“Parenting is not about kids, it’s about parents.” So writes Hal Edward Runkel, a licensed marriage and family therapist. His manual for parents, Screamfree Parenting, is not just about stopping the screaming that accompanies many parent/child confrontations: It is, according to Runkel, about helping parents reclaim their adulthood so they can help create and take pleasure in calm, respectful, loving relationships with their children.
Runkel opens the book with a definition of his term ScreamFreeTM:
“learning to relate with others in a calm, cool, and connected way, taking hold of your own emotional responses no matter how anyone else chooses to behave; learning to focus on yourself and take care of yourself for the world’s benefit.”
Being a “cool” parent, says Runkel, is not about wearing the latest fashions or listening to the latest musical trends in order to relate to your kid; rather, it is about keeping a cool head when that kid challenges your very authority. In other words, when you lose your temper and start screaming, you’ve lost your adulthood and entered the fray as a contestant rather than an official.
In a 180-degree turn from today’s hovering “helicopter” parenting, so prevalent in our Western society, Runkel challenges parents to focus on themselves in order to parent children effectively. He notes that shifting one’s focus to meeting one’s own needs first can be extremely difficult for many adults to pull off—especially those in religious faiths that emphasize putting others first. To demonstrate how crucial a move this is, Runkel reminds us of the safety instructions we are given before an airplane takes off: In case of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask before you put it on the infant or small child with whom you are traveling. Why? Because we need to be oxygenated and conscious to actively help someone else.
A direct result of a parent’s meeting his or her own needs, maintains Runkel, is that instead of trying to shape or control family relationships and outcomes through anxiety and fear, that parent will let the relationships and outcomes develop naturally. He or she won’t leave a void, to be filled with out-of-control behaviors and subsequent screaming matches; instead, the calm parent will lead by example and assure his or her child that, no matter what, the parent will not fall apart and start yelling and threatening indiscriminately.
Runkel addresses such topics as the power of labels (good or bad) and why not to use them in reference to children; the wisdom of starting out with an end in mind but letting go of needing to control the results; and the way to let consequences do the “screaming” when kids decide to buck the parental system. He also suggests eight ways to provide children with emotional space in order to let them grow up while protecting them at the same time.
Bottom line: Stay calm and connected with your children by focusing on your own emotional state first.