I hadn’t got far into Parenting with Purpose before I knew that I was going to like it. In the first page of her introduction, Nina Garcia says:
“We’ve got this discipline thing all wrong. We assume discipline is about punishment… We mistakenly believe that the main purpose of discipline is to stop tantrums at all costs, as quickly as possible.”
Yes, yes. I totally agree.
Nina goes on to say that discipline is really teaching our kids. As I read on and learned that Nina’s definition of teaching includes the behavior we model, I came to agree. I believe that what we model, how we are is the most important teaching we ever do for our children.
Nina Garcia sees discipline as teaching our children the skills they need to “grow into kind adults who can regulate emotions or empathize with others.”
Who wouldn’t want that for their kids? Yet so many of us don’t trust our own abilities to do discipline this way, or our kids’ ability to absorb our teaching.
It may surprise you that Nina says connecting with our children is the best way to discipline. My children are teenagers now, so beyond the scope of Parenting With Purpose, but this means I’ve had longer to notice what works and what doesn’t – and I agree with her on this. I discovered years ago that when I felt most lost in parenting was when I felt disconnected from my kids.
Not a bossy parenting expert, but a friend
Nina Garcia is a mom to three young boys, a six-year-old and two-year-old twins. She started her blog, Sleeping Should Be Easy, to record everything she was learning about being a mom. Parenting with Purpose is a result of many of the parenting principles she learned. I like that Nina says she’s not an expert, just a mother who has found ways that work, and that she makes mistakes. She admits that at times she’s yelled and or she found her own advice hard to follow.
She also says: I learned there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. I often wrote on my blog, “Do what works for you.” You know your child, yourself, and that particular situation far better than me or anyone else.
I used to work on a helpline for parents, and often said the exact same thing! We were encouraged to do so. Often parents just need reassurance that they are doing okay, and Nina sets out to give that in this book.
In fact, when reading Parenting With Purpose, I felt a little sad that it wasn’t around when my kids were little! Most (but not all) of the books I read then were of the: “I’m an expert and if you do things my way the world will turn shiny and if you don’t do things my way you are a terrible parent who should be banished to Siberia” variety.
To be honest, it took me several years to let go of old beliefs and responses and to learn similar parenting lessons to those Nina learned while her children were still very young.
I’ve written many times that what we see in others is what we deny in ourselves, and that, in particular, our children are mirrors. In the chapter on respect, Nina says:
“Harsh as it may be to say, the first place to look for answers is you. When your child disrespects you, reflect on your own actions and see where they are setting a precedent. … the improvements in our children often begin with us changing our behaviors as parents.”
Again, I agree.
Structure of the book
Parenting With Purpose is divided into three main sections:
Part One: Prevent Misbehavior Through Connection
Part Two: How to Handle Your Child’s Misbehavior
Part Three: The Post-Conflict Action Plan
Just from those section titles, you’ll see that Nina expects children to misbehave even after we’ve implemented strategies to prevent it. She also expects conflict.
In other words, she lives in the real world, not in some fairy tale land where parents follow an expert’s advice and live happily ever after. I like that!
Let’s look at each of these sections in more detail.
Preventing Misbehavior in Children
In the section on preventing misbehavior, Nina emphasizes the need to respect our children several times. As well as the more obvious ways of disrespecting our children, such as yelling, she points out subtle ways that also don’t show respect towards children, but that can seem a “normal” behavior for many adults looking after children, whether parent or childcare worker. (Indeed, although this book is called Parenting with Purpose, it is equally applicable to anyone who looks takes care of children.)
She also emphasizes the need to have good communication with our children, including noticing our tone of voice, empathizing and giving choices, whilst also setting clear boundaries. I like that Nina does not set out what these boundaries should be, instead stating that parents need to draw these for their own family and tolerance level. She gives the example of a neighbor who happily allows her children to draw on walls, something Nina could not stand!
Parenting With Purpose includes suggestions for how to deal with tricky situations such ask asking children to help clean up or do homework.
Some other points she makes in this section are the need for routines, to monitor our expectations of our children and to help children learn how to cope with emotions.
How to Handle Misbehavior
In this section, Nina reiterates the need to connect with your child. Yes, even when misbehavior is taking place. She also gives several strategies for handling misbehavior without resorting to misbehavior of our own! Examples of these are redirecting your child, following through with consequences and teaching conflict resolution.
Nina also explains the logic behind each strategy. These make perfect sense to me, and should dispel any doubts you might have that these are “soft” methods. For example, she explains the difference between distracting and redirecting a child when they are engaged in inappropriate behavior. At first glance, these might seem similar strategies, but Nina explains that with redirecting, you change a difficult moment into a teachable event. You show your child why, and by considering the child’s motives and desires, you can honor them, whilst still taking the opportunity to set boundaries.
She gives the example of a child throwing a remote control. The child’s desire is to throw – a perfectly normal child behavior, just not appropriate in this setting. So you take away the dangerous object – the remote control – and give them something safe to throw. Distracting wouldn’t honor the child’s desire in the same way.
This way of parenting requires us to think more carefully about what we want in the long term, rather than just stopping an unwanted behavior in the short them. That’s a good thing, in my opinion, because it does challenge us to think of the purpose behind our parenting choices. (And of course, the book is called Parenting With Purpose!)
Post Conflict Action Plan
As I said earlier, Nina lives in the real world, so she assumes there will be times of conflict between parent and child.
In this section she explains why disciplining your child when you are still feeling angry is not a good idea, and what to do instead. Again, she stresses the importance of maintaining connection with our children. (And I agree.) When we discipline while emotionally charged, we often overreact and say or do things we later regret.
In this section, Nina also explains why it’s important to discuss emotions with your children – both your child’s and your own. Again this gives you chance to empathize and build trust. Our children need to know that we love them, even when they have behaved in way that may have terrified them.
In the aftermath of conflict, it’s also important to self-reflect, and to consider what triggers might have sparked off your child or you, and other factors that might have led to the outburst.
It’s very easy for parents to fall into the trap of blaming – either their child, themselves or both, and I agree with Nina that blaming is not useful. Learn from mistakes, but don’t blame yourself for them. And don’t blame your children either.
The final part of the book is a recap of the main points, distilled into 20 Actionable items you can do. These are a mix of actions to make a part of daily life, and ones to keep in mind should difficulties arise. Following the steps in Parenting With Purpose won’t guarantee those difficulties won’t arise, but it should make those difficulties easier to survive, even to thrive through.
My children are teenagers now, so I am well past Parenting With Purpose’s target market. Nevertheless, I found it an interesting and useful read. There is no doubt in my mind that if I was a parent struggling to cope with young children following Nina’s suggestions would lead to better connection and through that to improved behavior.
Parenting with Purpose: How to Raise Well-Behaved Children and Build a Strong Parent-Child Relationship mostly focuses on making behavioral changes – in ourselves as parents, which then leads to changes in our children.
Sometimes parents have such low self-esteem they find it hard to trust themselves, or past trauma might interfere with their ability to make the changes they want to see. In these cases, trying to make behavioral changes without addressing the underlying emotional needs can be difficult and discouraging. (I know from experience, since this was partly why it took me several years to be the change I wanted to see.) If you fall into this category, Parenting With Purpose is still a useful book to own, and I also recommend you get some additional support. A good place to start could be with some of the posts on this blog, such as Is It Okay to Appreciate Yourself? or Can You Let Go of Self-Judgements?