‘Parenting is 80% connection’

One of world’s best-known parenting Gurus, Dr Laura Markham in a freewheeling chat with Ms. Nalina Ramalakshmi, Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director of ParentCircle.

By Team ParentCircle  • 12 min read

‘Parenting is 80% connection’

For most people, parenting is all about ‘bringing up a child’. But, the real purpose of parenting is to build meaningful connections with children. Are you making the best use of ‘connection’ opportunities with your child?

What you’re about to read has the potential to change the way you connect with your child. In an India-first, Dr. Laura Markham, renowned clinical psychologist (Founder of AhaParenting.com, and author of bestselling book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting) talks to Nalina Ramalakshmi, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of ParentCircle. The conversation revolves around why connections are the most important element of parenting and how you can build them with your children.

Dr. Markham’s relationship-based parenting model, which she calls ‘Peaceful Parenting’, has helped thousands of families around the world find compassionate, common-sense solutions to everyday parenting dilemmas and issues.

Excerpts from the exclusive conversation.

In your book, you talk about the three big ideas for every parent - emotional self-regulation, fostering connection, and coaching not controlling. Can you explain them for our readers?
I will discuss the second big idea first—fostering connection.
Connection is 80% parenting. Until we have a relationship with our children and they trust us, they won’t do what we say. So, if you want your child to cooperate without threats, punishment or bribes (or yelling at them), you need a relationship of closeness and trust, wherein your child wants to do what you say, wants to follow your lead, and doesn’t want to disappoint you because she loves you and is close to you. And that’s connection. Guidance and coaching is only 20% of parenting, at best.

The next big idea is coaching.
Ever wondered why your child misbehaves? Say, jumps on the couch even when told not to do so. Children ‘misbehave’ because they have some unmet need or some feelings, they need help with. When we help children with their feelings, they become able to articulate those feelings and don’t need to act out by misbehaving. Their feelings are more under their conscious control and they can regulate themselves and stop doing whatever they feel like. If we punish them, we aren’t helping them with expressing their unmet needs and feelings.

And now for the first big idea—emotional self-regulation.
Parents’ ability to regulate their own emotions is foremost because you can see that you can’t do the other two things unless you self-regulate. It is the hardest thing. But when we learn to self-regulate, we know that we are much better at coaching our children. When we are yelling or shouting, we are not connecting with our children and so, they are not open to our guidance.

So those are the three big ideas. And these are not just my ideas. Research shows that we have no influence without connection; it shows that when children are coached, they cooperate better. Parents can’t do all these things without and regulating their own emotions and remaining calm.

Watch Dr. Laura Markham talk about these 3 big ideas here.

Today, we have so many ‘working’ parents. You get back home tired and are not in any mood to engage with your child. Having said that, it is an important time to connect with your child. How should parents handle this situation?
We have to recognize that both people in the interaction have their needs. We need to just have a bit of chill-out time and the child really needs us because she hasn’t seen us all day. So, the question is whose needs get met first. The child is still a child, they didn’t ask to be born, they need the parent, and if you don’t give them some connection time, the child might end up having ‘big feelings’ of being unseen, unloved, and will act those feelings out. They will be unlovable, will misbehave all evening until bedtime, and might even be worse the next day. Meeting their needs doesn’t only mean giving them dinner and putting them to bed. We also need to give them our love and attention. They cry and are not able to cope up with what life throws at them. They get anxious if they don’t feel safe. So, it’s very important that they get the connection.

What I tell mothers and fathers is that your child will need you when you get home. So, before you leave your workplace, if you are in your office, take a few minutes and breathe. If you can change into more casual clothing, that’s even better, because you will already be in a relaxed frame of mind by the time you see your child. Promise yourself that you will take care of your needs once the children go to bed. And then you walk in the door, put your things down, hug your children, and get them laughing.

Why laughing?
It changes the body chemistry. At the end of the day, we have higher levels of stress hormones because we get stressed throughout the day. Laughter reduces those stress hormones (sleep is another way to reduce them) and puts us in a better mood. Also, when we laugh with another person, our brains release oxytocin, a bonding hormone. We are bonding with that person. So, when you come home, pick up your child and swing him around, and laugh with him.

Sometimes parents will say, ‘How was school today?’, because they have nothing else to say. For children, school was a long time ago, and it’s a whole another thing to think about. They are just happy to see you. So, connect in the moment and say, “I am so happy to see you and I missed you today. I love seeing your beautiful brown eyes and I have the best child in the world and I am so lucky to be your mother!” Now, you just connected. Your child feels safe and feels that ‘my mother really cares about me’.

In your book, you say quality time is a myth. Won’t that make parents feel guilty as they feel they can’t give quantity time to their children?
Quality time does matter. It matters that you connect with your child. But, if that’s all you ever did, spend that 15 minutes with your child and then gave your child back to the nanny and went out to dinner with your spouse and you did that every night, that’s not going to work for your child. 15 minutes is not enough, even if it is high quality time. So that’s what I mean by quality time is a myth.

But I don’t want parents to feel bad. In many cases both parents work outside the home and both are busy. I do not think that women need to stay at home and not work outside. I think men need to step up more and be more involved in the mornings and then, in the nights and on weekends. Men should be more involved, and it should not all fall on the woman’s shoulder. That is very clear because a) children need their dads and b) women cannot do it by themselves, working in and outside the home.

When your children are young, they need you more and when they are older, they don’t need you as much. So, you can do other things then. Right now, when they are young, your priority is to take care of your children, connect with them, take care of yourself, communicate with your partner, and work on your job. Don’t do the other extra things. I often find that women expect themselves to cook an elaborate meal when they have worked all day outside the home and it’s just not possible. But we just can’t do everything. You can keep your meals simple; if you can pay someone to clean your house or cook for you, absolutely do it. We are given 24 hours in the day and that is it. And your children need a lot of it.

Your children deserve you. Let’s tell the truth about what children need, ‘connection with their special adults’, and let’s give it to them.

In a Nutshell

  • The three big ideas for every parent are emotional self-regulation, fostering connection, and coaching not controlling
  • Child ‘misbehaviour’ is usually the result of some unmet need or the lack of connection time between the parent and the child
  • Giving your child your undivided attention for a few minutes everyday is important. After they go to bed, you can take care of your own needs

What you can do right away

  • When you enter the house after work, put your things down, hug your children, and get them laughing
  • When your child comes back from school, instead of asking ‘How was school today?’, try saying “I am so happy to see you. I missed you today. I have the best child in the world and I am so lucky to be your mother!”
  • Don’t put the pressure of doing everything by yourself when your children are young. Prioritise spending time with your children, your partner, and yourself!

Published by Team ParentCircle on 10 December 2019. Updated 19 March 2020.

Join our Circles to share, discuss, and learn from fellow parents and experts!

Looking for fun ways to keep your preschooler engaged at home during the pandemic? Check out Little Learners at Home, a home learning programme specifically designed for 3 to 5 year olds by our team of experts.

For expert tips and interesting articles on parenting, subscribe now to our magazine. Connect with us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube