"Isn't there a time and a place for a parent to just plain 'be in charge'? So often, and especially now, with this new approach, she pretty much does whatever she wants...I don't want my child to be an uncontrollable brat." - Amber
Often, parents get confused about peaceful parenting. They think that if they
stop punishing, their child will do whatever she wants. But that assumes there
are only two choices -- being permissive or punitive. What about holding to your
expectations while at the same time offering your child support and understanding?
Let's say you tell your child that it's time for bed, and she ignores you or says
NO! What are your choices?
- Threaten or punish her. (You have to keep escalating, it ruins
everyone's evening, and it erodes your relationship with your child.)
- Let her do whatever she wants. (You're compromising on what's
good for your child and the rest of the family. Until you explode, eventually....Not
exactly responsible or peaceful parenting!)
- Set a limit -- with empathy. Say "You really don't want to stop playing....I hear you. It's hard to stop. I bet when you grow up, you'll play all night, every night, won't you? AND right now, it's time to get ready for bed....Do you want to fly your plane to the bathroom, or climb on my back and I'll gallop you there?"
What makes a peaceful parent isn't backing away from disagreement. Conflict is
part of every human relationship, children learn by testing limits, and your child
will never understand why it's so important to take his bath RIGHT NOW! So
parents need to set limits and expectations fairly constantly.
What makes a peaceful parent is regulating your own emotions so you can stay lovingly
connected while you set those limits and work through those disagreements. That's
what creates a more peaceful home. That's what helps your child WANT to follow
your guidance. And that's what helps children learn to manage their emotions, so
they can manage their behavior -- and so they want to!
So peaceful parents are more in charge than most parents--of their own reactions,
and therefore of the mood in their house. That lets them be better guides to their
Of course, there will still be times when your child does get to "do whatever
she wants." Often, that's because you approve of what she's doing, like building
a sandcastle on the beach. Sometimes it might be because she really wants
something, and you decide you can live with the results, like having a sand table
in the house. Sometimes it might even be against your better judgment, but you
decide to give it a try and supervise her, like building a sand castle in a plastic
bin in your kitchen. And yes, sometimes you'll just let things go because you're
holding the baby and you can't intervene, or you just don't have the energy for
a fight. So you decide it won't be that hard to sweep up if she brings some sand
from her sandbox and dumps it on the kitchen floor to play. That's known as choosing
your battles. But in all of these cases, you're not abdicating. You're making a
Peaceful Parenting means you regulate your own emotions first. Then, you try to
see things from the child's point of view, so you often look for a win/win solution
that lets the child get some or all of what she wants. But you don't let
your child "do whatever she wants" if you really think the answer should be No.
You may not think what your child wants to do is safe. Or maybe you just
can't handle cleaning up another mess, because it will send you on a slide into
resentment and yelling. After all, you're trying to meet your child's needs, but
your needs matter, too, if you're aiming to stay peaceful!
So Peaceful Parents DO say No. Plenty. And it's not bad for your child. In fact,
that experience of "switching gears" between what he wants, and what you're asking,
is what develops the part of the brain that gives your child self-discipline. But
there IS a catch. When kids feel forced and pushed around on a regular basis, it
causes resistance. That's why external discipline doesn't actually develop self-discipline.
The trick is to stay connected and compassionate, so your child knows you're on
his side, and therefore WANTS to cooperate with your request on some level, however
Does that mean your child will always happily cooperate at those times? Unfortunately,
no. Often, she'll still object. So how can you stay peaceful and positive
1. Stay calm. When you go into "fight or flight" your child
will certainly spiral out of control. If you can stay calm, your child is more
likely to cooperate. Research shows that just noticing your breathing will
keep you calmer. It also helps to notice your thoughts and reframe as necessary.
For instance, "Why is she doing this to me? I can't take it!" might become "She's acting like a child because she is a child...I'm the grown-up here...Whatever happens, I can handle it."
2. Empathize. If your child feels understood, she's much more
likely to accept your limit. "You really wish you could...You're so disappointed...You were were hoping that.."
3. Remember that children only accept our leadership because of the relationship we have with them. If
they resist or defy us, it's a sign that we need to focus on connecting with them.
If your child often refuses to cooperate, be sure you're spending daily Special
Time. Every family I know that has made Special Time a priority has reported a
more peaceful household. But the catch is you can't just read books or make
cookies. What your child needs is for you to pour all your love into her, and create
the safety for her to show you all those feelings she's lugging around in her emotional
backpack, that will otherwise drive "bad" behavior.
What's So Special About Special Time?
4. Renounce punishment. If you've been
swatting your child's hand or dragging her to timeout, you can count on her being
less cooperative. That's because she doesn't believe you're truly on her
side. And she isn't developing the part of her brain that allows her to switch
gears -- because why should she? She's being forced from outside, so she
isn't developing self-discipline. So when you make a request, she doesn't have
the brain control or motivation to comply, unless you threaten. (See
What's Wrong With Strict Parenting?) If you want cooperation without punishing,
you need to focus first on connection, so your child WANTS to follow your lead.
5. Look for a win/win solution. Okay, so she can't climb
up on the shelves. But can you get the stepladder with her and spot her to climb
up? Most of the time, if you clarify your concerns, you can find a way to
meet both your needs. This doesn't mean you go to heroic lengths to meet her desires
all day long. It means that your child knows you're on her side, and that you'll
try to balance her desires with the rest of the family's needs.
6. Welcome the meltdown. There are times when you just can't
find a win/win solution. Your child's every desire does not have to be satisfied.
In fact, often young humans (like adults) provoke a fight when they just need some
help with their emotions. Especially if you're transitioning from punishment to
peaceful parenting, your child may act up to signal that he needs your help to
empty that emotional backpack.
So set a kind, clear limit and summon up all your compassion. That creates
the safety for your child to show you his tears and fears. When he acts like it's
the end of the world, remember that young children have big feelings, and their
brains haven't yet developed enough to process emotions by talking. Accept his
disappointment with as much empathy as you can, even if his anger is directed at
Your compassion communicates that you understand, and you're truly sorry
it's so upsetting for him. Your calm (not your words) communicates that you
also know that these are just feelings, which will evaporate once they're expressed,
and the sun will come out again. Experiencing all those emotions in the safety
of your presence, and learning that she can make it through and come out okay is
how your child develops resilience.
7. Remember that being in charge means you act like a leader, not a dictator. Good
leaders lead by example. They listen, try to balance everyone's needs, and protect.
Being in charge means you take responsibility to provide a wholesome, nurturing
environment. It doesn't mean you need to be controlling or punitive.
8. Take the time to process your own emotions about how you've experienced parents being "in charge."
For instance, if your parents were very strict, you may fear that you're not in
charge unless you're controlling your child's every move. Or maybe you don't
want to repeat that pattern, so you don't set limits at all. That doesn't help
your kids. (See
What's Wrong with Permissive Parenting?) And most likely, you'll end
up yelling when things finally get out of hand. Kids without limits always
push us to our limits.
If, instead, we can let ourselves feel all those childhood emotions of how alone
we felt, how hurt, how sad .... they no longer control us. We won't go into
fight or flight when our kids are upset. We're free to set limits and guide our
child with empathy. When we lose it, we can ditch the guilt, step up our self-care,
and reconnect with our child
Letting kids just do what they want wouldn't be good for them, or for us.
But the wonderful thing about empathic limits is that they help kids WANT to cooperate.
So you get to be more peaceful.
Please click here for the Spanish translation of this article.