Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Gentle Mothering---Scream Free Parenting

Well folks, I've gone through most of the book, Scream Free Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel and I can honestly say it is a very good read and I highly recommend it. While it's not a "Christian" book, he does state in the beginning that he is a Christian and that influences his thoughts on this area but the book is for ALL parents and isn't written specifically to Christians.

One statement that I found interesting and thought-provoking is that he often says in the book that we need to stop focusing on our kids and focus on ourselves more. This sounds shocking and selfish until you realize what he means. He is referring to the fact that in our child-centered culture, we tend to think we are responsible FOR our kids and their every thought, emotion, choice, etc. We need to focus on US. We are not responsible FOR them, but TO them. We need to be sure OUR emotions, choices, and actions, etc. are right towards them. So, instead of focusing on the tantrum they are throwing and letting ourselves react with frustration and anger, we need to focus on OUR actions in the situation and take control of ourselves. Not being a reactionary parent is very, very hard for me. My dad recently discovered (thanks to the book that helped save their marriage a few years ago--Love and Respect) that he came from a super reactive home and learned patterns of reacting in anger to everything. While he was better than his dad was, he still was a reactionary and so was my mom and they just spun on the crazy cycle for 25 years of reacting to each other. I'm sure that my family influence is one reason I am very reactionary too but I think we all struggle with it as human beings born in sin. It's hard NOT to react when your kids smear your lipstick all over and ruin your favorite tube or track mud on the carpet you've just shampooed after being told 100 times not to. It's hard not to screech when they pop their newborn baby brother over the head with a toy or steal toys from friends for about the 50th time at a playdate. I remember back when Ali went through a stage of taking her clothes and diaper off every day and smearing poop all over everything in her room that I would scream, yell, spank, threaten and cry to no avail. It would happen again and again and I would try every method I could think of to get her to stop and to figure out that this was a horrible thing to do! However, she probably learned, more than anything, that it was fun to watch the Mommy Show and be in control of my emotions by pushing my buttons every day! She learned that Mommy definitely couldn't handle major poop messes!

This book helped me realize that I CANNOT control my kids. I'm responsible to discipline and train them and let them reap their own consequences, but I cannot program them like robots to do what I want. I CAN take control of my own emotions and actions. So many parenting books I have read have talked about how if you do A and B you get the results of C. It has never worked and has been so frustrating for me! I really liked this book for being a little different in emphasizing that kids will make their own choices and we need to let them. Of course there still need to be rules, consequences, and authority structure, but I need to stop thinking that everything Ali does is a reflection of me as a parent and taking every naughty thing she does personally and reacting to it.

The author clarifies that screaming doesn't just mean loud vocal action. He talks about different kinds of screaming parenting, using it as a term for various ways we react emotionally. It can be raising your voice, orbiting your life around theirs, cutting yourself off, trying to control their behavior and feelings, or sacrificing yourself for your family and then resenting them when they don't appreciate it.

The biggest and best concept I got from this book is on page 44. He writes, "When you scream at your kids, when you get emotionally reactive, you communicate one single message: CALM ME DOWN! No matter what words are actually coming out of your mouth, no matter how long your tirade is, no matter how old your child is, when you scream the message is : CALM ME DOWN! Whenever you react to your child's behavior by screaming, you actually begging them to help you calm your anxiety. You are saying you just cannot handle the fact that they will not obey or listen or calm down themselves. You cannot handle this, so you flip out. You are saying, "I need you to comply or else I'm going to lose it. And when I lose it, I'm going to need you to comply so I can calm back down. All my emotional responses are up to you."

"When you put all your emotional buttons in a child's hands, you become totally focused on them. You have begun a sort of orbit around them, attaching all of your emotional responses to how they perform in school, whether they use good manners, or the choices they are making today......."

"You have to make it your number-one priority to hold your own emotional responses in your own hands!!!" (Or, I would add, to lean on God to let His Spirit fill you and control you and help you to have self-control)!

So, this week Mrs. Jo is going to make a few signs to post around the main areas of the house that say CALM ME DOWN! This will be a reminder that if I allow my voice to get louder and louder as a way of making my kids obey (or if I get really upset over their messes and bad choices), then I am really giving them the control of Mommy.

I will post a few more thoughts I learned from this book in a future post! Check it out at your library if you find yourself encouraged by this post.


Kristin said...

Wow, those are some good insights. I am finding myself becoming more and more of a reactionary parent when Madison acts out. It's hard not too! But I have often times caught myself doing that and have mentally told myself that I can't allow myself to "lose" control in front of her.

A couple things that are working well for me lately are prayers and hugs. Usually when Madison is in need of a time out, it is a battle getting her to sit on her T-O chair. We don't start the T-O until she is sitting on it. Often times she is in such a huge fit, that I will just sit down on the floor and start praying for her and for myself out loud. She will typically come and sit on my lap while I finish praying, she calms down much better, and then she is more willing to listen and proceed with the T-O.

The other thing I've been doing is just when I start to notice the "switch" in her being flipped - when I notice she is just on the edge of a complete attitude change (for the worse) - I will ask her if she needs a hug. She will usually say yes, and the hug completely changes her attitude. However, I have to catch her in time because if it's too late, she will refuse my hug and proceed to spiral downwards.

So that's what's been working for me lately. Thanks for the reminder that we can't control our kids, but we can control our own emotions. That is something I will need to work on a lot.

Thia said...

Interesting thoughts. I guess my questions would be, "what does the author propose as the appropriate action to be taken, especially when they've done something that makes you just want to lose it completely?"

jenn said...

wow!! i found you doing a google search. thanks so much for the great read!! i definitely have to get this book.
God bless!

blessedmama said...

wow! i just noticed your dh's name is josiah, your son is jeremiah, and your baby is justus!!!!!
my first born is jeremiah, my second born is josiah, (my third born is jamin) and if we have another boy, justus is first on my list! how cool is that?!
jenn again - busybeingblessed.com

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