Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Secrets of Peaceful Parents {Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Series}

"One generation full of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world." - Dr. Charles Raison

If you read my last Just Write post, you may have figured out that we're taking a different direction to discipline. This has been a seed planted in our hearts when the girls were still in my womb and we started to ask questions about the type of household we wanted and the ways we would cultivate and encourage our kids to be self-reliant, responsible, and kind.

We're still really early in our journey but we're also right in the thick of early toddlerhood tantrums and it is taking everything that I have to rewire my thinking in how I respond and talk to them when they drop to the floor over the littlest things (of course, they aren't little to them, it could be the end of the world for all they know!) I feel like I should be "teaching them a lesson" at this point and helping them to see their "wrongdoing," but according to Dr. Laura Markham, this is the opposite of what I should be doing.

Dr. Markham is a psychologist and mother who created the site Aha! Parenting and is the author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids. I had the opportunity to go listen to her speak and, coupled with her book, our minds are being blown on a regular basis.

There are a few reasons why I want to share my journey through this book with you: 
  • The myth of the peaceful parent = permissive parent needs to be shattered. Yes, there are permissive parents out there, but this way is absolutely NOT permissive. Just because we aren't using physical discipline or punishments does not mean it's lax or indulgent! It is high-support, high-expectation and takes a ton of work. It's hard!
  • I feel like many of us who had a more conservative upbringing (mainly Christian, sometimes non too though!) have been scared into thinking that if we don't physically discipline our kids, they will run off at 16 with their boyfriends, get drunk every weekend, and have lots of sex with every boy they meet. I have heard this argument from no less than 2 church leaders in the last month. I'm serious. And it needs to stop.
  • Maybe you're a mama who has had these same thoughts but feel alone in the process, or that there is no other way. You are not alone. Let's do it, together! Or maybe you've been parenting this way all along. I want your experience! 
  • I need accountability. Although well-behaved, inside I was an angry child-angry teen-angry adult, and it's been quite a grace-filled journey learning how to express my emotions in a healthy way. If I know there are other people standing shoulder to shoulder with me, in the good times and bad, it will help.  
OK, so let's kick this off with an overview, and then over the next few months we can go more in depth.

The Three Big Ideas (from Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids)

1. Regulate Yourself: 

"Your own emotional regulation -- a fancy way of saying your ability to stay calm -- allows you to treat the people in your life, including the little people, calmly, respectfully, and responsibly. That's what produces children who are emotionally regulated, respectful, and responsible." (xxi)

Honestly, there are so many times when I just say, "maybe I should just give her a little swat," but as my wise friend Tiffany pointed out, at these times it is more about me maintaining a sense of control than doing it for her "own good." I'm definitely not perfect at this whole thing, but I'm hopeful that starting early will continue to help me regulate my own emotions for when times get really tough.

2. Fostering Connection: 

"Children thrive when they feel connected and understood. Parenting effectively depends above all on your connection to your child. Period....Children need to feel deeply connected to their parents or they don't feel entirely safe, and their brains don't work well to regulate their emotions and follow parental guidance." (xxi)

Have you ever noticed that on your busy days, your kids need you way more or act out more than usual? I do! We've been packing to move, and yesterday I tried to get a lot done. It was the worst day we've had in a long time. I also had a bad head cold, which made me even more cranky. Instead of trying to power through, I should have taken a break, sat on the floor, and read books for a while. I'm certain that the crying and tantrums would have been much, much less. That's an example of connection.

3. Coaching, Not Controlling: 

"What raises great kids is coaching them -- to handle their emotions, manage their behavior, and develop mastery -- rather than controlling for immediate compliance. They [parents] 'emotion-coach' so that their child develops the emotional intelligence essential to managing feelings and making wise choices. They use empathic limits rather than punishment - even just time-outs and consequences - to coach their child's development of self-discipline, rather than simply forcing their child into obedience." (xxi)

OK, this is a hard one. It feels wrong, somehow, and goes against the typical conservative parenting teachings, but I'm convinced that what she's saying here is 100% true. I had a very hard time expressing my emotions when I was younger (up until the last few years, actually, after intensive counseling) and felt like any anger or frustration I felt was something that needed to be covered up. I ended up stuffing a lot of things throughout my childhood and did not have very much of what Dr. Laura calls "emotional intelligence." If I could gift that to my children, I would be one happy mama.

Overwhelmed yet? Don't be! 

"Life is simply the slow accumulation of moments, and each moment gives us the chance to change directions. Even if we change our reactions to only a few things that happen today, we'll find ourselves heading in a new direction. Before we know it, we're in a whole new landscape." (xxvii)

Even if this method of parenting seems whack to you, or you're intimidated but curious, or you've been doing it this way for a while, please stick around and join the conversation! Next in the series will be a more in depth look at regulating ourselves. Something we ALL struggle with, right? 


  1. Hi Megan -- I don't know if I've ever commented before but I do come by and read your blog from time to time. You have two beautiful girls! Anyway, I wanted to say thanks for this. We are from a small church in Australia and I'm 99% sure we are the only family that believes in peaceful, gentle parenting. It's really hard because I honestly cannot talk about discipline tough spots that I'm having and ask advice or just go out in sympathy with anyone! Have you read any of Dr. Sears books on gentle discipline? In his Discipline Book, he has a section devoted to what he believes 'the rod' in the Bible really is in reference too. It has really helped me a lot.
    My babes are 2 yrs and 3 months. If anything gentle discipline has done great works on me! I am always forced to stop and evaluate the situation - I have to put myself in my toddler's shoes in order to know what route is best to take. Even today, my 3 month old has been over the top fussy and grumpy...I've been wearing her all morning and her daddy has been wearing her all afternoon. Only at 8pm did I realise it was mainly because she wanted interaction time, not just to be toted around everywhere (its been a really busy day!). Now she is finally peacefully sleeping... Gosh I love these babes of mine!

    1. Rachel, I can totally relate! Like you, my kids are 2 and 3 months :) but more importantly - the challenge to find like-minded parents to discuss what's going on or what you may need help with. I also love Dr. Sears' books. I have a bunch of them and I am always referring back to them!

    2. Hi Rachel,

      Thank you so much for commenting! I know what you mean about feeling like you are the only ones trying to parent this way. I have read Dr. Sears but haven't checked out the discipline book, I'll have to do that! I read the best breakdown of the rod argument on Hippie Housewife's blog and it was just confirmation for us - (

      It's so true - taking time out to stop and really listen to what our kids is trying to tell us is hard but it makes all the difference. And, every kid is different; you are so right about putting yourself in their shoes. That's why I love the "empathic limits" concept. Empathy is something everyone could use a little more of, I know I could! One of my daughters needs to have a few minutes to think about's not that she's being willfully disobedient by not obeying me right away, she seriously needs a minute or so to think it through, then 75% of the time she fully cooperates, which I feel is great for a young toddler! They are smarter than we give them credit for, and capable of some deep thought and processes. I'm reminded of that every day.

  2. Lovely post....I hadn't heard of this book, but will have to pick it up.

    I haven't ever liked the idea of spanking. I'm sure it works for some people... it just hasn't been something I've believed in. When pregnant, and trying to decide which type of punishment we wanted to do, we discussed this a LOT. I read a book (SuperBaby) and one of the thoughts that stayed with me.

    The book made a point that we often try to teach our children to not hit and use responsible ways to express their anger through spanking and that is a confusing double standard. I know some people believe in waiting until calm and punishing by spanking later, however, for young children I think that can be even more confusing and not so helpful because they can't remember their wrong doing!

    We are trying time outs with our little willful man. When he does something he knows he is not supposed to do we bring him aside, set him down, hold his hands, and calmly explain his wrong-doing. We repeat ourselves a few times. We then say, "time out is over now... we put you in time out because you did something that can hurt yourself or someone else. If you do it again, you will have to sit in time out again." Or something along those lines. It isn't perfect. And, sometimes it doesn't seem to sink in. However, he often gives us a hug afterwards and seems to be sad that he upset us. He has also shown improvement in his behavior.

    I don't do time outs for tantrums. I read somewhere that they are responding to a conflicting set of emotions and they don't know how to channel that. So, when he throws a tantrum I do a couple of different things... first, I get down to his level and say, "I know you are upset (frustrated, angry, etc) but, this in not an appropriate way to respond. Please tell momma what you need." Or something along those lines... I then give him a moment. If he isn't responding I walk away. He usually calms when I don't give him attention. And, if that doesn't work. I put him in his room and walk away. Obviously, these are all things I do when he is tantruming at home. Thankfully, we haven't had too many big tantrums in public. In those situations we usually bring him to the restroom or to the car if possible.

    1. Thanks for commenting Jenni!

      You should definitely get the book - there's a small section for our aged babes but most of it is for a little bit older kids, so I'm hopeful that as they grow we'll be successful with this.

      What I love about what you're doing with X in the timeouts is that you're sitting WITH him and helping him understand while talking it through, not just leaving him in a corner for him to figure out these big feelings on his own. That seems to be a key for the younger kids - they just don't understand!

      You're so right on about the double standards re: spanking, I've thought that too! It's like, OK, I'm trying to teach her not to hit so I'm going to hit her? Hm. That doesn't make sense. Although I have failed and slapped A's hands a few times out of sheer frustration, but it's a journey, right? I apologized to her afterwards, too. She had this blank look on her face, like "why, mama?" I felt so bad!

      Tantrums are so hard. They have such BIG feelings, it's like they go completely primal. Still trying to figure out the best way to handle them.

  3. Megan, I am so, so excited about this new series. I could go on and on about gentle discipline/peaceful parenting and all of its benefits. Dr. Markham and Aha! Parenting really is an excellent resource. After you said you had the chance to hear her speak I immediately went to her site to see if she'd be speaking anywhere close soon. No luck. :( but hopefully one day soon! Looking forward to more of your thoughts on this.. have a great day!

    1. Thank you Brigid! So glad you're here for the conversation and to lend your experiences! It really was a life-changing talk. Dr. Laura is just so wise, so kind, and has a passion for seeing kids understood and parents liberated from the cultural norms of punishment. I hope you do get to hear her speak one day.

  4. Hi again! I actually just returned this very book to our library. I love Dr. Markham so much. I had a hard time reading the book word for word and REALLY appreciate your synopsis. We are not going to use spanking either, at least that is my goal, and that is for many reasons.

    I can relate to the fear that was instilled in us growing up with a conservative mindset. I do sometimes really worry when my girls start to fight with each other. (One of mine was really biting for a while). I ended up taking a course from Hand in Hand Parenting... do you know it? It really helped me with the Connecting aspect that Dr. Markham mentions, too. We try to incorporate "special time" now into our day, where each of the twins gets their own time. It has helped with those behaviors a lot, but I won't say that it is gone all together.

    I think I was raised to think that I have to control (myself) and my kids and make sure they NEVER act out wrongly. Like they have to be perfect little versions of adults. At least, that's how I took it and tried to act myself. Being a parent is such an invitation to grow and to deal with all my perfectionism. Painful, but healing.

    1. I have heard of it but definitely will start listening to the podcasts you mentioned on your blog - it sounds great! I think the special time thing is really going to be key. Sometimes when my one particular twin is having a hard time, I realize that I haven't taken time to sit down and really connect with her during that day. She seems to really need it, and she's not even the clingy one! But she needs me to get down on her level and look her in the eyes and acknowledge her. It's weird how it DOES help.
      Ah, the control. Such an issue with me, I'm a firstborn ;) Always will be a struggle but hoping that if I start early, the letting go will come easier. Thanks for all your wonderful comments! :)


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