Family Rules & No More Yelling: An Interview with Dr. Laura Markham

Wondering how to go about setting family rules? Looking for ways to stop yelling at your children? Are you discouraged or skeptical about positive parenting?

Today I am sharing the second part of a lovely interview with Dr. Laura Markham of Aha!Parenting full of insight on just that!

Q: Dr. Laura, should families that practice positive parenting have rules or principles? Why is that important?

Research shows that the kids who are best at thinking for themselves and acting most ethically come from families with strong values, lots of discussion, and — surprise! — fewer rules! That’s because when kids just get used to following rules, they aren’t thinking. If, instead, parents are constantly discussing values and principles, children develop values and principles. But of course the most important source of values for kids is the parents’ role-modeling.


So I advise parents to keep their rules limited to the most important: some version of the Golden Rule. Other rules will come up over time, depending on the child’s age — No jumping on the couch, Leave a friend’s house immediately if the child takes out his parent’s gun, Call if you’re running late. But the #1 rule is always:

We treat each other, and ourselves, with kindness and respect.

To me, that’s the only rule that really matters.

Q: What about Principles and Values?

Values include both what you hold dear — such as family, or education, or democracy, or equal dignity for all people –and what you think it is important to be — such as compassionate, or tolerant, or honest, or non-sexist. I think it’s an important part of guiding our children to have constant discussions about these principles. Children don’t need “rules” to act in accordance with their values. They just need to come to value those things for themselves, and they’ll act accordingly.

Q: One of your key phrases is Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. Can you tell us more about that, why it is so important?

Most parents yell. They were raised with yelling, and it comes so
automatically that we take it for granted. But it is possible to grow so much as a parent — and a person — that you no longer yell.

When you do that, you will be amazed at how much happier you are, and how much more cooperative your children are. Because the dirty little secret of yelling is that it is a parental tantrum. It erodes our child’s respect for us so she is less likely to “follow” our guidance.

There are three keys to this transformation: Regulating our own emotions, Connecting with our child, and Coaching rather than controlling our child.

My book, which is being published by Penguin-Perigee this fall, is
called *Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting*. The book walks parents through these three steps to transforming their parenting. I have seen hundreds of parents suddenly realize that it has been months since they yelled. It’s hard work, but any parent can do it. My book gives them the blueprint.

Q: What would you say to families that are skeptical of positive parenting?

Usually the objection I hear to positive parenting is that the child won’t learn to behave. But that’s a bleak view of human nature — that kids must be punished to learn to behave. And it isn’t supported by the research.
The kids who get in trouble at school and with the law are the kids whose parents were either permissive (no limits) or autocratic (so the kids rebelled.)

Positive parenting DOES give kids guidance about behavior, and does set limits.

So the kids certainly learn to behave. And they are actually more likely to CHOOSE to behave than other kids, because they see their parents as understanding them and they believe their parents are on their side. So these kids end up better behaved than other kids, and they actually have a better developed sense of morality.

I would ask the skeptical parent what kind of child he or she hopes to raise. All parents want to raise kids who are respectful, resilient, happy, and successful. We actually know how to raise those kids. We have several decades of research on this.

If they want a child who will “behave” they will want to know that kids who can manage their emotions can manage their behavior. And they should know that kids learn to manage their emotions when their parents accept their emotions in a positive way, even while they provide guidance about appropriate behavior.

If the parent wants a resilient child, they should know that resilience comes from being supported without blame through negative emotions and learning you can come out on the other side. Again, that is positive parenting. Autocratic parents raise kids who learn to stuff their emotions, and these kids are not as resilient emotionally. The child may try to tough it out, but at some point they just fall apart, or they look to addictions (whether little, like food or technology, or big, like alcohol) to help them self-regulate.

The more autocratic the parents, the more rebellious the child and the less successful and happy the child. They may act respectful because they have been trained to be, but they are actually less generous and considerate, because they are just doing what’s expected, they are following rules rather than their heart.

By contrast, kids who are parented positively are more generous and considerate simply because it now comes naturally to them; it is their experience of relationships. Quite simply, children who are treated respectfully grow up respectful.

Q: What about families that have tried positive parenting but are feeling discouraged?

Most parents who have tried positive parenting but are feeling discouraged have not been given the support they need to understand emotion. A child who is “acting out” is acting out emotions that he doesn’t know how to verbalize. Those emotions won’t go away until the child has a chance to express them. So a parent who tries to be positive but doesn’t welcome the child’s “negative” emotions will still have a child who is acting out.

The solution is to create a sense of safety for the child by being empathic and not taking the child’s negative emotions personally, even if they come out disrespectfully. So if the child is having a meltdown and yelling “I hate you, you’re the worst mother in the world!” the parent needs to remind herself that the child’s upset actually has nothing to do with her. She needs to just let the disrespect go for now, and instead respond to the child with compassion: “Oh, Sweetie, you must be so upset to talk to me
that way…What’s going on?”

The child may yell back, but once the child sees that the parent is staying calm and kind and actually cares why the child is upset, the child will finally share why he’s upset and will probably begin crying, which is the emotional release he needed. After the
child is able to express all those negative emotions, he will be hugging and reconnecting with the parent, and will be so much more cooperative.

Kids sometimes just need to cry, whether they’re three or thirteen. And even positive parenting won’t elicit good behavior if the child is lugging around an emotional backpack of tears and fears that need to come out.

You don’t actually have to say anything about the disrespect, since the child already knows it is against the rules. The disrespect happened because the child did not feel that his feelings were being heard, and did not know another way to get help. But if you feel you must mention it, then later, after everyone is calm, the parent can say “I know you were so very upset at me today….I don’t talk to you like that…I don’t want you to talk to me like that…You know that, right?” And the kid will almost certainly apologize.


Many thanks to Dr. Laura Markham for taking the time to share so much great information here on Positive Parenting Connection!

Interview with Dr. Laura MarkhamDr. Laura Markham trained as a Clinical Psychologist at Columbia University, but she’s also a mom, so she understands kids — and parents!

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

5 Responses to Family Rules & No More Yelling: An Interview with Dr. Laura Markham

  1. […] of parents, then I’m unalterably opposed to it.See what I’m saying? Well, today I read a very interesting interview with Dr. Laura Markham on Positive Parenting Connection:Dr. Laura, should families that practice […]

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  2. But what if she doesn’t respond with an apology? I feel like I’ve used positive parenting (with a few setbacks) for the majority of 10 years. My 10 year old blows up in a disrespectful manner often. I try to revisit the issue when she is calm and she just shouts “I DON”T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!” HELP!

  3. So the stream of psycho-babble from this lady and people like her continues. If all of these professionals know so much, and traditional discipline that was used for thousands of years is so wrong, then why is there a direct link betwen the onset of this “new age” mentality, and the decline of children’s wellbeing? Why are kids, as a whole, getting worse? Why increased disrespect towards adults/teachers/other kids? Why all the shootings/suicides? Is it possible that kids are being raised with no tangible consequences and that this is what is primarily resposible for the majority of the behaviors today?

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