arun on Nov 09 2007
|BOOK REVIEW:Connection Parenting: Parenting through Connection
Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear
By Pam Leo
Publisher: Wyatt- MacKenzie Publishing, 2005, Nov 1
This review was first published in Nourished online magazine
There seem to be no bounds to clever and innovative ways of changing children’s behaviour. Common approaches span anything from spanking, time outs, Magic 1, 2, 3, to positive discipline and offering rewards. The commonality of these “techniques” are that they begin with the aim of controling, manipulating or altering behaviour.
Then there is the other world view. This alternative attempts to delve beyond a child’s behaviour and focuses on who the child is, their intrinsic motivation and the importance or primacy of their relationship with the parent in that context.
This often involves understanding, meeting needs and connecting with a child. There are no quick fixes here, it is an approach based on non coercive, respectful and loving relationships. For practitioners of this parenting approach behaviour becomes another form of communication and expression, rather than something to be controlled or changed.
This world view also has its fair share of acronyms, books and techniques – often to the point where parents wanting to explore it will not know where to begin. Well at least that is one problem solved…
If you are indeed curious about and open to this alternative approach then Pam Leo’s Connection Parenting represents a fantastic introduction, distillation and road map for your journey. (Pam Leo pictured right.)
The book is a product from Pam Leo’s more than 55,000 hours of experience with children and stems from a Connection Parenting Course she initiated in 1982 entitled “Meeting the Needs of Children”. The years spent developing, refining and simplifying her message pay off with a strong clarity and economy in her book, making it extremely readable.
For those brave enough you can interact and engage with it fully by answering questions and doing exercises. For others it can still become an excellent reference and summary of many key concepts in the field of non coercive parenting.
IT’S ABOUT YOU
Leo begins and ends the book with a confronting look at ourselves, the parents. The first chapter, “Connecting with Ourselves” examines our self perceived strengths and weaknesses as well as our own experience of being parented to assist in identifying our “parenting inheritance”.
In this process Leo is constantly encouraging us to be compassionate and accepting of what has been. She creates a powerful balance between understanding and outing our baggage while focusing energy on where we wish to go from here. In fact she encourages us to step back from the immediate issues and generate a list of parenting goals which she refers to throughout the rest of the book.
The book ends with a chapter entitled “Connecting with Our Own Needs”. Here she identifies that children’s needs are best met when we acknowledge and meet our needs first. There are small habitual tips such as taking 10 minutes a day to nurture ourselves (and creating a “nurturing list” of activity ideas such as going for a walk or reading a book) or for those with partners looking at daily rituals such as a 15 minute phone call discussing anything but children, family and life maintenance to strengthen that connection. Leo talks about creating “an extended family of choice”, in developing a supportive community around ourselves – its focus is providing the parent with the most powerful context and opportunity to connect with our child possible.
These two chapters frame the discussion – on one side connecting with ourselves and on the other connecting with our needs and in the process often with a broader support community. Within that framework the remaining five chapters explore practical approaches to connect with our child.
A basic premise of Connection Parenting is that “maintaining connection is the key to loving, effective parenting and to our children’s optimal human development.” Connection then becomes a prism through which Leo understands and explains many other parenting issues.
Leo launches the section on connection with children with a strong argument for greater respect of children. Her passion and ability to empathise with children shine through. Ultimately she suggests affording our children the same respect that we would give a friend. Rather than lecturing children Leo underlines the crucial role of modeling, as she says, “how we treat them is what we teach them.”
In the chapters on Connecting through “Listening to Children’s Feelings” and “through Communication that Builds Relationship”, Leo manages to use and summarise key concepts from the likes of Aletha Solther’s Aware Parenting, Marshall Rosenburg’s Non Violent Communication and others.
Leo touches on the paradigm shift, that crying and “tantrums” are part of releasing emotions and a healing process that are healthy and important to support rather than trying to shut down. At the same time she outlines concrete examples of how to “listen with love and compassion”. For example Leo promotes the use of “time ins”, which acknowledges that a “hurtfull child is a ‘hurt-filled’ child” who needs attention and connection. She details many suggestions around communication techniques including learning to describe behaviour rather than judge it, and focus on communicating our needs constructively rather than what we think the child needs.
Finally in the chapter on “Connection through the Discipline of Decoding Children’s Behaviour” Leo outlines “behaviour as a communication of need”. Again in a massive shift from behaviourally focused parenting approaches Leo argues that “children need love more when they appear to deserve it the least.” She spells out specific steps parents can take in understanding and meeting their child’s needs in the midst of heated situations.
A POWERFUL BOOK FOR POWERFUL CHANGE
There are countless practical strengths of Connection Parenting – its easy to read format; Leo’s ability to introduce and offer practical examples of many concepts; and the wealth of references and resources she provides.
However one of my favourite things about the book was Leo’s obvious warmth, compassion and love. She has this for children who her book will contribute to but also a real empathy and understanding of the parent. In my experience parents exploring alternative parenting often get caught in cycles of guilt, self blame and judgement for what has been or what they are unable to achieve – Leo seems to anticipate this and her wisdom is consistently expressed in forgiving, gentle tones throughout.
For those seasoned parents who have read many books in this field and are practicing unschooling, consensual living or connected parenting – then Leo’s explanations might be familiar, perhaps even superficial at times. However that is a reasonable price to pay for covering so much ground so fast. That said, even the most seasoned and well read non coercive parent will no doubt find a few new gems and appreciate the straightforward style as Leo distills many concepts and ideas so simply.
For parents new to these topics Connection Parenting is more than an interesting read, it can be a plan for action and change. It is not necessarily going to convince parents to make change but is the perfect first step for those who are already asking questions and wanting change.
Quite simply if you are, or you know someone at the early stages of exploring alternatives to authoritarian, coercive or behaviourally focussed parenting then buying Connection Parenting is the best possible first step you can make.
You can view Pam Leo’s site here which includes links to audio files and information on her current courses.-----------------
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