Amaya de Miguel is an expert in positive education. She is the founder of Relax and educate, an online school that hundreds of parents have passed through and that is very successful on social media. He has written a book with the same title: Relax and educate. Effective solutions for everyday conflicts (Editorial Platform, 2021) in which he explains in a practical key some tools to achieve a good coexistence within the family. The work is now in its third edition.
In his book he talks about the importance of educating without shouting or punishment, with connection and love. What are the keys to achieve it?
For me, one of the most important things to achieve this is that there is commitment from the adults and also specific training. A father or mother can get up every day thinking that they are not going to scream and after ten minutes the situation gets complicated and they are already screaming because they do not have different tools to manage the conflict or they are not really committed to that way of educating.
Could you provide some basic guidelines to achieve this commitment to respectful education?
Yes, I would highlight four keys: presence, being with the children and accompanying them as long as possible; good parenting leadership, knowing where you are going and putting it into practice without resorting to hostile techniques; have a very clear structure, guidelines and routines that are known by children and adults and that are always followed without arbitrariness; and the last, and perhaps most important, to build a good bond within the family, to be part of the same team. When there is hostility and aggressiveness, there will be much more resistance from the children.
One concept he talks about is playful discipline, a kind of evolution of positive discipline. What does it consist of?
Positive discipline is a complete philosophy, while the playful discipline that I talk about are just a few tools that work on certain occasions, not all. They are strategies to resolve conflicts using tools such as good humor, songs, stories and games. It is a way of injecting positive emotions in a conflictive situation with which resistance is reduced and tension is reduced. It is a peaceful strategy that strengthens the bond with children and makes them feel cared for, respected and loved while guiding them towards positive behaviors.
Could you give us an example of this?
Yes, I count many in the book. For example, I practiced taekwondo for many years, so when one of my sons gets aggressive, I get into a fighting stance and give him a couple of instructions in Korean. They look at me, laugh and say: “How weird you are!” And the aggressiveness passes them.
The structure of his book is above all practical, he has built it on the basis of frequently asked questions from fathers and mothers whom he advises: tantrums, jealousy between siblings, meals, sleep … What are the most frequent doubts?
At all stages, one of the most common difficulties is conflicts between siblings, it is perhaps the most transversal issue. There are also the daily moments of transition, especially getting up and going to bed. Then there are the emotional explosions, the loss of control, which are different depending on the stage of development but which are always repeated. And another classic is the issues of personal hygiene: brushing your teeth and showering.
And when we manage these types of daily difficulties, is it normal that as parents we also get frustrated and hostile reactions appear, such as yelling or punishment?
We all have a number of tools, many of them inherited from our parents and grandparents. And sometimes those tools are old, rusty, they are useless. They have to be replaced by latest generation, more modern tools. But it is not enough to want to do it: it is difficult to say goodbye to the old ways, you have to have tools to do it. But the good news is that it can be done, a lot of people get it.
He proposes a change of focus, stop thinking that our son has a problem and focus on it as a difficulty in which you must help him.
Yes, this is very important. We must understand that our responsibility as adults is to always treat our children with respect, even, and above all, in the most difficult moments. And this change in mentality – not thinking of our children as a problem – is one of the tools that has helped me the most in my experience as a mother. Sometimes we think of children as a problem. For example, a girl who does not want to do her homework. We make it a problem and it becomes the center of family life. Well that’s a bad approach to the subject. We have to think that this girl has a difficulty, which is doing her homework, and help her to achieve it. Accompany her until the difficulty disappears or, if it does not disappear, learn to live with her in the most positive way.
And how can we avoid getting angry or yelling when we are tired, frustrated, or stressed?
When we receive a stimulus, adults tend to react immediately and sometimes aggressively. For example, that my son insults me or that the brothers fight. But between the stimulus and our reaction there is a small time lapse, a few thousandths of a second that can be mastered if you train well, to be able to use the tools you have instead of reacting in an aggressive and impulsive way. The more you train that skill, the fatigue and stress are less decisive in your response, the more possibilities there are to resolve conflicts in a positive way. And this not only works with children, but also in other areas such as couples or work.
What role does the self-care of fathers and (especially) mothers play in all this?
It is essential, we should approach self-care as a responsibility, not as an option. In positive parenting we tend to focus on children, but we must also focus on adults. You have to be well individually, have time for yourself, take care of yourself. You must do it for yourself and for others. We adults are the tree on whose branches the whole family is sustained. But if that tree is not well cared for, it will break and everything in its branches will fall. Only if we take care of ourselves can we support the whole family.
He defends that it is important that all the tools are adapted to the particularities of each family. Why?
I believe that each one should educate according to their values, their intuitions and their character, because it is the only way to be authentic. If we follow models that are alien to us, it will be strange to us, the relationship with our children will be more difficult because it does not come naturally to us. There are a series of tools that have been proven effective and within them each parent should use the ones that work for them, adapting them to their family and even to each of their children, who may be different. I always say: “Make the tools yours, incorporate the ones that suit you and change what doesn’t work for you.”