Peaceful parenting, according to Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting, involves taking responsibility for our own emotions when we interact with our children, in order to bring an influence of compassion, empathy, and love to each situation. Through this mindset, parents can foster emotional intelligence and connection with their children. Modeling behaviors of self-regulation and emotional awareness also contributes to children’s understanding of their own feelings so they can learn to voice their own feelings and needs.
Emotions and Connection
Emotional awareness, self-regulation, and family connection go hand-in-hand. All are needed to build strong relationships between family members, whether that’s parent-to-child or sibling-to-sibling. Dr. Markham acknowledges that from birth to adulthood, connection is a basic human need.
“The concept of a connected family ties in with peaceful parenting because connection depends on human warmth,” explains Dr. Markham, “and human warmth depends on dealing with all our own emotions. We all need connection. Children don’t feel safe unless they feel connected to the grown-ups in their life.” With that in mind, she explains, “peaceful parenting can be described as ‘take-responsibility-to-deal-with-your-emotions-constructively’ parenting. When we take responsibility for emotions ourselves, and also coach our kids through big emotions, that’s what peaceful parenting is. It facilitates connection.”
Getting Started with Peaceful Parenting
Cultivating a connected family unit takes intentional effort—and a lot of it. One of your top priorities will be to establish a structured and comfortable environment for your children so that they can feel loved and safe. Peaceful parenting starts with a commitment to be intentional through your words and actions. Dr. Markham offers these strategies and tips on how to raise a connected family:
Remember to “Stop, Drop, and Breathe”
As parents we often find ourselves in situations where frustration and disconnect is present, and we need tools to regulate our own emotions during these times. For example, let’s imagine you’re going through your regular morning routine to get your child to school on time, but she isn’t doing what you’ve asked. Meanwhile, you’re finishing up packing lunch and tempted to yell (or are already yelling) at her from across the room to hurry up.
In these instances, Dr. Markham suggests using the “Stop, Drop, and Breathe” method: Stop what you are doing, drop your agenda, and take a moment to breathe.” Then, go to your child and calmly reiterate the tasks you’ve asked her to do (put on shoes, brush teeth, etc.). This establishes a connection with your child while still firmly letting them know what you’d like them to do.
Develop Routines and Structure
“Routines and structure help children feel safe,” says Dr. Markham. Through routines, children can know what to expect so that they don’t feel like they’re constantly being pushed and pulled to do things and what’s coming next doesn’t seem as scary. Routines can also help reduce power struggles and provide opportunities for connection. Dr. Markham notes that once parents have a routine or structure in place, they often begin to realize that they can blend in ways to connect with their children.
While many families already utilize bedtime routines, it’s important to remember that you can create regular interactions throughout your day. Even small things, like hugging and telling your children you love them before they leave for school, can help establish powerful connections within your family. “When your children look back at their lives, it’s those repeated interactions that they’ll remember,” Dr. Markham says.
Create a Shared Identity and Family Culture
Every family is unique, made up of individual people who together make one unit. Whether your family is blended, single-parent, two parents, or any other combination, a shared family identity and culture helps children feel like they belong. As a parent, explains Dr. Markham, “you want to transmit to your children that ‘we are grounded—that yes, life may be full of unpredictability, but we can handle whatever happens.’ This is what decreases anxiety.”
One tangible way to establish a shared identity and family culture is to create a Family Value Statement. This can be a physical or digital document that lists what your family values most, with each family member voicing their opinions. For example, your family may strongly value reading, gardening, or serving others—these are all passions you can share with your children. “Whatever your family values are, this gives children something tangible to feel good about,” says Dr. Markham. “It strengthens the family connection, but it also strengthens contribution, which is another basic human need. All children need to feel like they contribute to the world.”
Make Your Home a Safe Space
Children need a safe space, both emotionally and physically, in order to flourish. Family life can be busy, shuffling from work to school to children’s activities, so it’s essential that children have a comfortable place to come home to and recharge. Home should be a place where family members are able to slow down and relax.
Essentially, home should also be your children’s sanctuary. Dr. Markham says this means that “all household members treat each other respectfully, and no violence, physical or verbal, is tolerated, including between children.” Sibling quarrels can be a difficult thing to tackle but a starting point is to teach your kids that respect is an expectation in your home.