Book Review: Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings

I am a huge fan of Dr. Laura Markham and her website, so when she put out a book on sibling relationships, I was thrilled. Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings (PPHS) is a welcome addition in the world of positive parenting. Really the only other similar book I know of is the wonderful classic Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, but I needed to do a lot of adjustment to the concepts in that book to make it work for the baby, toddler, and preschool set, especially when I was living in the world of two-kids-under-two. PPHS fills that gap and addresses how to apply gentle parenting concepts for the younger ages.

Peaceful Parents Happy Siblings

Part One of PPHS explains what positive parenting/gentle discipline is. In short, this style of discipline eschews both rewards and punishments and instead relies on empathetic connection with emotional coach parent(s). If you are new to these concepts, it will be a meaty and compelling read. If you are already on-board, it serves as a good refresher and also begins to apply the style to sibling relationships specifically. Part Two of the book is loaded with examples and strategies for many scenarios that resonated with me as a parent of two preschoolers (e.g., how to address hitting, harsh words, fairness). Part Three focuses on sibling relationships specifically with a baby in the mix (prenatal to age one). This is helpful since we just had baby T two months ago.

Here are some stand-out things from the book:

  • “Schedule” a child’s emotional meltdowns (p 43) We all know that emotional meltdowns are going to happen. The question is when and how many people in the family will lose it at once. Markham proposes a method of gently provoking a child into an emotional release (popularly called a tantrum) when we’re feeling emotionally together ourselves.  At first the idea was disturbing to me, but when I gave it a try, I realized that this really is about leaning into emotions that are on the cusp of coming out anyway and providing an open door to the child to just start the tears rather than holding back until they simply explode out. If we’re going to have 20 minutes of screaming and crying, I really would rather have that an hour before we need to leave rather than when I’m running late and feeling tense.
  • Coaching kids to problem solve (p 80) Markham gives a great step-by-step for coaching kids to solve their own problems that is very similar to her article as well as Siblings Without Rivalry. Say goodbye to asking (or assuming), “Who had that toy first?” throw our adult version of “fair” out the window, and let the kids make their own plan. I have had great success with this method in the past, but the unique twist in the book is to write down each child’s problem-solving ideas in a list and then go through it after each person has shared. I love how this helps hold space for each child, reduce repeats, and doesn’t allow Child A to veto Child B’s proposal immediately.
  • Markham gives a great list of twelve ways to help acclimate older siblings to a new baby. My favorite idea is a way talk to the baby about the older sibling. “Help your older child to feel like she doesn’t always come second by telling the baby, at times when he is actually quiet and happy, ‘I am helping your sister with her shoes right now, so I can’t pick you up yet. I will be with you in a little bit. Everyone has to wait a little bit sometimes.’” (p 244) I think this tactic will work wonders with my three-year-old who likes to censure baby’s behavior (i.e., “Mama, he’s hitting me,” as baby’s clumsy fist vaguely waves in the air and makes gentle contact.)
  • Special Time is the idea of spending one-on-one time with each child that is directed by them.  She talks about this concept throughout the book. The unique thing about Markham’s approach is she suggests aiming for fifteen minutes a day. Fifteen minutes around the house is much more doable for our budget and time than special outings (though those are still good on occasion). For our first attempt at Special Time, one child and dad went on a quick bike ride while the other child stayed with me and took every pot and pan in the house, put them in the bathtub, and tried to create a cascading waterfall. The look of joy on his face as I simply leaned into his desires and gave him all my attention was heart-warming. Kid 3, our new baby slept through this all.

The idea of three (or more) kids brings me to my first negative about PPHS, there are only a handful of references to larger-family sibling dynamics. My other frustration with the book, at times, is its over-simplification of the effects of positive parenting. Markham acknowledges that parenting is hard and we are all going to get it wrong sometimes. But, it was frustrating to read that certain behaviors will likely just go away if you switch to this style of parenting. This is the only way I’ve ever parented and we still have these struggles, hence why I am reading the book.  So, just remember that even if you do all of these things, stay calm, and be empathetic sometimes kids are still, well, human.

I wish this book had been published three years ago when I was trying to figure out what attachment parenting two-under-two looked like. At least I have it now as we add a third sibling into the mix. This book is going to be my go-to recommendation for anyone in the two-under-two demographic as well as for anyone with at least one child under age seven.

This review was originally published on More Green for Less Green.

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