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I just heard about Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham (on this site) and I started looking into it. I really like some of the things I've read about this approach to parenting, but I have some questions:

  1. Does Dr. Markham actually recommend rewarding misbehavior? I can't find it now, but I read a customer review on Amazon that said something to the effect of "My life is so much better now. When my son hits my daughter, I just hug him and tell him I love him." I don't see how this could possibly reduce misbehavior. If anything, basic psychology says you can expect the misbehavior to increase.

  2. Does Dr. Markham really say you should turn behavior problems into games?

    In one example, a child wants the parent to move from a particular spot on the couch and the parent is supposed to make fun and games with the child... but not move from the spot... Another example is about spitting, instead of consequences for spitting in the house the solution was to take the child outside to make a game of spitting out there. (source)

    This seems impractical to me. I barely have the energy to get my kid a drink, let alone take him outside for spitting contest. Also, I think this could lead to problems at school where it's just not possible to make games out of everything, or when I'm in the middle of something and can't.

I'm not necessarily looking for a product review, but I'm wondering about the approach itself.

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    Would that there were a book with all the right answers. It would be handed out with every birth. ;) But this is a great way to explore ideas for good books. – anongoodnurse Nov 21 '14 at 5:49
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    Each child is different and each parent is different. Some methods from some books will work, some won't. It's up to you to decide which you like and which you use. You can use none at all, do what you think is right and still be a great parent. Though it's also a sign of being a great parent that you want to be an ever better one by reading books:) – Dariusz Nov 21 '14 at 13:02
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    Re: 1.) - I once had a time when I could explode from anger easily due to a hormonal imbalance - it was terrible, I constantly felt like my tongue was tied and I was just so frustrated and unable to express myself. My then-boyfriend took to just hugging me and telling me he loved me, even though I was completely unlovable at that moment - and my anger and frustration just disappeared instantly! So while you don't want to reward bad behaviour, hugs might actually help if the behaviour stems from the person being utterly frustrated, but you need to talk about the consequences of the behaviour. – Little Ms Whoops Nov 21 '14 at 20:47
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Regarding the second point, the idea is that it teaches the child to do things in an appropriate setting. Instead of spitting inside, we go outside into the garden and have a game there. It's about positive reinforcement of what you wanted to say anyway. If our kids start chucking stuff around, we tell them that they can go outside and do that which is fine to do outside.

The first part is difficult as there is much to be said for hugging the one who has been wronged because the family does need to be a fair place. I think what the book is getting at is that you don't autopsy the situation ("Who did what? When? Why? really? Then why did he do that..."), you don't fight it out, but you show love to the kids, affirm who they are, then it is easier to then give them the tools to manage their relationships more easily primarily because you will be calm. You won't be angry, annoyed and they will be more receptive to you in that mode. Provided you are firm and consistent and work with positive reinforcement as I think the book is suggesting then you should have a peaceful house. For example if they fight then the book seems to suggest to hug them, and then show them how to turn that behaviour into a game in an appropriate way, for example have an arm wrestle in a specific place, but you don't affirm the fighting. So you always affirm the person, not the behaviour, if that makes sense.

  • What do you mean by positive reinforcement? I thought punishing your kids for doing something wrong was positive reinforcement, because they're getting something for their behavior. I thought negative reinforcement was taking something away. At least this is what I learned in psych 101. – David Kennedy Nov 21 '14 at 15:32
  • "Positive reinforcement" is defined to be the rewarding of positive behaviour, so technically I've slightly misused the term by using it to mean "Make the right choice seem obvious because you've made it fun" or "reinforce the positive behaviours and choices". – David Boshton Nov 21 '14 at 17:22
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    @Koveras, there are 4 strategies: Positive strategies give something, negative ones take something away. Reinforcement strategies intend to increase desired behavior, punishment strategies to decrease undesired behavior. Punishing your kids is never "reinforcement". If you give them e.g. an electric shock (Not that I'd advise this), it would be "Positive Punishment". If you take away their PlayStation, it would be "Negative Punishment". – microtherion Nov 21 '14 at 22:16
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    @Koveras, this link explains the four types of reinforcement: Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Punishment, and Extinction. Positive Reinforcement: you add something to the situation to increase a behavior. Negative Reinforcement: you take away something to increase a behavior. Punishment: you add something to decrease a behavior. Extinction: you take away something to decrease a behavior. – dshapiro Nov 23 '14 at 16:55
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I don't know the specific lines you're referring to. However, the general approach favored by Dr. Markham is to avoid punishments, in favor of setting limits; and responding with empathy when the limits are broken.

For example, how I would interpret the spitting example:

I'm sorry, but spitting on the floor/table inside is not allowed, Johnny. It's messy, makes the floor/table wet, and means I have to clean after you.

Mom, I like to spit. [spits]

Okay, let's go spit outside then. [takes child outside]

The parent is setting the limit (and explaining how the parent feels, to try and make a bond with the child here). The child violates the limit, so the parent takes the child outside. The point of this is largely to remove the child from the situation causing the problem (in this case, being inside). It's not always possible, but it's certainly one reasonable solution. Making it a 'game' enhances the bonding.

Dr. Markham's main point here is to avoid having punishments: you aren't removing the child as a punishment, you're removing the child because they haven't the self discipline to avoid violating the limits set. You have many other tools for dealing with this - requiring them to clean the floor, for example, again not as punishment but simply because their action caused an effect (the floor needs cleaning), just as if they'd spilled a glass of milk.

Her approach is focused on building a bond between your child and you, so that your child wants to behave well, and learns self control; authoritarian parenting (ie, parenting where the parent directs the child how to behave) differs in that it does not teach the child self control. It does include limits, which makes it different from permissive parenting (where the parent does not serve at all as an authority figure), but it focuses more on building respect and an emotional connection.

If you want to read more about her approach, her website has much of the material from the book, and explains in detail why it differs from some other methods of parenting.

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