Wednesday, January 19, 2011

review: Scream-Free Parenting

I'm really excited about a new book I got today, Scream-Free Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel. It's been a while since I last reserved a book at the library; between OEDILF and real-life responsibilities, I've hardly had the time. This is a great book to break old patterns on.

Part 1: Becoming the "cool" parent your kids really need.

The chapter titles are great. The chapters in Part 1 are called "Parenting is not about kids, it's about parents"; "If you're not under control, then you cannot be in charge"; and "Growing up is hard to do, especially for grown-ups."

"Scream" (as in 'scream-free parenting') is the author's word for whatever you do when you've lost it: literal screaming, making threats you won't keep, guilt tripping yourself or your kid, or keeping your calm by tuning out of the situation. Stay calm, stay connected, grow yourself up. (I liked that phrase because for years I've been repeating a coined expression of my own: No one can grow you up against your will.)

It's your anxiety that causes you to 'scream.' You get anxious because (among many other reasons) you feel that to validate you as a good parent, your kids need to perform.

You need to stop thinking that you are responsible to program your kids. Are you trying to program a robot, or to enable the development of an independent, self-directed adult?

The funny thing is that by feeling you're responsible for your kids' behavior, you're also making your kids responsible for your behavior. "Don't make me stop this car!" "Stop it! I can't handle this!"

You aren't responsible for your kids; instead, you are responsible to your kids. You need to be the "cool" parent every kid wants and needs -- and that's a parent who keeps her cool, who stays calm and connected when the kid and/or the situation flips out. You are responsible for your own behavior.

Part 2: Keeping your cool means creating a space.

This part is about respecting kids' independence, in a bunch of ways. One chapter title is "Begin with the end in mind, but let go of the final results" - in other words, your child's actions and decisions are her own responsibility. You need to let her make her own mistakes. Acknowledge that she's her own person, with her own will, and in fact has the ability to keep on disobeying you.

Respect for your child's physical space includes not touching him if he doesn't want it, and not walking into his room without knocking, or walking into the bathroom. If you read your kid's diary, or keep searching his room, do you think you're teaching him that you're the one to turn to when he's in trouble?

Part 3: Keeping your cool means creating a place.

This part is about setting limits. I like his metaphor of setting a place for everyone at the table. It includes establishing rules and consequences, and making sure that the consequence reliably follows the infraction. One chapter is titled "Empty threats are really broken promises." Don't tell your kid that old lie, "this hurts me more than it hurts you." Pick a consequence you feel comfortable about imposing, and please don't pick one that messes up your life more than it messes up the kid's!

The book is written very well; there are compelling stories and some funny punchlines, besides for the excellent content. I did get tired of the repeated "I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me" throughout the first chapter or two. But I appreciated the permission to disagree with or ignore as much as you want of his theories and suggestions, because I do disagree with several of his suggestions. But, as the author assures us, all that really counts is that you stop making decisions in a reactive way, according to the buttons your kids push, and start instead to make decisions from calm thought, based on your principles and what you really want.

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