If I was granted a wish to sit down and chat with one of my favourite parenting experts, Dr. Laura Markham, I’d no doubt speak at a million miles an hour trying to extract every last drop of wisdom I could to up my parenting game.
Perhaps, the next best thing though, is the privilege of having a sneak preview into her new book, Peaceful Parenting Happy Kids, The Workbook.
Because none of us are perfect parents and that is what I love about Dr. Laura’s no-nonsense, judgment-free, forward-looking approach, which comes from a place of kindness, empathy and respect.
She gently pushes us to become the best versions of ourselves with the recognition that parenting isn’t a set of strategies, it is a relationship. As difficult as it may be, we need to complete the unfinished emotional work from our own childhoods, while accepting the challenge we’ve chosen for ourselves in becoming parents.
Parenting can feel impossibly complex at times, so it is refreshing to see Dr. Laura simplifying our approach with a trio of truths. Let’s dig a little deeper to see what we can learn from a conscious approach to parenthood, rooted in science and delivered with compassion.
1. TO TEACH EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, FIRST WE MUST REGULATE OURSELVES
Although sometimes presented this way, parenting is not a battle; it isn’t about winning and losing, controlling and correcting. It is about fostering a relationship; one that will inevitably encounter conflict.
And when it does, as the adult in the relationship, we need to resist the familiar path. Our anger, frustration and fear are desperate to hijack our reasoning brain and take us into a state of “fight, flight or freeze”. In that mode, our children appear to be the enemy and we are more easily tempted to use mainstream discipline techniques, like threats and punishments, rather than teaching emotional regulation.
“The more your child feels genuinely heard and understood, the more quickly she moves past her anger to show you the hurts underneath it.” Dr. Laura Markham
But, for many of us, we may not have been taught these skills when we were young. Becoming a parent is our chance to redefine our approach to big and sometimes scary emotions; to disempower them and lead by example as we show our children that ALL emotions are valuable.
Often, when we’re struggling as parents, it isn’t because of our children. It is because we’re pushed to our limits and stretched beyond belief by the demands of modern life. When you feel yourself being triggered, pause and give yourself a time out before responding. Take responsibility for creating time for self-care. Join a tribe of supportive parents so that you know you’re not alone. And remember that our children mirror 99% of our actions; be the change you wish to see in your home and they will follow.
2. CHILDREN ARE HUNGRY FOR CONNECTION, NOT PERFECTION
I spend a lot of time writing about connection and that is because it is at the core of a healthy parent-child relationship. Without connection, we lose our influence and we surrender our power to parent.
Connection is the antidote to coercion and it dwarfs punitive methods in its ability to shape our children’s behaviour. Quite simply, it is the only reason our kids willingly give up with what they want to do and do what we ask of them instead.
Connection makes children feel safe. Dr. Laura says that when connection is lost and “children don’t feel safe, they do something they think will make them feel better. Sometimes that’s a positive thing, like coming to us for a hug. But often they do something that’s not healthy. They tease their siblings or lash out in anger, which makes them feel more powerful.”
Whenever parenting feels tough, the first thing I do is find ways to invest in deepening the connection I have with my son; from dedicated one-on-one time to child-led play to increasing our daily hug quota, it always makes a difference.
3. EMOTION COACHING IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE DISCIPLINE STRATEGY
Do you feel pressured by others to give your child a time out? To threaten? To create artificial consequences? You are not alone.
Although corporal punishment is no longer acceptable, the undercurrent that churns our society’s approach to raising children is still one of dominance; big people controlling little people.
Not only is this disrespectful to children, it is also ineffective. As Dr. Laura describes, punishment merely creates more misbehaviour, while teaching kids that the most important thing is to not get caught. Because children who feel bad, begin to believe that they are bad, so they behave badly.
“Children who are guided with love develop an inner compass that helps them make choices with integrity.” Dr. Laura Markham
So, what do we do instead? We choose to coach our children. We do not become passive parents, we become proactive parents who set and hold clear limits respectfully. Over time this leads to self-discipline as our children internalize these lessons. After all we can’t be with our children 24/7 so our responsibility is to teach them to recognise their own moral compass and to have the courage to make their own independent decisions.
THE BEST WAY TO RAISE HAPPIER, MORE RESPONSIBLE KIDS
Being a peaceful parent in our society is tough. It can be so easy to be swayed back to the mainstream, to avoid judgment and follow the crowd. That is why I am so excited about this new book, because Dr. Laura is a force to be reckoned with. She gracefully holds a strong opinion backed by developmental psychology that is impossible to fault; as a community of natural parents, she is a pillar we can lean on in times of doubt.
“Thousands of studies can be boiled down to this: coaching children so they develop emotional intelligence and self-discipline is the single best way to create happier, more responsible adults.” Dr. Laura Markham