This is not a review of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting by Noël Janis-Norton because I haven’t read the book yet! However Mostly Books held an evening with Noël speaking which was very interesting and I will ramble about that and throw in a picture book recommendation.
Noël is a powerful, effective and interesting speaker. Based on last night’s hour in her company I can see why she has such a good reputation. She was especially good at getting parents to think about specific examples of their troubles, and most people found that very hard – “Oh, then she gets sarcastic”; “In what way sarcastic?”; “She says she won’t eat her dinner.”; “That’s not sarcasm.” Noël also silenced two middle-aged women chatting as if they were schoolchildren, asking them to listen to her instead of moaning about their children. I enjoyed listening to her very much.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to this event was to take Mr Chaos. Mr Chaos learns more effectively from listening to a subject than reading and I wanted him to see what kind of parenting I’d like to be able to do so we can support each other more effectively. The three main principles that Noël talked about, on top of answering specific queries from the attendees, are covered in the paragraphs below. This was a short event, not a training course, so she didn’t cover all her methods but it was a great introduction.
“Commit to never doing anything for your children that you know they can do themselves.”
It is common sense, but it’s also exceedingly hard. Noël covered the example of getting everyone out to school and letting the children dress themselves – something that is one of my biggest stressors! How can we manage this? Start 20 minutes earlier. I tried this morning and ended up with MG stomping and tantruming all over the house, pretending she couldn’t dress herself and screaming for attention.
“Note that it is called Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting. Not Calm, Easy, Happy Parenting. There’s no such thing, it’s all in the ‘er'” I should probably read a section of the book before trying to apply it though!
Letting children do things by themselves empowers them and gives them self-confidence and autonomy. Always doing things for them may make them feel that you don’t trust them to do anything or that you should do everything for them. “Teach me to do it myself” is also a central tenet in Montessori philosophy and “Never help a child unless they ask for help” is something that has been told to us since MG started at Montessori nursery at 5 months old and yet I still don’t seem to manage, stressing over timetables to get places and the mess when they do do things themselves!
Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson (another book I own but haven’t read) is written by a Montessorian and is based on the philosophy of Alfred Adler, who also influenced Noël. I think it may be interesting to read Positive Discipline and Calmer, Happier, Easier Parenting together.
Descriptive praise is a concept that comes across in many of the books I have(n’t) read. Again, it is used in Montessori classrooms and is discussed in How to Talk so Your Kids will Listen by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and in Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. It’s probably covered in Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, but I haven’t finished that yet either…
The idea of descriptive praise is to stop saying things like “well done, fantastic, amazing, good girl, clever boy!” and to instead describe what you’re seeing: “You got dressed in time this morning”; “You put your cereal bowl in the sink”; “You didn’t bite your sister”. Okay, I’m not so sure on my last example but Noël did say to praise what is good and what is not bad, to look for the positive in all situations.
The third main concept Noël covered was “think-throughs” to prepare for success. At a neutral time, have a short conversation with your child in which you ask questions to get them to think about how they should behave in a particular situation. The idea being that each time you discuss this (and let the child do the speaking), an image of themselves doing the correct thing forms in their mind. Repeated “think-throughs” reinforce the mental image which then reinforces the actual action. Talking about the positives and imagining future successes encourages children to be that success. On the flip-side of this, if you constantly tell a child that they’re messy, lazy, nasty, etc then they will become this horrible person that they are told that they are.
Which leads nicely to Edwardo, The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World by John Burningham.
Edwardo is an ordinary boy. Sometimes he does naughty things. But every time he does something naughty, an adult tells him he is always naughty so he continues to get worse. Until, one day, he is given a positive comment…
I think this picture book perfectly encapsulates the effect of negative and positive words from adults on children. If a child is constantly told they are horrible, then they will live up to that expectation. This book should be in all primary schools to help children understand the power of words and to engage them in discussions of how we can make other people feel by the things that we say. Parents can learn a lot from its message too.
I will be reading Calmer, Happier, Easier Parenting because flicking through it looks like a nicely laid out book with sensible and useful ideas to put into actual actions without seeming daunting despite the 400+ pages. It’s aimed for 3-13 year olds but the ideas can be applied to teens, although there will be a teen-centred book out in the future. Huge thanks to Mostly Books for arranging an enjoyable, useful and motivating event.
And finally, another comment from Noël in answer to the question on what to do in dangerous situations: “You just act. If it’s danger, you don’t want to stop and think what parenting strategy you should be using.”