This book has been so helpful for my husband and I as parents. I read about half of it when my son was very young, but recently decided to start over and finish it. I am so glad that I did!
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids has three big ideas: 1. Regulating Yourself, 2. Fostering Connection, and 3. Coaching Not Controlling. Some thoughts on each:
(1) Regulating Yourself. This section focuses not on the child, but on the parent! I love this because it’s easy to put the spotlight on your kids when you think of parenting strategies, but Dr Laura says that “Parenting isn’t about what our child does, but about how we respond” (intro). As parents, we have the power to overcome our own emotions of fear/anger/etc and be a calm presence for our kids. Young children, on the other hand, cannot override their big emotions with the logical part of their brain yet (until around age 6!), which is why it isn’t helpful to yell or discipline in the heat of the moment. This section is full of practical ways to manage your own emotions and model emotional regulation for your kids. “When Your Child Melts Down: How to Keep Your Cool” on page 24 is awesome!
(2) Fostering Connection. This section is all about your relationship with your kids. It begins by discussing healthy attachment, the necessity of quality AND quantity time, and how to manage the busyness of everyday life while connecting deeply. I love the explanation of the child’s “emotional bank account” and all of the practical ways to connect daily. I’ve started doing Special Time with my son and it is now one of our favorite times of the day. Other helpful sections are about how to have smooth morning and bedtime routines, how to be a good listener, how to get your child to listen, and how to get out of a negative rut.
(3) Coaching, Not Controlling. This final section is the longest and focuses on the three main ways you interact with your children: emotion coaching, loving guidance, and supporting mastery. A quote right at the beginning hits the nail on the head, I think: “It’s certainly more convenient to shush or threaten an upset child than to help her process her emotions” (91). More convenient for us, perhaps, but not effective in the long run, or good for our relationship.
(a) Raising a Child Who Can Manage Himself: Emotion Coaching. Emotion coaching is all about helping our children understand their feelings so that they can become resilient, empathetic people who can manage themselves. This is my favorite part of the book, so typed up a bunch of points:
-We should place limits on behavior, but never on feelings (92)
-Remember that a toddler’s job is asserting himself and learning to take responsibility (101)
-Toddlers don’t enjoy tantrums, their brains are not developed enough to maintain rational control when emotions are high (103)
-“Rather than seeing tantrums as undesirable behavior . . . wise parents understand that their little one is telling them about his experience. From their loving acceptance, he learns that even the most challenging feelings are bearable.” (104)
“Your acceptance of his emotions teaches your child that his emotional life is not dangerous, is not shameful, and in fact is universal and manageable.” (113)
-Empathy isn’t permissiveness. “You can (and should) set limits. They key is to acknowledge your child’s unhappiness about those limits. It’s important to your child that you be able to tolerate his disappointment and anger at you, as well as all of his other emotions.” (113)
-Children don’t know how to express their big emotions, so they act them out. We often view this as bad behavior, but really they need help processing their complicated feelings (117)
-There is also lots of info about anger and anxiety, games to play with your child, and “scripts” for different situations. Basically, LOVED this section!
(b) Raising A Child Who Wants to Behave. This section is about what Dr Laura calls “loving guidance,” the alternative to punishment. It’s about helping kids become self-disciplined using empathic limits instead of punishment. Fear may be an effective motivator in the moment, but it becomes less effective over time, while love become more effective (182). There are some great sections about setting empathic limits, alternatives to consequences, and helping kids make amends.
(c) Raising a Child Who Achieves with Joy and Self Esteem. The final section stood out to me the least but I still enjoyed it. Mastery coaching involves unconditional love, respect (for our kids’ discovery, interests, curiosity), and “scaffolding” (routines, expectations, modeling, a safe environment). My favorite part was about giving constructive feedback instead of praise. “They key is unconditional positive regard—noticing your child and affirming him, his activities, his self, and your love for him—rather than evaluating him with conditional praise” (232).
Phew. I realize this review is long but I mostly wrote it for myself, to help me process everything I’ve learned.
A few last thoughts, this is not a “Christian book.” However, it focuses on selfless love, grace (although she doesn’t use that word) and relationship over forced/detached obedience, which I believe aligns with Scripture.
Finally, the one big area I disagreed with this book was sleep training. Our ped recommended this book but also gave different instructions for sleep training :)
Dr. Laura Markham is the creator of AhaParenting.com, where you can find a lot of the same information that you find in this book; however, the book puts everything together in a concise and organized format. Obviously, I would recommend it.