I tend to use the terms “peaceful” and “gentle” interchangeably and I season my perspective with other words like “respectful” and “responsive.” I think it’s important at the outset to explain where I’m coming from, which will provide insight into why I do what I do.
Peaceful Parenting differs from traditional, Authoritarian methods along clear lines. It begins with connection instead of compliance, and it favors intrinsic motivation and self-regulation over external means of control. From my perspective, for a parenting approach to be genuinely peaceful, it must meet these criteria:
- Children and adults must occupy positions of equal importance. Children need protection and guidance which is provided by adults. The balance of responsibility is clearly unequal with adults retaining the bulk. But, children are no less important than adults.
- Children cannot be sacrificed for the convenience of adults. I know all too well how difficult parenting is and how easy it is to exert control over kids to make our lives run more smoothly. However, stripping children of power to make our lives easier is disrespectful and harmful.
- Adults must reject punishment and rewards. It is enough to enforce limits. Adding arbitrary consequences or perks does nothing to help children develop self-regulation or intrinsic motivation. For a thorough explanation of why punishments and rewards don’t work like you might expect, check out this Raised Good post.
- Adults must model the behavior they want to see in children whether or not the children reflect it back. Children do well when they can. It’s not a matter of will but of ability. Many of us have a warped sense of children’s capabilities. For instance, a few years back, a national survey revealed that a majority of parents believe that children could resist the temptation to do what they know they shouldn’t before the age of three. This is a myth.
- Adults must connect with children first. Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma-informed care, developed what he calls the three Rs: regulate, relate, and reason. This approach works well for all children and it is simple to remember.
- Adults must accept emotions without judgment and address behavior with compassion. Emotions are ok. Crying is ok. And, we need to tell children that their emotions are good… that they themselves are good. Destructive behaviors are not ok, however, and should be addressed gently.
And, an important final note. Peaceful Parenting is not permissive nor is it neglectful. Peaceful Parents believe behavior is communication and that we should listen carefully. Allowing children to dysregulate and potentially harm themselves or others is not peaceful. Reasonable boundaries are a must!