Peaceful parenting is a movement that aims to raise kids who will become responsible, resilient, happy adults who do good in the world. It involves setting limits with empathy, trying to understand and address the root causes of problems rather than manipulating behavior through rewards and punishments, and generally being kind and non-punitive in our interactions with our children. It involves listening instead of yelling, coaching instead of commanding, and reasoning instead of reacting. It’s a tall order. It’s no wonder many peaceful parenting fans feel like frauds. Here we are gathering information, reading parenting books, participating in online forums, and trying so hard to meet the parenting goals we set for ourselves when inevitably… we fail.
We get frustrated.
We lose our patience.
We snap at our kids.
We vow to do better tomorrow.
We need to give ourselves a break. There is not a parent on earth who is a perfect mom or dad all the time. We all fail to live up to the type of parent we want to be sometimes. And that’s ok. Growing up with a perfectly programmed robot is not what kids need. They need to see that everyone makes mistakes, and more importantly, that the appropriate reaction to making mistakes is to own up to them, apologize, and try to do better.
For peaceful parents, that means that if there are particular situations that consistently cause us to lose it, we need to engage in some reflection.
Are our expectations reasonable or are we asking too much of our kids? Sometimes frustration is the result of having expectations that are simply not developmentally appropriate, given the ages of our children. In some cases we may need to ease up a bit and remember that their brains are still growing.
Are we setting enough limits to ensure that we don’t get resentful or are we asking too little of our kids? Sometimes frustration is the result of failing to meet our own needs in the midst of meeting the needs of little ones. If we allow our own boundaries to be trampled freely, it can leave us on edge and volatile.
Are we being triggered by unhealed wounds from our past? For those who grew up never allowed to make a mess, or never allowed to waste food, or never allowed to say no, witnessing our kids do these things (all of which occur sometimes as part of a healthy childhood) can be incredibly triggering. In these cases, we need to heal our own wounds so that we don’t pass them along to the next generation.
In the meantime, even our imperfect efforts make a difference. The book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant includes a fascinating section on nurturing originality in our children. One study cited in the book looks at the differences in how two groups of people were parented — Holocaust rescuers (who actively worked to help victims and potential victims) and Holocaust bystanders (who did nothing to intervene).
The study revealed that Holocaust rescuers were parented differently. In explaining how their parents approached discipline, the rescuers reported that their parents tended to rely on reasoning, explanations, and suggestions of ways to remedy harm. As one put it, “my mother never did any punishing or scolding – she tried to make me understand with my mind what I’d done wrong.” The emphasis on reasoning rather than reaction came up repeatedly. “Reasoning communicates a message of respect,” the study concluded. “It implies that had the children but known better or understood more, they would not have acted in an inappropriate way. It is a mark of esteem for the listener; an indication of faith in his or her ability to comprehend, develop, and improve.” The study also noted that, “while reasoning accounted for only 6% of disciplinary techniques that the bystanders’ parents used, it accounted for a full 21% of the how the rescuers’ parents disciplined their children.”
There are sure to be many things that go into raising a child with the kind of clarity and strength to stand up against some of the world’s largest injustices. An empathetic and reason-based parenting style is one of them, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Simply being the kind of parent who values long-term learning over short-term compliance, who believes that our kids are doing their best instead of trying to catch them at their worst, and who coaches them to improve rather than criticizing them for their mistakes sets peaceful parents apart. If we can’t do it every time, it doesn’t make us failures. As the study of the rescuer parenting shows, taking the time for empathy and explanation just 1 in 5 times instead of 1 in 20 times when your child needs guidance makes a significant difference to children, and sometimes even to the world.
Imagine what 4 out of 5 times could do.