Remember the end of the first Matrix film? Neo “dies” and is “reborn”. The world is different. He sees the code, the reality of the Matrix. “There is no spoon”. Or Kung Fu Panda. Po has the Dragon Scroll, the secret to unlimited power! He unfolds it to discover his reflection. After a beat down from Tai Lung he realizes the secret contained within the scroll; the power is inside him. Neo and Po both had moments of self-realization after intense struggle. The struggle awakened a source of power, and ultimately, victory.
Parenting is a daily battle. The question is who is the battle with? Am I really “fighting” with Penelope when she won’t wash her hands or get up off the floor? When I come home from work, tired and mentally drained, who is the “enemy” when Penelope screams because she can’t climb on the chairs? Author Hal Runkel says the battle is with one’s self. It’s a battle for self-control. Runkel, an Atlanta-based therapist, believes once parents achieve control over their emotions, “ScreamFree” parenting can begin.
The only problem with “ScreamFree Parenting” is how difficult it is to implement its advice. Inner peace? Yeah, just get that worked out and the rest will fall into place.
Like Brene’ Brown‘s TED talk I linked to here, Runkel discusses wholeness, a concept I heartily endorse. I suspect the author ruffles many a feather with his premise that a whole person loves himself or herself first, placing their own well-being ahead of others. Because a “whole” person, someone who takes care of themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually (if they are into that kind of thing), is in a much better position to take care of others.
For those who have flown you know the routine before take off. The stewardess’ stand in the aisle and mechanically walk through the routine of what to do when the plane is going down. As they are going through the motions a recording plays in the background, providing the soundtrack for the mime show. When the oxygen mask part takes place the recording says if you are traveling with small children to put your own mask on first, then your child’s. Why? Because if the plane is going down and you pass out, it’s unlikely your child will stay calm enough to put their mask on. Assuming they understood the stewardess’ show to begin with. Parents need to take care of their own masks first, then the kids, if anyone is going to survive. The parent needs to stay in control to raise the chance of survival.
Being in control means remaining calm. It means being consistent.
I took extensive notes on this book. 2,920 words worth. Here are the extensive highlights.Rather than rewrite the book I’ve cleaned up my notes, deleted the extraneous, and bullet pointed for easy reading. As a new parent I’m still processing much of what author Hal Runkel writes. If you read the notes and are intrigued, get the book. Everything is spelled out in greater detail. You might come away with a completely different take or find tips that didn’t even blip on my radar. Enjoy.
Introduction to “Screamfree Parenting”
- The author’s goal is “to restore the proper place of children and parents in the home”.
- Parents tend to focus too much on their children.
- Parent’s anxiety causes many of the problems in the child/parent relationship.
- “Parenting is not about kids, it’s about parents”. Turn the focus on yourself, not the child. By focusing on yourself you will have a healthier happier relationship with your family.
- Biggest struggle as parents is dealing with our own emotions, knee-jerk reactions.
- We are responsible “for” our children – the most damaging lie about parenting. Runkel makes a distinction and says we are responsible “to” our children.
- Most parenting focuses on getting parents to think, feel, or behave the right way. Runkel states this is not our job. The current parenting paradigm states “either program your child properly or they will fail”.
- Many parents try to teach lessons to their children. However, the parents have not learned these lessons.
- Children must be free to make their own decisions. Otherwise they will not learn from the consequences of their actions.
- Eliminate “Pick your battles” from your vocabulary. Runkel says children test us to see if we can be trusted. Remember, it’s not Waterloo. Your child wants to see if you can be trusted. Are you consistent? This is what they are looking for.
- Parenting is not a series of techniques. Parenting is a special kind of relationship between a parent and a child. Force or power are the ways to “win” in life. In the family dynamic it creates an endless cycle of fighting.
What We’re Really Screaming
- When we’re screaming the message sent to our children is “calm me down!”.
- We begin to “orbit” around our children when our reactions are dictated by our children.
- Parenting is hard yet rewarding.
- Having a child is like dying/re-birth. You will never be the same after having a child.
- Re-activity usually produces the reaction we are trying to prevent.
- By struggling and having challenges we provide examples for our children to learn how to deal with stress and anxiety. Being a grown up does not eliminate challenges or mean we will deal with them “rationally”.
- The more you focus on the result of your child becoming X the less chance they will turn out that way. The child has a difficult time focusing on their own outcome.
- Launch child into adulthood where they can be successful and work independently.
- For example: For Christians, parents push their faith so much they can push their children awayfrom the faith. Runkel recommends having conversations/making opportunities to have conversations rather than forcing children into the faith. The child will grow and one day have to make this decision for themselves. Otherwise they will have a “borrowed faith”.
- Children, like all people, need space in life to make their own decisions.
- Creating space = creating some separation. Many parents object. The author asks, “when will you honor your children’s right to space? When they can drive, get married, etc”. Examples given, do not force children to hug as they get older (especially fathers/daughters), allow children to close their doors, and offering to purchase a diary for your child(ren) and promising never to read it.
- It is not our job to change our child’s hearts by telling them how to feel. Telling brings about rebellion. One example the author used was a mother who noticed her child was sad. The mother said “I see you’re sad. Let me know when you’re feeling better”.
- Another example about space: A child said they were too tired to clean their room. The parent said “Ok, you don’t have to, it’s your room”. The child was shocked. Runkel says “We can’t on one hand call it “their” room then dictate every detail about it.
- Stop asking “why” when your child does something wrong. It puts the child on the defense. If they could tell you why would you feel better or worse about your child’s actions?
- Rarely look a child in eye when talking to them as it causes the child to feel vulnerable.Only do this at sensitive times and use sparingly.
- Let kids disagree with you. Respect their arguments.
- Regarding homework: Rather than being responsible for their homework, when they ask for help, ask who they can talk to in their class. Let them struggle. Doing their homework is like lifting weights for them. There should be some struggle.
- Runkel tells the story of a parent trying to help their child put on a pair of tights. The child can’t get them on by herself. “Do you want me to help you?” the mother asks. The daughter says “No”. The mother says “OK honey, let me know if there is anything I can do to help you”. The daughter replies “But mommy, I can’t get them on!” The mother repeats her statement “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help”. Her daughter went back back to her room and figured it out herself.
- Anxiety drives our need to predict our child’s destiny. Stop labeling your children, even with positive labels. Examples given “gifted, full of potential, funny, lazy, high maintenance, laid back, strong willed, melodramatic troublemaker, skinny, big boned, the star, the black sheep, etc.
- Labels are usually based on some observable patterns that occur. Just because a child exhibits some behavior at some point does not justify labeling as such for the rest of their life.
- “I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief”. – Gerry Spence
- Labeling helps us structure, understand our world. Are all labels damaging? Even repeated labels that don’t sound like bad things (funny, hard working) may cause your child to believe it is their place in the family, hence stunting their development. By not labeling we give the gift of discovery.
- Because your child struggles in school one year does not mean they will struggle every year. Take works like “Always, never, all the time,” out of your vocabulary. (Jenn and I heard this in our pre-marriage counseling). Instead, use “Can be..” You sure can be dramatic when you want to be…” instead of “You are always so dramatic…”.
- When we choose a parenting style different than our parents they usually take that as an indictment of their parenting style. The need for your parents input should decrease as you get older. Grow relationship with parents to an adult/adult level rather than child/parent level if you have not done so already.
- Each family member has a place in the family hierarchy. Runkel uses the example of a table. Parents set the table by setting the tone. Stability and structure are important in the home and children need it. At the table each child is accepted as an individual but expected to act as a member of the family. The question, Runkel asks, is will you set the place with your principled decisions or your anxious activity.
- Stability and structure are necessary in the home. The author states he is not referring to punishment and discipline. Calm, consistency, and commitment. (I believe this is difficult because parents lack the elements in their own lives.)
- Each family tries to work out a “balance”. I.e. Father is the disciplinarian, mother is the fun one or vice versa. Some balances work better than others but all families have them. Blurring the “personal” and “business” side of parenting weakens the effectiveness of parents.
- Runkel relates the story of a father and a bike he bought his daughter. She left it outside every night, even after he told her she had to bring it in. For a long time he would get frustrated when she left it out and then bring it in for her. Finally he had a calm talk with her. She had a choice. Leave the bike out and he would bring it to Goodwill in the morning or put the bike up every night. It was her choice.
- Parenting presents the dilemma of providing structure for our children while our children try claiming as much territory as possible. Children want parents to give in yet they also want them to hold firm.
- When introducing structure after lacking it many families experience struggles. For instance, a family may have no structure for dinner time. Family members may eat when they can. If the parents decide they are going to have a structured dinner time everyone gets upset. They are swinging from one extreme to another. Finding a balance between structured times and allowance of exceptions is important. For instance maybe occasionally the family will break out the TV Trays.
Let the Consequences Do the Screaming
- Our choices have consequences. This is a bedrock truth in life.
- We grow by experiencing the consequences of our actions. The polio vaccine is actually a small dose of polio. Your body builds an immunity from that vaccine. By shielding our children from the consequences of their actions when they are young we set them up for difficulties later in life when they will face the consequences of their actions.
- Runkel relates the story of a mother who brought her teenage daughter to school every day. The daughter was frequently late, in turn making the mother late. The mother decided “enough”, if her daughter wasn’t ready, she would leave without her and her daughter could walk to school. One day her daughter called asking what was for lunch. Her daughter had not gone to school. The mother told her to walk and let her know she would not get an excuse for being tardy. As a result the daughter received 0′s and an unexcused absence. Homecoming was that week and any student with an unexcused absence was not permitted to attend. The mother was faced with either allowing her daughter to go by writing an excuse (lying for her) or letting the consequences affect her. Her daughter, the daughter’s date, even the woman’s son were all saying the punishment didn’t fit the crime. But the question comes down to the consequences in the world at large. In this case the “world at large” is the school. The school had consequences and the daughter had to endure them. It is better to learn as a teenager than as an adult. Later the mother spoke calmly and clearly to her daughter, explaining her position, and her own hurt for the daughter’s situation. She offered to take her daughter and date to the movies in place of homecoming.
- Everyone feels the pain when children must face the consequences of their actions. In order for parents to deal with the consequences (a frustrated child) parents must calm themselves down.
- Letting children fail must match their age. We wouldn’t let our child play in the street at age two. What about seventeen? If a seventeen year old is driving recklessly, should a parent hire a lawyer to fight the charges or let the child face the consequences of their actions? Runkel tells the story of a father and son who were both pulled over on separate occasions for reckless driving. The father could have hired a lawyer for them both. Instead he accepted the consequences just as his son had to.
- Learning from mistakes is the most important things a child can learn. Consequences are a source of great learning.
- Calming ourselves while we watch our children make mistakes and do stupid things is one of the most important things we can do.
On Keeping Promises
- In haste, the author promised his daughter when she turned 11 they would get a dog. He states they will get a dog since they keep their promises. This works in reverse. If you say “I am taking away this toy if you do not stop” you should take it away if the behavior does not stop.
- Thinking through decisions before you make them will help you remain calm and be consistent.
What Does it Mean to Be Selfish?
- Taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do to be a great parent.
- “I take care of me so you don’t have to”. This allows the parent to operate from a position of “whole”ness.
- The only way to intentionally change our habits is to change ourselves. Like exercise, we must focus on ourselves.
- We, in the West, do not feel we have a right to treat ourselves well. Sacrificing yourself for others in order for them to validate your life does not make sense. The person who loves themselves does not need to be validated by others and can truly love others without needing something from the other party.
- If we do not find ways to make time for ourselves we will make it happen in other ways (spending time on the computer, staying out, etc). Plan intentional retreats, get a pedicure, learn a musical instrument, follow your dreams, exercise, etc.
On Revolutionary Relationships
- We are more comfortable in the known, even in misery, than the unknown.
- In relationships we form patterns. When we try to break those patterns we encounter resistance. Others will attempt to get you back into your old patterns. People want things to be “normal”, or as they are accustomed to things being.
- Take control of yourself.