for release Friday May 27, 2005
by Melodie Davis
Scream-free Parenting: Taking Charge
Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of a three-part series on parenting difficult children.
I ran into a young couple pushing their stroller during a noon-time walk. I had heard about the young child they had adopted, and eagerly grabbed the opportunity to peer into the stroller for a peek at the now eight-month old little girl. I commented on how big she was and the father said, “Yes, she’s testing all the lifting muscles we didn’t know we had.”
I had to think, I’m sure she will test all kinds of other muscles before she is grown, like all children everywhere.
Hal Edward Runkel was a parent (to children now ages 5 and 7) before he began his professional training to be a family therapist. He is the author of ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool (Oakmont Publishing, 2005).
I thought about his title, which I borrowed (he actually trademarked it) for this parenting series. Did I scream at my kids? I must admit that I did. Not often, not a lot, and always with great shame afterwards, but there were times when I just lost it.
Most parents do, at least occasionally, but usually it is not an effective way to discipline or even get the attention of kids. We all struggle with frustrations and difficulties, and too often lashing out at the kids is like the “last straw.” We kick at the dog and scream at the kids when we have no other place to take out our frustration. The author suggests that sometimes even the doormat approach (like picking up after the kids after you’ve told them to do it but you’re tired of waiting) is really like a silent scream. A slammed door, a banged phone, tearing out the driveway in the car, all qualify as screaming.
Runkel shows his hand in the very first pages of his book: the best way to keep our cool as parents, and be good parents, is by taking care of our own needs. Sure the needs of your children and spouse must be met, but you will have no emotional reserve for coping with the inevitable frustrations and snags of parenting if you are wrung out yourself. “Emotional reactivity is our worst enemy when it comes to having great relationships … Concentrate on what we can control—calming our own emotional, knee-jerk reactions.”
He goes on to tell a story of what was supposed to be a fun morning of he and his wife taking the kids, a daughter and son, 4 and 2, out to breakfast. The first restaurant had a long line, and when the second one they chose did also, they just decided to wait it out. When they finally got a seat, the children were starving and impatient, although the four year old girl could be talked into behaving nicely. The two year old started by dropping his fork on the floor, followed by his plate of waffles, and the father, Hal, responded: “I snatched him up and stormed out of the restaurant. All eyes were fixed on us as my son started to scream. And kick. And hit. I was seething as I pushed the door open with such force it rattled the glass walls. The reverberating structure got everyone’s attention. The entire restaurant saw me yelling at my son, using big words, asking rhetorical questions, puffing out my chest, pointing my finger and intimidating a boy who couldn’t have stood more than 36 inches tall. What a big man I was!”
All the while he wore a silly hat on his head from the restaurant, which he had forgotten was there. His wife couldn’t help smirking, and he quickly realized the amusing image he presented. “When we get reactive, we get regressive. That is, we shrink back to an immature level of functioning. Think of me at that restaurant. I became just as immature as my two-year-old in an effort to get him to act more mature than I. I may have screamed my son into submission, but what type of relationship will I have with him if I continue to parent by reactive intimidation?” (p. 12).
Runkel goes on, “If we want to be influential, then we have to first bring ourselves under control, only then can we choose our response.”
I think of the advice from the Old Testament of the Bible: “Train up a child in the way he/she should go, and when he/she is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). If we want our children to behave well, we have to behave well—and be well, ourselves.
Okay, so we all fail from time to time. But if you want your children to grow up in a loving home that emphasizes the best aspects of being family, you’ll work to take care of yourself and model good behavior.
For this complete series on Screamfree Parenting, a bibliography of resources, and a new book on parenting (my choice, as long as they last,) write to me at: Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va., 22802, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 866 words; end material = 105 words
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