Skip to main content

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings review

As I promised last week, I've been reading a rare-for-me "parenting expert" book (not something I normally buy into) and I wanted to offer my two cents on it. I grabbed it off the library shelf and it ended up having a few nuggets of wisdom in it. Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life is a 2015 book by Columbia-educated Dr. Laura Markham geared towards the "new baby or toddler for older sibling" crowd, but has quite a bit for the equally-aged school age crowd, too. It will come across as permissive to quite a few old school authoritarian types, but Dr. Markham does a decent job explaining how both punishment and real permissiveness actually fuel more hostility and behavior problems. She's encouraging parents to rethink discipline via coaching, modeling, and facilitating responsible choices. Which sounds psycho-babble until you get deeper into specific examples of how it plays out in real kids fighting for who gets to press the elevator button or when one child has a friend over. We've already instituted a few of the guidelines in our own home because they're both clever and logical steps.

One of my favorites from her extensive chapters on sharing, conflict resolution, and competition is the Sample Family Agreement on Property Rights and Sharing. Most things belong to everyone in the family. We take turns. But here's the radical part...everyone decides how long their turn lasts. No turn lasts overnight. Turns are shorter if outsiders are involved (such as a playground). And extra special items should be put away in a specific place so everyone in the family knows they are off limits. Then the trick from the parenting perspective is coaching the person currently enjoying a turn on limiting their enjoyment trying to imagine how hard it will be to wait for something they want later. And the child waiting gets a sense of how long a fair turn will last.

There are other more radical discipline techniques in here for most parents. Unless you're familiar with positive-focused dog training! The idea here being that punishment doesn't work to change future behavior. At least not when emotional decision-making is concerned. Dr. Markham offers a few handy suggestions like specifically timing emotional blowups and other tantrums for a safe space when you know one is coming. Don't take them to the store if you know they're about to blow...let them explode at home where they can do so privately with your support to handle the "big feelings." She's a big proponent of "time ins" rather than time out. I've never been a huge fan because it sounds a little too hippie even for me. But, psychologically, she has a point. The time your kids need your love the most is when they're the worst. Sending them to their room does nothing to help them work through being angry, sad, lonely, or hurt.

One of my favorite professors (talking about religion) used to use the example that kids can't say, "mommy I'm having free-floating anxiety" in his discussion of how not having a theological vocabulary to express complicated ideas means it is more difficult to talk about them. The wisdom holds here, too, that young children need help and guidance with what adults consider routine stress-relief techniques. Your children aren't going to understand the basics of sharing unless you're there to talk them through it.

Too many parents throw out behavioral phrases like "don't kick Tommy" not realizing that they're being vague and unhelpful when it comes to a 5 year old figuring out how to discharge aggression or explain complicated issues of jealousy. I recommend Dr. Markham's book if for no other reason than it's a nice reminder of trying to stay positive in our parenting. I picked it up because I've noticed lately that I'm frustrated and more easily snap at my kids not picking up some of these things faster. You don't have to read every word--I didn't--but it has some very useful things to say about fostering teamwork and cooperation in your family.

I give it rare approval.