop all misbehavior. None of these tools are meant to “fix” a child, and if you are hoping to never face another tantrum again, you will be disappointed. These tools are meant to empower you as a parent and offer you options when you’re feeling helpless. They are meant to give you positive ways of responding to negative situations. It is entirely developmentally appropriate for children to push buttons, throw tantrums, whine, ignore, and rebel. Take a deep breath, know you’re not alone, and mama on!


Lianna is a homesteading mama of three: a sparkly seven-year-old daughter, a joyful five-year-old boy, and a confident three-year-old boy. After graduating from the University of Iowa’s college of education, she started Wondergarten Early Enrichment Home, a multi-age, play-based early childhood program. A self-proclaimed Queen Dabbler, she has a long list of hobbies (from gardening and canning to sewing and painting), and doesn’t mind being only mediocre at all of them. She lives with her husband, mother, three kiddos, dog, cat, rabbits, dwarf goats, and chickens on an acreage in the country. The Cornally family spends their time talking about education, learning how to grow and preserve their own food, and romping around in their woods.


  1. Thanks for this post, it is very helpful. I love the part where you mention how I can only control myself and not my children. I always tried so hard(sometimes softly, sometimes harshly) to control my toddler but never thought of controling myself. I will definitelybe trying your tips, thanks!

    • Oh, I’m glad you found it helpful, Trisha! Honestly, I needed to write this post as a way to collect my own thoughts and remind myself what I believe. Because in the heat of the moment, it can be so hard to think rationally and respond appropriately. Thanks for reading, and I hope you find yourself feeling confident and calm with your toddler! 🙂


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