One thing you have to know about me is that I read parenting books like they're novels. This is already the fourth one I've read this year. Anytime I feel like my parenting has fallen into a rut and needs a little pick-me-up, I read a book about it. And with the sheer volume of parenting books out there, I can usually find one that fills just the right niche for me in that moment. (Though I must confess that the reason I selected ScreamFree Parenting right now was because it was the only audio parenting book to be found. Luckily, it gave me what I needed.)
Even though all parenting books are written with the same goal in mind (raising, emotionally healthy, confident children), everyone seems to approach it just a bit differently. Hal Runker's philosophy is: "If you're not under control, then you cannot be in charge." Most of the book focuses more on taking care of yourself as a parent and less about how to discipline/teach your children It was interesting to spend most of the book analyzing myself instead of my kids.
For example, he discusses the four levels of love, created by Bernard of Clairvaux (a French monk who lived a thousand years ago, in case you didn't know). The most basic level is I love me for my benefit (i.e., babies who are only focused on being fed, changed, put to bed, or entertained). The second level is I love you for my benefit (i.e., being a great parent so that others will say, "Wow, you are such a great parent."). The third level is I love you for your benefit (because of human nature, this level is basically impossible to achieve and usually falls back to Level 2). The fourth and highest level is I love me for your benefit. It's such an interesting concept, and one that we've kind of trained ourselves to think of as selfish when it's actually the most selfless kind of love you can give.
Mike did a little bit of eye-rolling when I told him about the four levels (this is a hot topic lately and unfortunately does lead to a lot of selfishness in the name of "self-love"), but his eye-rolling was even more exaggerated when I started in on "labeling."
We hear about the damaging effects of labels all the time, but after reading this, I finally did a little self reflection and looked at the labels I grew up with. When I was three and four and even beyond, I threw terrible tantrums: screaming and crying and shouting for hours. My parents realized that my outbursts seemed to be linked to the times I ate something sweet and sugary, so they cut processed sugar out of my diet. After that, when offered a cookie, I would tell people, "I can't have that. They make me throw fits." Growing up, I always heard about my horrible fits. Even once I'd grown out of them and could eat a Starburst without flying into a rage, it was still brought up in family gatherings and dinner conversations. Did it damage me? No. But I still remember it. (And I knew that if I ever did have a rough day, someone was bound to say that I'd always had a difficult time controlling my emotions.)
Thinking about my childhood led me to think about my own children and the labels I'd already given them. For example, I've sung to Aaron since he was a baby, but well after he'd started talking, he still wouldn't sing a note, even when he was by himself. If people asked him to sing the ABC's, I was quick to jump in with, "Oh, Aaron doesn't sing." Then one day, surprise, surprise, Aaron started singing. All of the songs he'd heard for years poured out along with ones we'd never heard before. I couldn't believe it. Somehow I thought because he hadn't sung in the first 3 years of his life, it meant he would never want to sing.
Hal Runkel said, "Whenever we label our children, we severely limit their space." And look at how severely I might have limited Aaron if he had been paying attention to what I was saying about him! Hal Runkel also said that if we just change the word always (as in, "Amy is always so emotional") to can be (as in, "Amy can be so emotional"), it will open up the options and give our children the freedom to change.
Although most of the book is focused on changes parents can make to themselves, he does spend one section talking about the power of consequences and how much more effective it is to the let the consequences do the screaming for us. I totally agree with this but have found that the only way to really implement it is by choosing consequences that I am okay with enforcing. For example, I can't say, "If you do that again, we're leaving the park" if I'm talking to my friend and don't really want to leave the park yet. So that's been the trickiest part for me: finding consequences that I will actually follow through with.
If parenting books usually leave you feeling guilty and like you're ruining your children, this might be the one for you. It's full of encouragement and humor. And it focuses on the only thing you really have any control over: yourself.