When most people think of parenting, they probably think of setting rules, implementing discipline strategies, and curbing disruptive behavior. However, in Stuart Passmore’s new book, Parenting for a Happier Home: The Step-By-Step Guide To Keeping Your Kids On Track, we are reminded that parenting starts by building a healthy relationship with our kids.

Passmore, a psychologist who specializes in kids who are often labeled difficult or disruptive, draws upon his many years’ experience to first teach parents how to build a sense of belonging in the home, use active and reflective listening to better understand and communicate with their kids, understand and accept their children’s emotions and behavior, and help their children develop empathy and moral behavior — the core skills of his RANE parenting program. With these skills firmly in place, Passmore then shows how to use discipline in an effective way.

Passmore begins by encouraging parents to walk a mile in their child’s shoes, with the idea of learning to practice responding to them with the respect and empathy they might expect from others. From this, parents can learn to create a constancy of pleasing interactions that demonstrate an enduring and persistent care and concern for well-being, which, Passmore says will help children to develop a secure attachment.

While the attachment theory focuses primarily on the role of the mother, Passmore emphasizes the role of the father, writing, “It has been my experience that the way in which a man defines himself as a father often influences his parenting behavior.” The reason attachment matters, according to the author, is because insecure attachment corresponds with poor mental health and behavioral problems.

But parents must also know their parenting style. While they can be authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved, or authoritative, what is most important is that parents be aligned in their parenting efforts and present a unified front. Without this, Passmore tells us, not does the child’s behavior suffer, but the marriage might as well. However, when parents do work on building a strong marital relationship, the child’s behavior often gets much better. Passmore writes, “I often find that as the couple works through marriage counseling and begins rebuilding their relationship, I also begin to hear more and more about how the child’s difficult behavior is decreasing.”

The next step for parents is communication, and Passmore suggests active and reflective listening as a cornerstone of developing an open and honest communication with children. To do this, the author offers many helpful tips, such as using “I” statements, asking clarifying questions, making eye contact, really listening (as opposed to preparing an answer) and getting down on the child’s level. When parents can communicate authentically with their children, they can also develop an emotional attachment with them, which Passmore tells us, “means sharing an interest in their life, in their thoughts and feelings, and their joys and disappointments.”

And there is an important connection between a strong emotional connection and how parents discipline their kids. Because emotional involvement expresses an attitude of unconditional love, acceptance, approval, and forgiveness, and is expressed both verbally and physically, it also means that parents will behave the same with their children when they succeed and when they push them to their outermost limits.

And parents must also be aware of what they are modeling for their children, which they can do by asking themselves questions such as: “What behaviors do I want to teach my child?” and, “What behaviors am I actually teaching my child?” Some characteristics parents should model include: being warm and responsive, displaying parental competence, maintaining consistency between assertions and behavior, and inhibiting unfavorable acts. Perhaps of utmost importance is that parents help their children develop empathy. Passmore writes, “Empathy predicts selfless behavior and promotes prosocial behavior in the classroom.” However, to do this, parents must know not just what blocks empathy—factors such as neglect, using threats, withdrawing emotion, inconsistent reactions and bribing—but also what promotes it—being responsive, talking openly, encouraging taking others’ perspectives and modeling empathic behavior.

On the topic of discipline, Passmore writes, “Discipline has at its foundation absolute respect for the child with an understanding that while it may indeed incorporate negative consequences for a child’s misbehavior, such consequences only play a small role in modifying a child’s misbehavior overall.” So just how do parents go about the sensitive issue of discipline? Passmore suggests first listing five behaviors parents would like their children to change. Next, parents should list five potential consequences for misbehaviors. Parents should then develop a contingency plan where privileges can be removed should the child misbehave even after being given a consequence. Lastly, parents should have family meetings to help children understand clearly what is expected of them, and how they will be held accountable. Of most importance, Passmore reminds parents, is that once the consequences have been applied, that is the end of the discipline.

For any parent looking for a quick fix, Passmore’s book is probably not the right pick. Passmore devotes the majority of his writing to teaching parents how to improve themselves, because he believes a child’s good behavior starts with a parent’s good behavior. And that should be reassuring for any parent. Just as we hope to bring out the best in our children, we should also hope that they bring out the best in us.

Parenting for a Happier Home: The Step-By-Step Guide To Keeping Your Kids On Track
Exisle Publishing, April 19, 2016
Paperback, 207 Pages
$21.95

Psych Central's Recommendation:
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