Is It Really Possible – and Effective?
Parenting – it’s not about the kids. This is the ironic message that is delivered in Scream Free Parenting, by Hal Edward Runkel. According to Runkel we are too focused on our kids, too ready to help them, control them, mold them, and be with them. We scream because we are anxious that our kids do better, have better, be better than we were and perhaps are. It is time to quiet the screaming.
Screaming might refer in this book to literal screaming, where parents meet the challenges of parenting with throat scratching and ear-splitting screams. For other parents screaming might mean disconnecting from our kids or overcompensating for their misbehaviors. Creating a scream free environment then means parenting through calm, nonreactive authority. The temper tantrums of your two-year-old and the talking back from your tween won’t be calming, so this is where Runkel’s message rings true – parenting is about the parents.
How to Parent with Calm Integrity
Runkel continues to remind the reader that effective parenting occurs when we are calm – when we give ourselves room to cool off before we react, and when we make conscious choices about how we are going to react to our children. Some of the advice Runkel promotes includes:
- Don’t react with emotion to your child’s misbehavior. “Your emotional responses are up to you. You always have a choice.” Runkel says we give our children too much emotion-draining power when we claim they can push us over the edge or push all of the right buttons to drive us crazy. We need to own up to our reactions to them – and try to take it down a notch or two.
- Don’t micromanage our children’s lives. If we helicopter parent our children, we can’t expect them to grow strong wings of their own.
- Let natural consequences rule the world. Runkel reminds us to consistently seek to balance protecting our kids from true dangers and allowing them to experience life’s lessons (even the ugly ones).
The sooner we can expose our children to the universal law of sowing and reaping (at whatever age they happen to be right now), the less they will need to have the larger consequences teach them as they get older.
- Perhaps my favorite lesson from Runkel – the kind that I have on my refrigerator as a reminder – is about remaining consistent in our parenting.
Don’t ever set a consequence that is tougher for you to enforce than it is for them to endure. Choose only those consequences that you are willing to enforce.
The Crazy Points I Just Can’t Embrace
Yes – there are many lessons for parents in Runkel’s book that are really worth embracing and attempting to implement. However, there were several points in Runkel’s book where I just wanted to bang my head on the floor and scream – the kind of points that I just can’t ever fathom even attempting to use in my home. One specific point has to do with respecting the space of our children.
According to Runkel, my kids’ rooms are their spaces and I should respect my children by allowing them to use their rooms as they see fit. If they don’t want to clean it – fine. Runkel even goes on to say that:
If it is “their” room, then let them keep it the way they want to. Whenever you feel anxious about their mess, go clean your own room.
How much did children pay Runkel to write this chapter? Sure – the advice sounds like something that might be dished out in a psychologist’s office and somewhere there might be a grain of truth in the giant sand castle of parenting. Runkel claims that it is our parenting anxiety that makes us want our children’s rooms to be clean. Yep – I’m anxious. About the fire safety hazard of allowing a teenager take over a 14X14 space, and the policies of the CDC against allowing unknown substances to regenerate themselves in the corners of children’s bedrooms. I’m anxious, too, about the carpet I paid to have installed, the window treatments I invested in to help reduce the heating or cooling costs I have to pay for each month. But according to Runkel I need to stop being anxious about bedrooms because we want our children to feel that they are responsible for their own spaces.
The idea proposed by Runkel might sound – liberating – for children. But there are other ways to allow children to learn how to embrace their spaces.
- Let them choose the color schemes, posters for the walls, etc.
- Mandate a monthly room cleaning for all in the house, including Mom and Dad
- Give them tools for keeping their rooms clean – bins for sorting, baskets for hiding, and under the bed Ikea treasures to store their treasures
They are responsible for their own bodies, too, but if we don’t insist their teeth get brushed, their underwear be changed, and their faces occasionally washed of the mystery goo, we would probably be held on charges of child endangerment. You can’t teach a child to respect himself, his belongings, and those people and things around him by only setting a good example and giving him ownership of the rest. If children didn’t need us to help guide them and lead them, we would be like sand tiger sharks that are born as independent swimmers ready to take on the world. Sand tiger sharks also eat their siblings before they are born – only the strongest survives. I’m trying to stay away from adelphophagy [eating one’s brother] and work toward the kind of harmony Runkel promotes. But the bedrooms need to be clean enough to pass health inspections.