The book is structured in 21 chapters, and his introduction talks about change and how we need to form new positive parenting habits. Some ideas on change:
- We all have the capacity for change, some people find it easier, some harder.
- Sometimes we don’t’ see what need to be changed.
- It can feel foolish to try something new, that’s part of changing.
- Change won’t become normal until we turn it into a habit
Chapter 1: Set your course
Just like in business, it’s important that you have a direction your family is moving in. Perhaps have a family manifesto, goals your working towards, or talk over when your family is at it’s best and how to create more of those moments.
Chapter 2: Know your parenting style
|Low limits/ boundaries||High limits/ boundaries|
|High love/ warmth||Permissive||Authoritative|
|Low love/ warmth||Neglectful||Authoritarian|
Many parents, particularly Mums, start in the permissive style. However, when they reach breaking point, snap to authoritarian, which damages the relationship with the child by being unpredictable, unfair and often critical.
Autonomy-supportive parenting focuses on teaching kids and asking questions to help solve problems together. There are four guiding points:
- Provide clear reasons for requests
- Recognise feelings and perspectives of the child
- Offer choices and encourage initiative and problem solving
- Minimise controlling techniques
In one longitudinal study of 335 adolescents, teens with autonomy supportive parents experienced better outcomes in: avoiding drug use, avoiding deviant peer associations, school engagement and prosocial behaviour, when compared to teens with controlling parents.
Controlling parents were perceived by children as lacking warmth, which increased risky behaviours and damaged children’s self-worth.
Chapter 3: Get the relationship right
Spend more time getting the relationship working well, building trust and respect, and less time will be required on correction and direction. HALTSS stands for checking in with yourself and child’s needs. Are you hungry, angry, lonely, tired, stressed or sick. Often, these are the things that get in the way of maintaining a positive relationship and when identified, can be dealt with first.
Just as dollars are the currency of our economy, so is attention the currency of our relationships.
Chapter 4: Be where your feet are
One study indicated, with the exception of sex, that 47% of the time, people’s minds were not on what they were doing, but on other things. The University of Washington conducted a study on parents at parks and the influence of their phones. They found that when a child approached a parent on a phone, in 56% of cases, the parent failed to look up and make eye contact with the child. Comparatively, when parents were with friends or other siblings, they failed to connect with the child in only 11% of cases.
“Distraction may be the curse of our modern culture, and it’s impacting on our children’s wellbeing and our family’s happiness.” To love a child is spelt T-I-M-E.
Another study of 16,000 Australian children found that resilient children answered Yes to the following two questions, and that children lowest in resilience answered No.
- I have a parent who cares about me.
- I have a parent who listens to me.
Chapter 5: Being loving, being there
Each interaction with a family member elects a ‘turn away’ or ‘turn against’ or ‘turn toward’ response. It’s the turn away and turn against responses that damage connections. Turning toward involves being curious, open and engaged even when the child’s behaviour is disappointing or frustration. It’s in the open state that trust emerges and the relationship is put first.
Chapter 6: An attitude of gratitude
In order to overthrow the entitled mentality of today’s youth we need to model gratitude and thankfulness in different ways, consistently. Conversations around the dinner table, a family gratitude journal and letters of thanks are all simple ways to foster a sense of gratitude.
Chapter 7: Create hope
Optimism is related to both psychological wellbeing and physical health while pessimism is highly correlated with depression, stress and anxiety. Hope requires three elements; a goal, pathways towards the goal and agency, or the belief that it’s achievable.
Ask children what they are looking forward to, both in the short and long term. Help them set simple goals they can work towards and try setting a larger goal as a happy family.
Chapter 8: Set up strong family traditions
Our sense of identity comes from our family traditions, and deliberately constructing positive traditions create both a sense of belonging and meaning for children. Traditions help provide comfort, teach values, develop practical skills, help problem solving, develop connections and generate powerful memories.
Simple things like trips to the beach, star gazing, watermelon on the front porch, washing the dog on the weekend or sleepovers with cousins develop positive outcomes.
Chapter 9: Routine matters
Routines reduce the cognitive stress and fatigue that comes with constant decisions making. It gives our lives a sense of stability and predictability where children know what the expectations are, and it frees our mental capacity to work on more important things.
In families with strong routines (like dinner together, books before bed, consistent bedtimes) 4/5 children had high social-emotional health. However, only 1/10 children from families without positive routines experienced high social-emotional health.
Chapter 10: How parents become the enemy
Our natural reaction to seeing our children do something wrong, rude or dangerous is generally negative. We tend to over react as our expectations haven’t been met and our disappointment comes across loud and clear. Puffer fish parenting was a phrase coined by Dr Sean Brotherson, and describes how we grow bigger, louder and more intimidating when we are trying to discipline children. The result; they feel threatened, overwhelmed and often angry that we didn’t attempt to understand their perspective.
The challenge is to slow down this impulsive reaction, ask questions about their behaviour, then step into teaching mode only when they have emotionally calmed down.
Chapter 11: Getting discipline right
‘No’ isn’t the answer. Discipline relies on creating teaching opportunities, and that relies on a positive and trusting relationship. When we create age appropriate expectations, make them clear, give them an understanding of why and how, then we empower children to meet our expectations.
The more aggressive our parenting style, the more aggressive our children become. That’s why it’s important to practice positive discipline techniques. Bandura’s Social Learning theory posits that children will not listen to what we say, rather they will model our behaviour. Implementing positive discipline involves:
- Modelling positive behaviour, consistently
- Creating age appropriate expectations
- Providing explicit and specific instructions (teach them how to conform)
- Asking questions rather that constantly directing them
- Giving gentle reminders, quietly helping them to do the right thing
- Using a quiet voice, make eye contact and don’t’ interrupt them and expect to be heard
- Timing conversations and requests so they are available to listen
Chapter 12: No yelling
Yelling is an indication that the parent is out of control. Yelling can damage relationships and undermine trust and the sense of belonging in a family. One study found that severe verbal discipline had a significant negative impact on a child’s wellbeing and increased behavioural issues, particularly for tweens and teens.
Emotions are contagious, and a parent yelling is more likely to induce anger, frustration and resentment than compliance. Staying calm, or respectfully moving out of the situation can diffuse the emotional charge and create opportunities for reflection and teaching once everyone is calm again.
Chapter 13: See the world through their eyes
Emotion coaching is being able to articulate to a child what they are experiencing gently in the form of listening, paraphrasing and being open to their thoughts and emotions. The core concept is “Don’t fix me, understand me.” There are 5 elements to emotion coaching:
- Be aware of the child’s emotion
- Recognise the opportunity for connection and teaching
- Listen empathetically and validate the child’s thoughts and feelings
- Help the child label the emotions
- Set limits while supporting problem solving skills
Chapter 14: Making family meetings work
Talk together over what went well, what worked and what the goals are for the next week or month. Make time and space for the family to feel heard and use it as an opportunity to teach and share important values.
Chapter 15: Getting involved in a good way
Chores can be overwhelming for everyone. Think about a family blitz, spend 10 minutes together in each room helping to tidy and clean with some favourite music playing. Be supportive, be available and encourage them to take on challenges on their own, knowing you’ll be there in the background if they need help.
Chapter 16: Making it fun
The more fun we have together, the more connected we feel. Smile more often, foster a sense of playfulness and curiosity, celebrate as a family and be spontaneous to create positive moments. Hide chocolates in a room that needs to be tidied, have a daily fun fact, set up a family ‘fun jar’ with random ideas for activities together.
Chapter 17: Practicing acceptance and making peace
Parents are not perfect, nor are children. When we accept them as they are, without attempting to make them perfect, we send a clear message that our relationship is more important than anything else.
Chapter 18: The screen time balance
As TV viewing increases so does a child’s BMI and the more time parents spend reading with kids, the less time screens are viewed. As TV viewing increased, academic grades decreased. Heavy internet use is closely associated with depression and negative behavioural outcomes, less emotional regulation and higher levels of anger, conflict and violence. Sleep decreases with increased screen time and materialism increases.
92% of boys and 61% of girls have viewed pornographic content by the age of 16, with the first exposure occurring at age 11, on average. For many it becomes a negative habit that impacts sleep, relationships, school work and psychological health. Indecent assaults have increased by 60% over the last 10 years, to 2014.
Create clear boundaries around screen time and keep screens out of bedrooms, away from the diner table and model your boundaries to ensure that family time is prioritised before screens.
Chapter 19: Balancing ‘me time’ and ‘we time’
If we create more ‘we time’ with our family where we are all connected and doing something fun and meaningful, the need for ‘me time’ or simply getting away from the family will be reduced.
Chapter 20: Exploring pathways to happiness
Seligman defines three pathways to happiness; Pleasure, engagement and meaning. As a family explore what creates these three elements and try to create some balance between them.
Chapter 21: Savouring the moments
Savouring is our ability to fully enjoy and engage with a moment. Savouring can be done before hand; in organising and planning a holiday. During; in the moment of sitting on the beach and being where your feet are. And after; in enjoying the memories and laughing at the photos captured.
This book was a very easy read and highlighted the simple, but proven strategies to gain a more harmonious life with our household. I enjoyed the way Justin wove his own family experiences throughout the book and the simplicity of much of his well-researched wisdom.