When it comes to the ever-changing, and intricately complex minefield that is parenthood, there are so many trends these days that it can be daunting to try and sort through the veritable maze of information out there. One school of thought says, just follow your instincts. Another advocates the “old ways” enshrined in a language of power in a vicious cycle of bribery and punishment. But when faced with nerve-wracking, patience-trying encounters with children, instinct will only take us so far and “old-school”, authoritarian parenting can do more harm than good because it tends to dismiss children as individuals that need to be disciplined rather than heard and understood. After all, as parents, we want our children not to merely survive their childhoods but emerge from them as fully functional, emotionally and psychologically healthy adults, with our bonds still intact.
One trend that has gained significant ground in recent years is positive discipline, a new way of parenting that seems to fly in the face of convention. It is a tool used in schools and at home that reinforces good behavior through positive techniques while simultaneously weaning out bad behavior. However, it is still a fairly new concept here in Egypt where parents still cling to the “old ways”.
One woman, Amina Diab, is changing all of that. A child psychologist, parent coach and a mother of 2, Diab stumbled upon her current vocation by pure coincidence. While she had always been interested in human behavior, her passion for child psychology was sparked early on, through her previous volunteer work in orphanages where she dealt with children with autism and other developmental disorders. She noticed that caregivers and indeed, parents in Egypt (who sometimes simply throw those children in institutions) were woefully ill-equipped to deal with those children in a way that benefited them rather than isolated them based on their condition. In fact, she noted that Egypt was years behind in terms of awareness of such disorders, and their inclusiveness in schools, when compared to the western world. Some of the many schools that accept children with developmental disorders are, the British School in Cairo (BSC), Misr Language School (MLS) and Choueifat School (which has accepted a couple of cases to date). “Those children want to say something. Someone needs to try to understand them,” says Diab.
So Diab set out to try and understand them. Having graduated a year early with a business and psychology degree from the American University in Cairo, she started applying abroad for a Master’s degree in child psychology (as the discipline was not available in Egypt). She then found out she was pregnant and decided on an online/blended course that allowed her to balance her academic career with her new life and responsibilities. After completing her degree, she then decided to specialize in a discipline that would allow her to focus on the parent and the child, and guide both parents, teachers and caregivers on how to incorporate positive discipline in the home, classroom and institutions. Along came other certifications, such as the positive discipline education certification from the Positive Discipline Association in California and the parent coaching certification. Currently, she is pursuing her doctoral studies in Education from the University of Bath through online/blended courses.
So what is positive parenting all about? According to Amina Diab, it’s many things. Namely, it’s about guiding your children with love and respect; empowering them to become resilient and self-reliant; strengthening the parent-child relationship and fostering it through love rather than punishment, concern rather than bribes. She says, “You should ask, not tell them or order them to do something. There is no misbehaving child. Every misbehavior is an action or reaction to something, a result of a thought, or decision they’ve made.” She explains that children up to the age of 4 use their fight or flight behavior. Therefore, we must model their way of thinking by always communicating with them. They will eventually understand through repetition and association. She cites “labeling” as the most damaging thing you can do to your children. As parents, we tend to underestimate our children’s ability to not only reciprocate everything we feel but also internalize what is said about them. Amina say, “Whatever you label them, they become. It affects their confidence. Try to talk to them as positively as you can. A child needs only one person in his life that is his safe zone and that believes in him.”
Positive discipline can also play a role in how schools view each child, by enabling school teachers and administrators to recognize a child’s strengths, weaknesses, and uniqueness, by accepting that there is no such thing as the “perfect” child. How they view those weaknesses also say a lot about the schools. Furthermore, in school assessments, positively reinforcing terms should be used, such as “energetic child” instead of “hyper”; or “observant” in place of “distracted and looking around”.
When dealing with “stubborn” toddlers, Diab suggests that parents try to understand their perspective, as their emotional regulation has not been developed yet. At a certain age, children try to assert themselves in an attempt to define their personality. Parents can encourage this by assigning them certain tasks that foster their sense of responsibility and boost their confidence in what they can do independently. In a nutshell, the “ask versus tell” mentality is at the core of positive parenting.
With the blurring of lines and overlapping of different disciplines in psychology, Amina Diab makes a clear distinction between her expertise as a child psychologist, parent coach and parent educator. “A child psychologist,” she clearly and succinctly explains, “observes the behavior of the child (Here is the assessment results, diagnoses and intervention plan). A parent coach guides and empowers the parents to come up with their own answers to parental problems (What do you want to do?). A parent educator guides and teaches the parents on the best solutions to parental problems (You should do this or that).” But as a parent herself and someone who deals with other parents from all walks of life and circumstances, she understands how difficult and stressful it can be. To deal with the challenges of parenthood, she believes that every parent must have a mantra that they believe in. She also urges mothers to make quality time for themselves. “If you’re running low on gas and not taking care of yourself, everyone around you suffers.” For working mothers who feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children, she points out that it is not the quantity but the quality of time spent with your children that matters. Ultimately, it is how the child perceives you in the time that you spent together that defines your relationship.
Amina Diab has certainly overcome many challenges on her journey. And while her wealth of knowledge and experience belie her young age (having only been a practicing child psychologist for 6 years), she says the most important lesson that she’s learnt is to always listen to your gut, no matter what everyone else is saying around you. Another valuable lesson learnt is to go after what you want, regardless of the circumstances. She recalls, “I got pregnant when I was applying for child psychology degrees, and so I had to do an online/blended course. When I was doing my positive parenting certification, I had to carry my 4-month old daughter around. My instructor was very understanding. It wasn’t easy. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.” However, she states that surrounding herself with a solid support system made the journey a little bit easier, “Had it not been for my husband, I would not be where I am now.”
When asked about some of the positive aspects of how our parents raised us, she points out the fact that our mothers prioritized their children above everything and put them on a pedestal, which gave our generation a boost of confidence. Maybe, there is good in the “old ways”, after all.
You can reach Amina through the following:
Oasis Clinic: 0100 4000777
Photo courtesy of Amina Sabry Photography