book review: ScreamFree Parenting (Hal Runkel)

I recently read Scream-Free Parenting by Hal Runkel, a marriage and family therapist in Atlanta Georgia. I think mparenting books are valuable in that they can prod you into insightful dialogues, to question yourself and the path you are currently on. I don’t think any one book is The Answer and it would be insincere to think there is only one way to parent.

As for the methodology. Runkel advocates what I would call self-care. Taking time for yourself and your adult relationships (with your partner, family and friends) are so important – if you cannot take care of yourself and show your child(ren) it is important to do so, you will fail them and yourself. There is also the problem of what Runkel calls “reactivity”; this is the emotional reaction to an event, say your kid going batshit crazy because she can’t find pants that match her shirt. Instead of yelling at her that it’s because she won’t open her drawers and look and will instead ALWAYS rely on you to get them, stop that thought process and consider what is happening. She is not doing this to annoy you (really? Because it seems to happen every morning), rather she is a kid and reasoning is not her forte. You, as her frenzied parent, are there to help her develop the tools that will aid in her growth towards adulthood. Like the ability to find pants.

I found some of Runkel’s proposed phrasing, for example, “if you don’t put away your bike, tomorrow morning I will take it to Goodwill”, to be passive aggressive if put to use for every little thing. As parents, we are to guide our children into decision making as much as it is to establish rules for the house and the expectation that the children will follow said rules. It is not specifically that Runkel is saying to hell with household rules, it’s more that his methodology and phrasing would be daunting and irritating to use all the time. I think the calming moment to consider what is happening and choosing your words wisely (to not make the “always” accusation), to not dissolve into reaction (read: freaking out) is most valuable during crisis mode. If this is not terribly clear it is because I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt some unease at Runkel’s suggestion that his layout is for all the time. Remember how I wrote that parenting books generally have some good tips you can add to your repertoire? This is one.

He writes of the importance of a child’s space. A few years ago, at about the time N started school, I started knocking before entering her room or the bathroom. The danger of her eating something like laundry detergent was lessened at this point (chill, it was always put away), but I thought it important she learn boundaries around her body. That and she was finally getting that she should answer when I knock on the door lest Mommy freak out. Runkel points out the importance of allowing a child their space – if you respect their’s, they are much more likely to reciprocate. He is also under the impression a kid will want to clean their room because they’ll take ownership over the space and like it more if it is neat but I don’t entirely agree – N is not an organized kid but D is and that has more to do with their individual personalities. N needs more prodding to clean up after herself and organize her things. Thinking your kids will clean their room rather than pull a Jillian Jiggs is some serious wishful thinking.

As for Runkel’s writing style – it’s somewhat cutesy self-help which I can deal with because he doesn’t really lay it on too thick and he provides some real-life examples from his family therapy practice. He keeps referencing make-believe ScreamFree books that are in the future and I don’t know if he’s being serious or ridiculous because the joke doesn’t carry very well. The title is definitely loaded – I was definitely not toting this around, flashing the title because it is so sensationalistic (Canadian moment here – how American is the title, eh?). Runkel does address the title – “screaming” is more about the loss of control parents face than the actual volume and his aim in writing the book is to help parents be the calming force in their family.

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