When I was pregnant with our son, Eli, I knew attachment parenting was going to be the right choice for us. But how we parent goes beyond just this basic philosophy. Just as we attend to our son’s physical needs, we also knew his emotional needs were just as important to nurture. One day, I came across the phrase ‘peaceful parenting‘ on Facebook, a social media platform for DrMomma.org. Here is what Danelle Frisbie writes about this style of parenting:
Peaceful parenting is essentially the effort to mother and father our babies and children in a manner that leads to their optimal health, happiness, and well-being. Peaceful parenting is as old as humanity itself, and is coherent with listening to our own mothering and fathering instincts, as well as tuning into the cues our little ones provide for us. As parenting that is normal, natural, primal and innate, it is not exactly the same as the pop-culture definition of ‘attachment parenting,’ and it is not a set of hard, fast methods or laws to follow. Peaceful parenting does no intentional harm. It is parenting based not only in natural human and mammalian experience, but also in hard science and evidence-based research.
She summed up exactly our ideas of how we were raising our son! So what does that mean? For us, it is a foundational principle for raising our son, Eli, who is almost three. In nature, other mammal mothers and fathers model desired behavior. We, as humans, do this as well – whether we are aware of it or not. As parents we make the conscious effort to model the behavior we desire, and even the emotional traits we wish for our son to learn. The traits/behaviors which guide us are empathy, intrinsic value of self, and respect.
Because we want Eli to learn empathy towards others, we model empathy for him. His cries have always had value to us. We have always attended to his needs, both physical and emotional. We have never left him alone in a room ‘crying it out.’ There is so much research that shows this is detrimental to development, that I am shocked anyone would even consider doing such things to any child, of any age. Are there times Eli is upset and crying? Yes. But we are right there with him, holding him, giving him emotional support and comfort. Even at 2 ½, he knows to show empathy toward others because it’s been modeled to him all along. We have witnessed him comforting others who are upset, showing concern when someone is hurt, and sharing his toys with others (as well as a toddler can do), which he does pretty well.
Another value we are instilling in Eli is intrinsic value of self, or internal motivation, rather than external motivation which often comes with an attitude of “what’s in it for me?” Eli is learning right from wrong because it is right and wrong. He is not learning through external motivation, i.e. the reward/punishment system, other than purely natural consequences. (For example, if I jump off the bed, it hurts). There are no time-outs, which research has demonstrated to be ineffective for long-term learning, just as there are not rewards for desired behaviors. The idea of sticker charts for learning to go potty absolutely drives me crazy. A friend recently pointed out that as an adult, she has yet to have anyone give her a gold star for using the potty. He will get stickers because he likes stickers. This is the same with food. Food is not a reward or punishment. It fulfills a basic human need: hunger.
Another key to peaceful parenting, or natural parenting, is to treat children with the same respect you would an adult. I believe in my child’s ability to have his own mind, ideas and expression. I treat him with the same respect I expect him to show others. When I model this behavior to him, he then shows this behavior toward others. Is he perfect – other than me being a proud mama who thinks he’s always perfect? No. He’s still learning. And yes, we do have rules and boundaries, but we are more open with our boundaries than some parents may be. We really do not have to control every moment of his life.
In addition, we believe in free range parenting, which is basically allowing Eli to discover his world without us having to hover over him. It’s something I constantly work on, because I of course wish to protect him from every imaginable hurt and pain. I balance this with the knowledge that it is imperative for him to discover his world, and that, yes, unfortunately pain is part of it. This does not mean that I let him try flying off the roof to learn that he, in fact, can’t fly off the roof. But I also do not overprotect him from every bump or bruise he may or may not encounter. Eli is our first, and only child at this point, so I feel I’m pretty relaxed when it comes to allowing him to explore and discover his world. He is a very outgoing, free spirit and we nurture that spirit the best we can.
So what do we do when he is ‘misbehaving’ or not exhibiting what we consider appropriate behavior? First, we see misbehavior as the symptom, not the problem. We don’t punish the symptom, but rather address the root cause. When Eli is acting out, as with most people of all ages, it is an outward expression of some other issue. We ask ourselves, and him now that he is beginning to verbally express his needs/wants, if he is tired, hungry, bored, not feeling well, or maybe teething. When we address the root issue – guess what? – the so-called ‘misbehavior’ is taken care of. And, sometimes we are the problem! Eli will show a jump in emotional growth, become braver, desire to do more, become more self-sufficient, and we’re the ones still treating him like he’s a less capable infant. Just as we provide new clothes for his physical growth, we need to provide new expanded boundaries to accommodate his emotional growth as well.
Some reading may be thinking, “How sweet, just wait until he reaches five, or you have another baby… We’ll check in with you to see how you feel about peaceful parenting then…” What I do know is that this foundational principle of treating our child(ren) will not change. We are always learning and growing as parents, adapting to fit the needs of our child. What we do at almost three years of age is absolutely different than what we did at the newborn stage, so of course what we do at five will be different than what we do now. BUT we have the principles of respect, intrinsic value of self, and empathy to guide us through those changes.