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Have a newborn at home and starting to think about parenting philosophies? Or do you already have kids, and you’re sick of yelling at them all the time? (Or maybe you’ve noticed that all the shouting isn’t actually doing anything to change behavior.)
Here’s a method you may be interested in trying: peaceful parenting. It may sound like an oxymoron, or some woo-woo philosophy that involves joining hands and singing Kumbaya in the forest, but it’s actually based in research and worth a look.
Keep reading to find out how you may be able to stop all the punishing and — instead — start promoting good behavior from within your child with just a few mind shifts.
Peaceful parenting is a philosophy developed Laura Markham, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of the popular blog Aha! Parenting. You may have even heard of her book, “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kid: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting,” published back in 2012.
In brief, her concept of peaceful parenting is broken into three main ideas:
- regulating emotions as parents
- connecting with your children
- coaching instead of controlling
Overarching peaceful parenting is this focus on mindfulness. This means that you live in the moment of whatever is going on in your home and with your kids.
Beyond that, you take time to recognize and honor your own emotions and previous experiences or traumas that might impact how you respond to your kids in tough moments.
The goal is to improve behavior from the inside out and build a strong parent-child bond. Its object is to give children the tools they need to recognize their own emotions — and, as a result, make wise choices as they grow.
It seems simple enough, right? Here’s a little more about how each of these areas is broken down.
Regulating emotions as parents
First and foremost, a peaceful parent looks within at their own emotions and subjectivities that might color the response to different parenting situations.
You’ve probably thought about it before. You see your little one tearing into the kitchen cupboard — again. And all you can think about is the frightful mess that awaits you when they’re done. You go from zero to 60 in 2 seconds flat. The emotion you see may only be “red,” meaning high alert.
Regulating emotions means taking a deep breath and deconstructing the situation at hand. Why is your kid in the cupboard to begin with? Are they hungry? Bored? Is that cupboard just begging to be broken into? Whatever the case, consider your own emotions and the environment before hollering.
Dr. Markham talks a lot about anger being a secondary emotion to fear. So, in the moment that you take to step back, ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” The answer might not always be clear. Or it might not be easy to face, depending on the situation.
Regulating your emotions sets a great example for your kids in regulating their emotions. You can think of it as the exact opposite of blowing your top.
Yet, even after you’ve taken stock of your inner feelings, after you’ve been mindful, you can still feel anger and share it. The difference is that you took a moment to gather yourself instead of immediately reacting.
Connecting with your children
You may think, But I already am super connected to my child. Like, literally. Twenty-four hours a day, she’s attached to my leg and won’t let go.
Nah, this isn’t about personal space. It’s about that intimate bond that parents and kids share. When’s the last time you felt really connected to your child? Or what might be getting in the way of feeling that way?
Dr. Markham gives some examples of how you might connect with your child:
- Practicing attachment parenting — closeness in terms of both emotions and physical proximity — with young babies.
- Engaging in one-on-one “special” playtime each day. It doesn’t need to be a long time — even 10 to 20 minutes can make a huge difference.
- Turning off televisions, tablets, phones, and other technology when interacting with your kids.
- Prioritizing family time each night, like eating dinner together.
- Physically connecting through hugs, snuggles, and other showings of affection.
- Creating your own unique rituals to connect with your child, like snuggling for a few minutes before getting out of bed for the day.
Working on your connection may help your child feel more secure. They learn to love themselves and are able to extend this love to others. Dr. Markham explains her idea that connection is what “makes peaceful parenting possible” because it’s through close connection to their parents that kids actually want to cooperate and behave.
Related: Why distracted parenting is hurting you — and 11 ways to fix it
Coaching instead of controlling
This last idea — coaching versus controlling — may be one of the hardest to grasp.
You might wonder how on earth your little one will listen to you without harsh consequences. Or if losing the power of yelling and punishment will make you look weak. But what’s interesting is that in peaceful parenting, the compliance and good behavior tends to come after you take this power dynamic away.
Coaching may give your child the tools to change their behavior in a way that swift punishment or bribes can’t. When you immediately take away an iPhone, for example, your teen may just get angry and resentful. If you bring to their attention to what’s triggering a particular behavior before cracking down, the end result may be better for all parties involved.
As crazy as it sounds, coaching your child to connect with their own feelings may be very helpful for better behavior in the long run. Not necessarily just for you, either. Instead, the goal is to give them the vocabulary and ideas to work through the world with enhanced emotional intelligence and make good choices. A calmer household is just a sweet bonus prize.
There’s no evidence that this parenting method is superior to others. But Dr. Markham outlines a number of benefits that parents and their children might see after switching to this method of parenting from more traditional modes.
- Your kids may be happier overall and better adjusted. Heck, they may even be more cooperative without the need to yell at them.
- You may yell far less.
- Your family may grow closer together through the purposeful act of connecting.
- Your kids may grow to be more emotionally intelligent adults who exude qualities of keen consideration, diligent self-discipline, and a dutiful sense of responsibility.
- Overall, you may form a bond that will carry your relationship with your kids through their adult years and beyond.
At the heart of peaceful parenting is a concept called mindfulness. And there are a number of studies that support mindfulness both for individuals and applied to parenting.
Related: What is mindful parenting?
In terms of risks inherent to peaceful parenting, there aren’t a whole lot — especially for children who are toddler age and up. But this philosophy does emphasize attachment parenting for young babies, which advocates co-sleeping.
Co-sleeping increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), so experts don’t recommend it. But you can practice other elements of attachment parenting — like baby wearing — and simply opt for safer methods for baby’s sleep.
It’s important to understand that no parenting style you’ll find is perfect for every family. There are few areas where peaceful parenting may fall short for you. But you won’t necessarily know until you try it.
If you try peaceful parenting and it just doesn’t work, you may want to give it a little more time. Look at yourself, too.
Patrick Coleman at the blog Fatherly shares that he tried peaceful parenting with hit-or-miss results. Overall, it had more to do with his own journey to mindfulness and finding empathy for his kids. Once he reached that point, it clicked much better for everyone.
So, how exactly can you apply this stuff to your tantruming toddler or angsty teen? It may take practice, especially if you’re shifting gears from more traditional styles of parenting. Here are some brief examples to get your brain juices flowing.
If your 2-year-old is having a fit at the store because you won’t buy them a toy:
- While it may be incredibly frustrating or just plain embarrassing if you’re in line and your tot is screaming, try to be mindful in the moment and silently accept your emotions. Count to five silently or take a few deep breaths.
- Try to acknowledge their feelings and put yourself in the place of your 2-year-old. But also share your limit. You might say something like “I understand you want a new toy, but we don’t get new toys every time we go to the store.”
- If they’re still screaming, try giving them a hug. While a snuggle may feel like a reward, you’re really working on that connection piece. You may find it will reset their mood.
- Now for a reality check: Trying to talk to a 2-year-old about their feelings in the middle of a tantrum may not work so well. You may need to work toward removing your child from the situation sooner rather than later, but you can still avoid yelling as a reaction.
If your 7-year-old just got paint — the paint you told them not to touch — all over your new white carpeting:
- Resist the urge to immediately yell about how expensive the carpet is. You may even want to verbalize that you’re doing it. Say, “I’m trying to calm myself down before I talk to you about what’s going on.”
- Give them the opportunity to solve the problem. For this example, it may mean asking them, “This is a big mess. What should we do to clean it up?” Then let them brainstorm with you for some mutual problem solving.
- Then you may bring attention to the bigger issue at hand — using the paint without permission. Rather than punish, explain your position. Provide some guidance for your rules in a calm, but firm, tone. You might even suggest that you use paint and other off-limits art supplies together in your one-on-one time so there’s a set limit.
If you think your 16-year-old has been out drinking with their buddies:
- Let’s face it — you might not always be around when your teen is in a situation that would have you screaming. Whether you catch them in the act or hear about it later, try very hard to take stock of your own emotions. Did you drink a lot in high school? Or do you worry they’re going down a bad path? Before reacting with anger from fears, acknowledge your own feelings and consider sharing them — calmly.
- With this age group, connection helps to foster responsible, independent decision making instead of rebellion from parents’ wishes. Take heed if you notice your teen retreating or pushing you away. Connection means an open flow of communication and — yes — being more of a listener than a lecturer.
- Remind yourself that poor choices give your child opportunities for growth. Teenagers deal with a lot of peer pressure and they’re only just learning how to make good judgements. Try to present how different choices, like staying away from underage use of alcohol, lead to positive outcomes.
Related: Setting a realistic curfew for teens
There are many resources on the concept of peaceful parenting that you can find online for free, at the bookstore, or even at your local library. Here are some websites to check out and books to consider purchasing online:
- Aha! Parenting website
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: Workbook
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings
- Peaceful Parent Institute website
If you’re particularly smitten with these ideas, you can go a step further and connect with a peaceful parenting coach. These coaches have finished 6 months of certification classes.
Being a parent is hard work. Reading yet another parenting book may be the last thing you want to do on a Wednesday night. But if these ideas speak to you, consider taking the time. Your key to a harmonious home — or at least, a more harmonious home — may be peaceful parenting.