I'm sure you've heard the terms "conscious parenting," "gentle parenting," "respectful parenting," and "peaceful parenting" on social media and on other blogs. What I do with the parents I coach is help them work towards parenting with intention using peaceful strategies and approaches.
Peaceful parenting creates a nurturing and secure environment for children to grow and develop into happy and healthy individuals. It is based on the idea that parents can raise their children without punishment, fear, or coercion and promote mutual respect, cooperation, and communication.
The core principles or pillars that make up this way of parenting are deeply rooted in science.
The Five Pillars of Intentional & Peaceful Parenting
Nervous System Science
So let's break these down and explore them a little more so you can better understand these core areas that form the foundation of all that we do as intentional and peaceful parents.
Pillar 1: Non-Violent Communication
The first pillar is from the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and non-violent communication. Communication is the root of the health of all human relationships. When we can clearly communicate, in what Dr. Rosenberg calls the language of feelings and needs, with the people we love, we model how to communicate their feelings and needs in a nonviolent framework. From this place, relationships can truly flourish.
This pillar centers around:
Observing your child's behavior without labeling it as good or bad
Communicating your feelings to your child using "I" statements
Determining what needs are driving your feelings
Making requests that are clear, specific, and positive
Practicing active listening and seeking to understand your child's perspective
This type of empowered communication can allow you to talk to your children in a way that they can hear. And listen to your children in a way that lets them know they are heard. Truly heard.
Pillar 2: Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to experience the entire spectrum of human emotions, understand their nuance, and feel and express them without causing harm to ourselves or others. For example, to know the difference between rage and frustration versus saying, “I'm angry.”
Emotional intelligence is a more significant indicator of life fulfillment than IQ. As parents, we can model emotional intelligence to our children by understanding our emotions and helping them regulate theirs.
How do children learn how to feel their emotions?
How do they learn how to be angry?
How do they learn how to be sad?
How do they learn to grieve?
How do they learn to handle disappointment, rejection, or failure?
From the way that we as parents model it.
Teaching emotional intelligence to children can help them develop skills to manage their emotions, build positive relationships, and navigate social situations effectively throughout their lives.
Some strategies you can use to teach Emotional Intelligence to your children can include:
Modeling emotional intelligence: Children learn by observing your behavior. Show your children how to identify and express emotions in a healthy way. When you interact with them, model empathy, active listening, and problem-solving skills.
Teaching them an emotional vocabulary: You can help children develop a language of emotions by naming the feelings you experience and helping them to identify and name theirs. You can use visual aids like a chart or a wheel to help children identify and express their emotions.
Practicing empathy: Encourage children to put themselves in someone else's shoes and imagine how they might feel in a particular situation. You can do this by practicing empathy directly with them. Taking your children’s feelings and needs to heart and showing them that you empathize with them is an excellent way for them to see what that feels like.
Practicing active listening: Teach children by modeling active listening
in conversations with them. Ask questions, clarify information, and reflect on what you've heard.
The best way for us to teach is to learn first and then support our children. An interaction focusing on helping children develop their Emotional Intelligence might sound like, ‘Oh, I can see anger in your body. What does that feel like? Do you think you're more frustrated, or are you more sad?’ In age-appropriate ways, we can start to communicate in this language.
Pillar 3: Nervous System Regulation
Understanding how our nervous system reacts to external stimuli and how we can self-regulate and remain calm, even in stressful situations, is a foundational element in peaceful parenting. By learning to regulate our nervous system, we can provide co-regulation for our children, who cannot yet control their nervous systems.
Let’s say a stimulus comes in (imagine a two-year-old having a tantrum), which brings up a lot of escalation in our nervous system. We might start to feel tightness in our chests or heat in our faces. Maybe we will begin to sweat a little bit. Our fight, flight, or freeze response gets activated. We will do anything to stay safe when our nervous system is in a heightened state.
In a situation like this, our body acts as if without conscious thought, without being aware of it, as if we are in danger. And when we're in danger, we react. If there were a tiger in the room, this would be a very good thing. But for most parents, there is not actually a tiger in the room. There's a two-year-old having a tantrum.
Our brain is slower than our nervous system. Our nervous system reacts in less than a nanosecond. The stimulus comes in, and the nervous system assesses, “Is this dangerous?” If it perceives danger, we react. The brain kicks in and always creates a narrative supporting the reaction.
This one awareness alone will change your life: stimulus, reaction, justification.
Finding ways to get grounded in our bodies in these moments is a great place to start changing our behavior patterns. At the Jai Institute, we use an ANCHOR framework to guide us through moments where we need emotional self-regulation to show up for ourselves and our children when our nervous systems are triggered.
Anchor stands for:
Awareness of your body
Name what is happening in your body
Connect to your sensory calming tool
Honor the process
Open to connection
Recommit to your child & the present moment
Pillar 4: Mindsight
“Mindsight” is a term unearthed by Dr. Daniel Siegel describing one’s ability to “see inside their own mind, and the mind of another, with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love.” It is a parent’s ability to know their child so intimately that rather than seeing their behavior, they become curious and connected to their underlying need.
All behavior is an expression of a need and whether that need has been met or unmet.
Mindsight is our willingness to see beneath the behavior and truly get curious about what is happening within our child’s thoughts and perceptions that are creating the behavior.
When our children feel SEEN by us and understood without judgment or fear, their brains grow. Feeling seen is a prerequisite for feeling safe. We develop, integrate, grow, and thrive when we feel safe.
Without mindsight, an interaction might sound like this: “Hey! What’s wrong with you? Why would you do that?!”
In the same situation, while applying mindsight tools, one may sound like this: “Hey, love – I saw you grab your sister’s work out of her hands. Help me understand what's going on for you. I’m curious about what you were thinking and trying to do.”
Mindsight allows us to partner with our children before they have the language of feelings and needs to co-create solutions so that all needs in the family can be met.
Our brains and children's brains have something called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are brilliant. They pick up information from countless different sources and distill it through a lens of perceptions, beliefs, experiences, fears, and expectations to create a narrative.
As parents become mindsight experts, we can allow our children the gift of having a clearer and clearer lens.
So how do you begin to cultivate mindsight?
1. The first strategy to having mindsight is to open up to the possibility that your child’s experience of what’s happening differs from yours.
2. Mindsight isn’t about assumptions; it’s about curiosity. It’s learning to ask your child, in age-appropriate ways, what is happening for them in their bodies and minds.
3. Make an ‘empathy guess.’ This guess can sound like, ‘I’m wondering if what you’re feeling is angry?’ Then the other person may say, ‘Yes, that’s it,’ or they may clarify.
Using our understanding of the brain, we can learn, model, and cultivate compassion and empathy. By doing this, we’re helping our children learn that sharing their innermost truths is safe.
Pillar 5: Attachment Science
Attachment refers to the safety and security we feel in relationships with ourselves and others. Attachment science studies attachment styles and their impact on how we move through the world in relationships.
Creating a secure environment for children is about laying a foundation for them to feel safe in their relationships with themselves and others. By cultivating a secure attachment, we can give our children a foundation of safety and security to grow and develop into happy and healthy individuals.
Dr. Tina Payne Bryson and Dr. Daniel Siegel, leading experts in attachment science, have called us all forward to make secure attachment the goal for peaceful parents.
Attachment science shows us that when parents consistently respond to their child's needs, it helps them develop a sense of security and trust. Children with secure attachments will likely have better emotional regulation, self-esteem, and social skills.
Attachment is formed through interactions with caregivers. Attachment formation is not just about physical needs like food and shelter but also emotional needs like comfort and attention. Consistent and sensitive responses from a caregiver help children to feel secure, and this sense of security forms the foundation of attachment.
An attachment disruption, such as a parent being absent, violent, or unresponsive, can negatively affect the child's development. However, attachment can be repaired through positive interactions and consistent responses from a caregiver. This example highlights the importance of an ongoing commitment to continue working on how we can be responsive and attentive to our child's emotional needs throughout their lives.
Creating secure attachments for our children is the goal. To do that, we have to create it within ourselves first. Most of us are harder on ourselves and more judgmental of ourselves than anyone else in the world.
By focusing on these five pillars, we can build healthy relationships with our children based on empathy, respect, and understanding. It is never too late to start peaceful parenting, and with practice, support, and accountability, we can create a peaceful and loving home for our children to thrive in.