Summary of “Cool parents make happy kids“ by Charlotte Ducharme: Using her experience as a “positive mum“ and with a multitude of tips that work with her children as well as concrete educational tools, Charlotte Ducharme teaches us how to become a benevolent parent – neither authoritarian nor lax. She shows us how to adopt positive education in our daily lives to make our kids happy!
By Charlotte Ducharme, 2017, 223 pages
Chronicle and summary of “Cool parents make happy kids” by Charlotte Ducharme
The author, Charlotte Ducharme, is not a psychologist, nor is she a childcare professional. She grew up in France in the 1980s and received a traditional education. Today she has two children of her own, Joy and Léon.
When she became a mother, she, like many new parents, had many questions. She aspires to more “benevolence” towards children than she generally sees in the world of “traditional” forms of education. She explains:
“Torn between the model that was passed on to me and my own intuition, I decided to try my own experiences, to trust myself.”
She carried out research and read books on the subject. Then she discovered that what she was putting into practice every day already had a name: positive education! It was a revelation. In 2015, she started a positive parenting blog and realised that many parents were asking the same questions. Based on this, Charlotte Ducharme sat down to write, “Cool parents make happy kids” and tell people about how she became a “positive mum”. She is quick to point out that this book is not a revolt against the model of traditional education. It is the sharing of her personal experience:
- The goal is that her children will become happy, thriving adults who feel good about themselves!
- Her dearest desire is to pass on values that she feels are essential. They include respect for other people, self-confidence, independence, altruism, benevolence and “joie de vivre”.
Chapter 1- What if we gave up our prejudices?
1.1 – Why obedience should not be an end in itself
Should instilling obedience in our children really be a priority?
In this chapter, Charlotte Ducharme asks the reader, the parent a question. Should obedience really be the cornerstone of our children’s education?
“Obedience without a discussion, simple submission […, will it really serve them in their professional, social or family life?”
Of course, having obedient children is practical. But in the end, obedience is not necessarily an asset. In any case, for Charlotte Ducharme, obedience does not represent a quality that will be useful to her children in their future lives.
Respect the laws
The child – it goes without saying – must obey the law, the guarantee of social order. However, the author points out that our children will not naturally respect these laws once they become adults because they feel that they must submit to them. They will respect them because they are in agreement with the values that we passed on to them.
Number one priority: pass on values
“What will Joy do if one day we impose a rule that is in opposition to her values? Obey in a docile manner or fight to remain true to herself? I certainly hope that she will choose the second option.”
For Charlotte Ducharme, her children’s ability to stand up and follow their own convictions is essential. It must be preserved. According to her, this capacity is much more valuable than knowing how to obey.
Today’s working world needs responsible co-workers, not pen pushers
The author believes that it is also important that her children have the capacity, later on, in a professional setting, to stand up to their bosses if necessary At work, they should perform their tasks because they understand the reasons behind them, not simply because somebody tells them to do something.
Companies are increasingly adopting a management style that empowers their staff. They see that they get better results if employees feel responsible, independent and motivated. It is more effective than employees simply doing what their supervisor tells them to do.
However, “not being submissive” does not mean questioning everything! Sometimes we do not agree with what we have to do or it doesn’t suit us. In those moments, our respect for others will lead us to accept the decision taken, if it seems to be the best one for the company. And if we don’t like it, we can decide freely to accept the mission and stay or else leave.
“This is a far cry from basic obedience – I do what I’m told to do not because I have to, but because I choose to. That is what I want for my children: I want them to be guided by their values. I want them to respect others and respect themselves, without ever leaning instinctively towards submission.”
How to raise your children without demanding that they obey you
While Charlotte Ducharme is not in favour of blind obedience, she underlines the fact an absence of rules is not desirable either. In fact, what she recommends is teaching our children self-discipline. This is good for them and good for others. Our children must understand, on their own and without being forced, that their freedom stops where the freedom of other people begins.
In consequence, as parents, we set limits and remain vigilant about how we present those limits. For example, instead of shouting: “What did I say? I told you not to eat bread before dinner and you disobeyed me!”, we can say: “We don’t eat bread before dinner because then we won’t be hungry for our vegetables any more. Eating vegetables is important for good health.” Would you like some carrot sticks while you are waiting?”
Basically, the idea to take away from this part of “Cool parents make happy kids”, is that:
“Making your children responsible is more effective than trying to make them obey you plain and simple”.
1.2 – How to put an end to the power struggle
“Education is about passing on values and turning our children into happy and fulfilled adults.”
Charlotte Ducharme has had the opportunity to chat with a lot of parents. She asked them about what, in their view, were the most important values to pass on to their children. For the vast majority of them, they were: kindness, respect, altruism, tolerance, generosity, self-confidence, being kind to yourself and curiosity.
This begs the question: do we really pass on this kind of value by using punishment, threats or spanking?
Punishment – a good idea or a bad idea?
Charlotte Ducharme tells us about the two methods she has tested when there is conflict between her own two children. First:
- “Old school” – I scold and I punish.
- Second : “Benevolent”: I don’t punish
She tells us the story of her experience. It turns out that with the old method, her daughter barely apologised (and only because she was forced to). Using the second method, her daughter asked her brother to forgive her and even suggested that they continue to play together.
We can take away two points from this experience:
- In the event of conflict, it is essential that children see the consequences of their actions. They need to feel, through empathy, the pain or the sadness that they have caused. This is more effective than making them endure a punishment.
- Scolding children does not motivate them to recognise their mistake or to ask for forgiveness. It will not make them responsible in the future. Forcing an apology (through blackmail or to prevent punishment for example) has no value. All it does is give us the impression that we have won. It reassures us about our authority.
So how can we ensure respect for certain limits on a daily basis?
It all hinges on how you present things.
Charlotte Ducharme gives us her method for setting limits without resorting to punishment. It involves explaining the consequences of their choices and actions to children, using logic. To do this, we must be careful about the words we use when we speak to our children.
For example: “You didn’t do your homework, so you can’t watch TV!” is a punishment. The author suggests rephrasing the sentence: “I know that you would like to watch TV. The problem is that you haven’t finished your homework for tomorrow. By the time you finish, I don’t think you will have any more time to watch TV.” In this way, we explain the logical reasons for depriving our children of TV time.
Accountability instead of punishment
Many people believe that punishment is essential in order to ensure respect for the rules. People talk about fines, for example, by arguing that without them, nobody would respect the Rules of the Road. People would park anywhere they like. Really? Charlotte Ducharme believes that fines are in place to make up for a lack of civility among people. As a parent, we should instil a good sense of citizenship in children.
In addition, Charlotte Ducharme tells a story to help us to understand the difference between “fear of punishment” and “taking responsibility”. Her little daughter and a friend were playing at jumping on the beds and Charlotte Ducharme heard the little boy say to her daughter: “We mustn’t jump on the bed, or we will be in trouble.” Her daughter answered: “Don’t worry Look: if we do it gently, we won’t break it.” The motivations of the two children were very different: “the fear of being punished” for the little boy and “accountability” for her daughter.
The idea to remember is that it is preferable to make our children responsible for their actions without guiding their behaviour through artificial means.
The long-term consequences of “violence”
Punishments, spanking, humiliating words and all other forms of “violence” used to make children obedient only work in the short term. In reality, this type of authority has perverse effects, which may leave a permanent mark on children.
A child who gets a spanking or who is put down curtly feels belittled, humiliated and discouraged. This generates (just as in adults) negative feelings that do not motivate the child to improve. Even if he or she tries to stop doing what the parents dislike, the child will have the impression that he or she is acting out of submission. This gives justification to the humiliating attitude of the parents. The tendency will lead to more bad behaviour and insolence.
Loss of self-confidence
If the power struggle is reproduced too often, children may lose confidence in themselves and feel poorly loved. They will have poor self-image and will not dare to affirm their personality. Only as an adult will they understand that this problem stems from their childhood. They will realise that they were under pressure to conform to a desired model which does not match their personality.
How to avoid power struggles
In order to avoid this kind of power dynamic, we must demonstrate empathy and imagine ourselves in the place of our child.
If what we want from education is a child who is completely obedient without question, the child will either be:
- “difficult”, refusing to back down. The child will fight even harder because the parents will always win this ego war. You end up with a “tyrant” child.
- or “docile” in nature. He or she submits to everything and everything works out well. However, there is a strong risk that later on, your child will not know how to stand up for him or herself against stronger people, lack self-assurance or be incapable of saying “no” to others. This is typically the child whose lunch money gets stolen at school or an “awkward” child mocked by other children. The parents may be delighted to have a “good” child, but at what cost?
Furthermore, the author highlights the risk that the child will reproduce the same pattern of domination/submission later on, with other people (spouse, children, colleagues…).
Imitation – the best way to learn
“With the best of intentions, what our children retain is the example that we give them. If we introduce a relationship of domination, if we are authoritarian, give orders, humiliate, we teach our children to reproduce the same behaviour with others. Adopting a new, more flexible, more empathic method of communication, requires genuine effort. It will involve working on ourselves. But it is worth it!”
Children learn by imitation above all else. The latest research in the field of neuroscience confirms this. This makes it essential that we as adults offer them the best possible model.
The mirror effect
“Cool parents make happy kids” refers here to “the mirror effect” which should invite us to think about how we communicate with our children. The objective is to teach them to respect rules and other people, treating them in the same way that we would like them to treat us.
Research into how children’s brains work, and more particularly into the mirror neurons, shows that:
“By changing the way we act with our children, we are more likely to influence their own behaviour.”
Take the example of a child who is in the habit of ordering his friends around and threatening them. It is possible that he is simply reproducing the way other people act towards him, whether his parents, his teacher, his babysitter or his pals.
“We should attach more importance to the way we talk to our children rather than what we say to them, because that is what they retain”.
The child’s brain is in creation
Neuroscientific research demonstrates that the impact of the first 5 to 7 years is truly decisive for a child. This is because the brain is still malleable. It is therefore crucial to provide young children an environment of joy, confidence, experiences, affection, empathy and listening! That is how we can create a climate that is conducive to their development, both from the point of view of their intelligence and their temperament.
Chapter 2 – Prefer kindness, every time
2.1 – How to manage/avoid naughtiness in our little monsters according to “Cool parents make happy kids“?
“A child’s brain is designed to be naughty!”
Stop “policing” and adapt the child’s environment
Firstly, Charlotte Ducharme stresses that children do not intentionally cause damage or do things to annoy their parents. The rational part of their brains is still too immature to control what the instinctive part dictates. In other words, the need to discover and experiment overrides everything else!
Constant vigilance, limiting your child’s explorations and scolding at the slightest opportunity will not only rein in self-confidence; it will also extinguish this desire for discovery. That is why, instead of “policing”, a counter-productive attitude that is exhausting for all concerned, the author invites us to change the environment. The goal is to prevent the adventures of our tiny explorers from leading them into dangerous or difficult situations.
Setting limits with younger children
When you scold a child who has no bad intention and speak in a stern manner, there is a risk:
- The child may feel hurt and humiliated. He feels criticized even though he meant well.
- The child may not understand what she did wrong, because the parent does not explain it to her.
- The child may take away a bad example (mimesis), because of the authoritarian way of communicating.
So, instead of trying to obtain obedience at all costs, let’s focus on the real objective of the moment. In one example given by the author, this objective is that the child does not eat peanuts. There are three options available:
- The first solution is simply to place the bowl of peanuts out of reach.
- The second solution is one of explanation and kindness.
- The third solution is to divert attention.
In addition to this, Charlotte Ducharme advises setting limits by speaking kindly to your child. However, it is essential, at the same time, to show that you are sure of yourself, in your tone and demeanour.
Setting limits with older children
It can be tempting to become more authoritarian and stern when we want an older child to respect limits. An older child can understand and knows how to speak. It turns out that this is a great way to make a child stubborn.
Charlotte Ducharme offers several gentler, positive tips to encourage an older child to respect what is off-limits. This is especially important when there is danger, or for an accident-prone child.
- Express your fears using “I”, not “you” (“I am afraid that…”).
- Remove the object that is the source of conflict or move it away.
- Try to understand the child’s requirement and find an alternative response.
- Offer choices.
- Divert attention.
“There is no miracle recipe. There are and there will be always conflicts and this is healthy. We can disagree! The essential thing is to remain kind. Do not seek to dominate your child.”
Encourage responsibility instead of saying no. Let your children do things themselves and choose for themselves
Charlotte Ducharme suggests showing that you trust your child by giving him more responsibility, instead of systematically saying no.
“By giving importance to the objective, by trusting them, our children will become more cooperative and more careful.”
Raise awareness rather than punishing
- Adapt your reaction to the good or bad intentions of children. Validate their creativity and then propose an alternative.
To encourage children to explore and to express themselves without annoying everyone around them or damaging things, the first thing that the author recommends is to validate their good intentions by putting a positive spin on their energy and creative impulses. Then immediately after that, you can suggest expressing them in another way…
- Make children aware of the importance of their naughty behaviour. Explain instead of scolding
Punishment leads children to act out of the fear of a scolding rather than according to their awareness that they are doing something wrong. This is why the author strongly recommends opting for awareness rather than punishment. It is even better if we manage to:
“Make our children aware. Help them to understand for themselves that it is a naughty thing to do instead of explaining why it is the wrong thing to do.”
The best way to achieve this is to express our feelings and to show our sadness. Use a tone of disappointment rather than one that shows criticism.
It is also essential to separate the child from the naughtiness. It is not the child we don’t like, it is the naughtiness that bothers us. It is better to use “I” than an accusing “you”: “I love this sofa and I am really disappointed that it is spoiled now that it has a big stain in the middle.”
By reacting in this way, you generally get genuine remorse on the part of the child. Your child understands that she has done something wrong, but does not feel put down. Once she is aware of the mistake, it is almost certain that she will be more careful next time. It will not be out of fear, but out of empathy, so that the people around her will not feel sad.
Give children the chance to fix their mistake
“Instead of grabbing a sponge and cleaning up, scolding all the while, invite children to find their own solution.”
We can say things like: “I am really upset that the carpet is all dirty. What are we going to do now?” In this way, the child, who feels our sadness or our disappointment about the mess:
- has the opportunity to fix the mistake, to be forgiven. He does not lose confidence in himself.
- can understand and better manage emotions.
- will develop the rational part of the brain since it invites rationalisation by looking for a solution to the problem.
“Asking children to think about a long-term solution also shows that we believe that they will not do it again. You trust your child, and this is motivating.”
Do not turn every little thing into a drama
Expressing sadness or disappointment if a child does something naughty works well. However, you should not overdo it or abuse it. In a general way, it is important to put things in perspective. Do not give too much importance to every little incident. Limit yourself to the biggest ones. It is about “striking the right balance between the parent’s feelings, the child’s intent and the way of analysing things”.
Encourage responsibility when faced with danger
Children can be conscious of danger from a very early age. To understand and integrate danger, they simply need to experiment.
It is the best interest of a benevolent parent to be patient. Do not overprotect your children. Trust them and let them face the little dangers that everyday life presents (this does not mean you don’t keep an eye on them!). The tone of your voice is usually enough to make a child aware of the danger.
Some examples of reactions when faced with reasonable danger:
- Express your fear in a worried tone: “Careful! I don’t want you to hurt yourself!”
- Give your children advice. Invite them to “feel” the danger. “You can see the hole. You might fall and hurt yourself.” Or “you should take your socks off, because you might slip on the floor” (demonstrating with your foot).
- Instead of forbidding your child from touching the oven in an authoritarian manner: “Don’t touch that. It’s hot!”, we can warn our child in a kindly manner: “Careful, it’s hot”, all the while letting your child come close enough to feel the heat.
- Let your children experiment, as long as the danger is not too great.
- Show them that you trust them to be careful.
A recap of the advice from “Cool parents make happy kids” about how to manage “naughtiness”
- Check that your child did not have bad intentions and suggest an alternative means of expression.
- Make your child aware of the wrongdoing using “I” to elicit an apology.
- Express disappointment that is proportional to the incident.
- Let your child fix the problem (or contribute to fixing it).
- If possible, have your child think about solutions to prevent this from happening again.
- If there is too much naughtiness, do not make a scene about every incident and focus on the most important.
2.2 – How to get your child to cooperate -the “Cool parents make happy kids” method
According to Charlotte Ducharme, using threats with a child constitutes forcing submission. Examples are “Be good, or there will no presents at Christmas”, “Get dressed now or you’re not going to Juliet’s birthday party”, “Come now or we are going without you.”, “Sit properly at the table or you can go to your room with no dinner”.
Submission does not encourage growth. On the contrary – it causes frustration. By feeding this anger, your child may blow up, throw a tantrum or cause a scene later on a completely unrelated subject. Charlotte Ducharme calls this the “pressure cooker” effect.
The author invites us to stop beating ourselves up for the good of our child. It is preferable to teach our children to be responsible.
For example, stop telling your children a hundred times to put on a coat when it’s cold outside. They won’t do it? That’s okay:
- You can take the coat and put it on later, when they finally realise it is cold. Once outside, if they still won’t put it on, they will change their minds when they realise how cold they are.
- You can explain beforehand what is likely to happen if they go out in a sweater and let them take responsibility for their actions. If after 15 minutes, they feel cold and it is too late to go back and get the coat, the author suggests saying something like: “Yes, you poor thing, you must be cold. Try running around to warm up.” The next time, all you have to say is: “Okay? Has everyone got their coat? Ready to face the cold?” and they will grab their coats!
Making your child responsible works in all sorts of everyday situations.
“As parents, we already have a lot of rules that they have to integrate. Let them try their own experiences when it comes to small things which concern them directly. Instead of fighting your children, team up with them to help them grow, become more independent and mature.”
In short, the key to success for Charlotte Ducharme is to remain zen, anticipate your timing and have a sense of humour! Do not over-dramatise things and remain kind.
In some situations, it can be hard to help your children be responsible. In these cases, Charlotte Ducharme suggests motivating them positively instead of using threats.
- Instead of saying: “I won’t play with you if you don’t tidy your room”, another option is to say: “Call me as soon as you finish tidying your room and then we can play a game together”.
- Instead of: “If you don’t brush your teeth, I won’t read you a story”, we can try: “Hurry up and brush your teeth. That way, we will have time to read a story.”
Give prior notice and get them involved
In situations which may become conflictual (when it is time to stop playing and go to bed, leave a friend’s birthday party to go home…), it is preferable:
- To warn your child in advance about what you are going to ask her to do. That way, she can prepare psychologically and prepare in a material way.
- To involve your child in the decision to have a better chance of cooperation.
Take some time
The author invites us to take our cue from our children. They always give themselves 100% to whatever they are doing at the moment. Slow down, take some time too, and let your child enjoy the moment (an extra 10 minutes in the bath, for example, is not going to spoil the day).
Take a break
Giving your child a little time can save you a lot of time! One of the techniques that Charlotte Ducharme uses (and it works in a lot of everyday situations) with her children is “pause – play”. If your child refuses to do something, the idea is simply to hit the pause button for a few minutes, and use the time to do something else (or even join in with what your child is doing). You can try your suggestion again in a few minutes.
This is one of many methods to avoid endless explanations that do not tend to work. Children focus on the here and now and on their own sensations. They are not generally very receptive to rational reasoning.
“Taking action or creating a gentle and respectful diversion works better than arguing, and avoids cross words!”
Finally, by hitting pause and taking a break, we stop our vain attempts at “here and now” obedience.
“It is frankly naive to believe that your child will obey you instantly if you bark an order from the other end of the apartment.” […] It is much more effective to take the time to go and see your child. Bend down to his level, 10 centimetres away, and say: “Come on, let’s go”. Take your child by the hand, while starting a subject of conversation.”
Here Charlotte Ducharme defines the term “gamification”. It consists of using play in a context that is not a game to motivate people to achieve a common goal, to work together and to communicate better.
The author suggests using this concept to motivate children. It is a way of teaching them how to get others involved without giving orders.
“A game is to a child what words are to us: their principle means of communication. It is also their best learning tool.”
Some ideas for games:
- Instead of ordering a child to brush her teeth four times, you can:
- Use a roll of kitchen paper as a megaphone and imitate a robot voice to announce the tooth brushing launch: “Ladies and gentlemen, toothbrushes at the ready!”.
- Launch “the caterpillar” to get them to the sink.
- Organise a competition (that everyone wins).
- To get your children to use soap, you can suggest the “snowman”. The children lather up as much soap as possible and put it all over their bodies.
- When it comes to tidying a room, you can play a countdown game. The children have to work together to tidy everything before the clock runs out.
Invent a story, sing a song, make a poster
According to Charlotte Ducharme, there are two very effective tips to use with your children to turn boring or difficult tasks into times of fun.
- Invent a story: the toothbrush and the teeth can have a conversation, for example, when it comes to brushing their teeth.
- Use posters:
- The posters should have a responsible and fun dimension. Your child will enjoy following the rules given in the drawing (a poster showing how to wash your hands properly, for example);
- Surprises: put a poster on the kitchen door to announce dinnertime: “You are invited to sit at the table at 7pm precisely. Mr Knife and Mrs Fork will be waiting for you.”
Be an example
The power of imitation is astonishing. That is why it is preferable to do things at the same time as your children: brush your teeth, eat dinner, get dressed…
There are other tricks based on this idea. For example, to teach her daughter Joy to say hello, the author got into the habit of picking her daughter up when she herself greeted friends. This meant that she was very attentive at those times. Or else she would bend down to Joy’s height and show her how to say “Hello Madam”, with the appropriate tone. When she did not say it, she did not make a fuss, but when she did say it, she whispered discreetly in her ear: “Did you see how much she liked that?”
Managing recurrent conflicts
- Take a step back to avoid making your life miserable
We have to show respect for our children’s pace (they are not always ready when we decide they should be). Learn how to let go. This can be essential to maintain a good atmosphere in the house, a key element in a child’s development.
- Find a solution together
The idea is that everybody sits down together and talks about what they cannot put up with any more. Then, talk together about what to do to improve the situation. Make a note of all the ideas and read them out so that everyone can give their opinion. Then choose the solution that suits everybody best. You can even write it on a poster and put it on display.
Short recap of the solutions to get your child to cooperate
- Help your children to take responsibility for things that concern them;
- Be positive instead of issuing threats;
- Give advance notice;
- Involve children in decision-making;
- Take a break;
- Take an interest in what your children do;
- Divert attention;
- Take action;
- Use play;
- Make posters;
- Find a solution that suits everyone together;
- Set attainable goals;
- Do things step by step;
- Praise children when there are results;
- Take a step back – are we really in that much of a hurry? Why not take a little extra time. Why not let go instead of fighting a losing battle?
2.3 – How to react to unacceptable behaviour in children. The three steps outlined in “Cool parents make happy kids”
First step: Understand
Bad behaviour, in adults or in children, generally expresses negative emotions. Therefore, the first thing is to understand why your child is behaving badly by looking at the situation differently. It is much better than wasting energy giving out to your child. Once you understand your child it will be easier to help her to better manage her emotions.
Neuroscientific research shows that in children, the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that helps us to reason and control our emotions – is under construction until the age of 5 (and it reaches maturity during the teenage years):
“The moral of the story is that you can ask your children to stop acting up, to calm down, to be reasonable all you want. You won’t get much in the way of results. [..] Their brain does not allow them to reason yet. Having said that, we can help them to develop this part of their brain and better control their emotions.”
Second step: verbalise using empathy
For our children to control their emotions, they first have to understand what they are feeling. The bad behaviour may be due to an emotion of which they are not fully aware. Dialogue is essential. Show empathy about what your child is feeling.
This is not always an easy step. When we are overwhelmed by our own emotions, we do not always have the necessary perspective to try and understand what our child may be feeling. However, this is the way that we will teach them to understand themselves and also to understand others.
Third step: act by insisting on what your child should have done
“It is better to express yourself in a positive way and insist on what your child should be doing rather than on what he should not be doing. Do not forget to express your own feelings. In this way, by encouraging your child to express feelings when something is wrong […], he will also express himself […] instead of immediately blaming other people.”
In the case, for example, of a child who hits you because he is bored, instead of saying: “Leave me alone”, we can:
- Suggest that he expresses the fact that he is bored.
- Take care of him, help him to find something else to do.
- Take action to make your child responsible by explaining the context and inviting her to find a solution on her own.
In the example given by Charlotte Ducharme, a little girl wants her dad to read her a story, even though they are surrounded by her classmates. The dad could tell his daughter: “How can we do this? There are lots of children in the class and we cannot put up a barrier to stop them! If I read a story to you in the classroom, we cannot stop the others from listening. What can we do?” If his daughter has no suggestions, he can make some: “You choose. Either we don’t read a story this morning and I will read one to you tonight, or I can read a story now, no matter if the others are listening. And I will read another one tonight, just for you… What do you prefer?”
What to do if your child throws a tantrum
“The way we speak to our children can change everything and avoid a lot of tense situations.”
Charlotte Ducharme offers two keys to understanding how to respond to a child’s temper tantrum:
- We must be aware of the fact that, often we are upset that our child is being disobedient. Because of this, we adopt unconscious “aggressive” behaviour:
Choose your words and pay attention to the tone you use. This is essential when it comes to avoiding a crisis. This doesn’t mean giving a free pass to bad behaviour. It is about treating your child with respect.
- You must ensure that there is justification for what you are refusing your child:
A child can express disagreement because we refuses something that seems trivial to us, but is essential from the child’s point of view. In this case:
- Help your child to calm down and talk about her attitude once the pressure has dropped.
- You can also change your mind, but on certain conditions. Changing your mind once the temper tantrum has erupted sends a bad message: “A nice big tantrum is all it takes to get what you want”. On the other hand, you can reverse your decision if your child has simply expressed disagreement. If she doesn’t get angry and you realise that this is something that is very important to her.
2.4 – The art of saying “no”
In order to get over a “no” more easily, the idea proposed by Charlotte Ducharme is to show that you understand your child’s desire, and you share it. Don’t be afraid to overstate this.
To illustrate this idea, Charlotte Ducharme offers a personal anecdote. One day, she was in a restaurant with her daughter Joy. The waiter gave them each a little chocolate teddy at the end of the meal. Now, Joy and her mum are regular diners and he usually gives them not one, but two chocolate bears each. Joy demanded a second teddy bear from her mother, who was not planning to ask the waiter for a second one. Charlotte Ducharme goes on to explain the three solutions that presented themselves to her at that moment.
- Lax: she gives her daughter her own chocolate bear to teach her that her well-being is more important than that of others.
- Strict: she keeps refusing in an authoritarian manner.
- Benevolent: she shows empathy.
Obviously, the author chose the third solution. To demonstrate empathy, she suggests using the “dream technique”!
What if dreaming about what you desire was almost as good as getting it!
The “dream technique” is, in the example above, getting the little girl to dream: “I know that you want a second teddy bear, because he usually gives us two (empathy). I love them too! Imagine if we had a bathtub filled with chocolate teddy bears at home? Wouldn’t that be great! (dream) Do you think we could eat them all in once go? Would you keep them and eat one every day or would you eat them all at once?” Continue to use other distractions and questions to get your child’s mind off the subject.
This simple pirouette gave Joy what she wanted in an imaginary way, and she had the chance to dream… This works for lots of other things: refusing the tenth go on the merry-go-round, looking at the window of a toy store…
“Childhood is a time of dreams. So why not take every opportunity to dream together instead of trying to reason with your child at any cost?”
Know when to be firm
Being firm is first and foremost a question of tone and attitude. Our children accept clear and determined limits much more easily than limits that parents impose reluctantly. They can sense it!
“Being firm does not mean being authoritarian.”
There is nothing to stop you from using humour.
How to say no without turning things into a drama:
- Set consistent rules.
- Do not say no against your will.
- Be sure of yourself when you say no, without being authoritarian.
2.5 – Criticism does not help a child to improve
Putting your child down and criticising will:
- Discourage rather than motivate. Your child may lose confidence in himself and this leads to negative behaviour.
- Damage the relationship of trust: your child will confide less and it will be more difficult to understand him.
- Teach him to be critical and reproduce this pattern as an adult or even sooner.
“What about teaching our children, by example, not to use words that condemn, judge and criticise? What if we use the language of a good team mate, there to help others to do better, to find solutions and to encourage.”
To do this, “Cool parents make happy kids” suggests replacing criticism with other expressions and actions such as:
- Express things more lightly.
- Rephrase certain sentences. Avoid:
- Telling a child that she is no good: it is better to say that what she has done is causing the problem;
- Hurtful and judgemental words (like “again” and “always”)
- Attacking her personally by saying things like “you” accusingly. It is preferable to describe the scene or your own feelings in relation to the situation.
- Tell your child what she should be doing rather than what she shouldn’t be doing.
- Use humour.
- Don’t say anything.
- Reposition things in a positive context. Start by saying something positive to make the other person more receptive to what you are going to say next.
- Focus on the action or the solution: this will incite your child to accept the comment and motivate her to improve.
2.6 – When your child feels unhappy
“Like any human being, [if a child] behaves badly, it is generally because there is something wrong. It is up to us to understand what.”
Identify the causes of the unhappiness
In our daily life, it can be difficult to identify the reasons behind a child’s problems. We need to get some perspective on the situation, move past the anger, the lies and other negative attitudes.
Inspired by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe’s stress scale, Charlotte Ducharme provides a list of the most stressful events for our children. It is interesting to look at it to understand what can kind of things can be wrong with our children:
- The death of a loved one,
- A divorce ,
- A loved one who is sick or in hospital,
- A new member of the family,
- Parents fighting,
- Changing school, starting school, moving house,
- A change in habits (frequent absence of a parent, change in childminder…)
We can also ask ourselves about other factors:
- Does our child feel that we pay more attention to a brother/sister? Does he feel that we don’t love him enough (the most frequent cause of unhappiness among children)?
- How are things at school, with teacher, with friends?
- Does s/he feel hurt by someone in the group?
- Is there too much going on in her schedule (constantly on the go)?
- Is there some kind of pressure in his or her surroundings: school, parents that want her to be like this or like that, anxiety about the future?
“Our children are not naturally bad beings that need to be schooled. They are human beings that we have to understand. A child who behaves badly is a child who is feeling bad (or feels a negative emotion that he expresses awkwardly). Finding solutions to your children’s problems will always be more effective than finding punishments for bad behaviour.”
Help your child to feel better
- Put the problem into words, without trying to reason your child or minimise the problem
When your child is going through a difficult patch, you need to talk and to listen. Awareness and acceptance of your child’s emotions represents the first step to managing them.
“Let’s tackle all the problems, even (and especially!) the ones we do not want to talk about. Children sense many things, and pick up non-verbal communication very well. They are like sponges.”
- Do not try to reason with or contradict your child.
When a child finds the courage to speak about his or her problems or feelings, it is a sign of great trust. It is essential in these moments not to try to reason with your child. This might make him feel that he cannot confide in you moving forward.
- Rephrase things to help him find a solution.
This is known as active listening. It consists of:
- Listening to the child
- Not contradicting her or reasoning with her (even if some of the feelings expressed are difficult to accept). Rephrase the feelings using empathy:
Judging or reasoning cuts the child off. You have to listen and invite your child to reflect in order to guide. We need to be there in these times of emotional learning.
Rephrasing helps your child to:
- Become more aware of his feelings and understand the reasons for these emotions
- Put his finger on the problem to put it in perspective, take a step back.
- Help him to find his own solutions.
Overall, meditation consists of focussing your attention on your breathing, without being distracted by outside stimuli or by your thoughts. Scientific research shows the concrete benefits of regular meditation among children from the age of five years. Meditation:
- Reduces stress in children;
- Helps them become more aware of their emotions and therefore better able to manage them;
- Makes them more empathic and kinder;
- Rejuvenates cells, increasing life expectancy;
- Strengthens the immune system.
Charlotte Ducharme invites us to organise a daily meditation session with our children lasting ten minutes, with the help of a mobile application for example.
Chapter 3 – Setting the rules, as suggested by “Cool parents make happy kids.“
3.1 – What rules should you put in place?
Different countries have different mores and customs
The health and lifestyle rules that are necessary to preserve the balance of a family depend on individual situations and culture. They especially depend on the perception of others.
Choose your own rules
“The real limits are the ones that we decide to set. […] Don’t look for rules in books or on blogs: create your own!”
There will always be someone who disagrees with the way we do things. The key is to choose an organisation that allows:
- Your child to understand that his well-being is not more important than that of his parents, and vice versa.
- Us to flourish, as a parent and adult.
“Family balance must be a subtle compromise between the well-being of the child and that of the parents. Choose limits that the child is old enough to respect, and apply them in a kind way.”
3.2 – How do you enforce the rules?
“We can ensure that a rule is respected when we are perfectly sure that it is well-founded. It is clear to us that it is impossible to do otherwise. We must also be certain that our child is able to respect the rule. Nothing (even the worst temper tantrum) can change our mind.”
Three pieces of advice
“Cool parents make happy kids” develops three essential points to help a child comply with the rules. We must:
- Be sure that our child is able to comply with the rule. The rule must suit his or her age and level of development.
- Avoid getting angry, because this feeds our child’s anxiety.
- Be firm and faithful to the rule.
The three ways Charlotte Ducharme manages the situation when breaking a rule
Breaking an important rule, very occasionally, to make your children happy, is not really a problem. However, we sometimes give in reluctantly, to make life easier or to avoid an argument. In this case, we often see the opposite effect to the one desired, because:
- We do not stick to a principle that seems essential to us.
- By giving in to pressure, we show our child that she can get whatever she wants if she “turns on the waterworks”.
- It feeds arguments by not setting clear and stable limits.
“Cool parents make happy kids” suggest three approaches to adopt after “giving in”:
- We firmly believe that this rule is essential and we become intransigent once again, while remaining kind in tone.
- We agree, ideally along with our child, on some middle ground. There can be exceptions, but they are clear, bound and precise. Breaking these limits is out of the question.
- Alternatively, we can reconsider the rule because it is not justified in the end or because our child is not able to comply with it. Just let go.
Moreover, Charlotte Ducharme stresses that when a too flexible rule becomes complicated to follow, it may be wise to implement a stricter rule, even if this requires a period of difficult adaptation.
“I don’t think there is any point in being strict about certain rules if the only purpose is to “set limits”. There is a point to being strict about certain rules because they seem important to us. […] We need to be strict about the bottom line. However, we should be kind and demonstrate empathy when it comes to how we apply it.”
3.3 – How to remain patient
“It is possible to remain kind, even when you are at the end of your tether.”
Charlotte Ducharme invites us to combat the urge to shout and offers us some alternatives through her experience as a “positive parent”.
Don’t blame your child for everything
When you react angrily, you provoke your child. This eventually leads to a crisis. It is not your child’s fault if you are tired or irritable. The solution, according to Charlotte Ducharme, is not to blame your child’s attitude, but to share your feelings with him. This will encourage your child to cooperate.
Don’t act as if nothing is wrong
Pretending to be very calm and then blowing up when you can’t contain it any longer is also not recommended. It is better to share your feelings and alert your child. “You know, I’m beginning to lost patience. I would like to avoid shouting, but if this continues, I am going to have trouble keeping it in. Would you like to help me?”
Pass the relay and take a break to calm down
When you are at the end of your tether, don’t hesitate to pass the baton and remove yourself from the situation for a minute. This allows the pressure to drop. If there is nobody else you can rely on, leave the room in order to defuse the situation. You can tell your child: “I’m going to take a break because I am very cross. If I stay here, I am going to start shouting. I’ll be back.”
- Encourages your child to come back to us by cooperating;
- Gives a very good example: when it is his turn to feel frustrated, he may take a time out, rather than hitting his friend.
What if I fail?
Sometimes we break down and start shouting. If this happens, you can try some damage limitation by adopting two attitudes:
- Be careful of what you say. Avoid:
- Shouting things you don’t mean. It is important to remember that your child is not bad. It is what she has done that makes you angry.
- The accusatory “you”. It is humiliating and hurtful and will make your child want to cry or turn rebellious rather than cooperate.
By being careful about what we say when we are angry, we can show our children that you can get cross without hurting other people. If you are rarely angry, it will be more effective.
- Ask for forgiveness
This is more about form than anything else. It does not necessarily mean that we were fundamentally wrong.
3.4 – How to become a “cool mum” or a “cool dad“, according to Charlotte Ducharme
If you want to be a cool parent, you must look after number one. This is what will allow us to have the morale and the energy necessary to look after our children while remaining joyful and cheerful. As soon as you feel tired or frustrated, it is a good time to ask yourself some questions. What would allow you to feel more relaxed on a daily basis?
Ask someone to mind your children to give yourself some time
Unless you are extremely isolated, solutions exist. Someone else can mind your children from time to time. It can be a parent, a neighbour or a friend (in exchange for the same service next time, for example).
Question what may appear to be immutable
Sometimes, even if this requires energy, you must know how to carry out major changes in your life.
“The objective is not to look like the perfect parent you dream of being, but to find a compromise between your own well-being and that of your children. It is about creating the conditions that will enable you to thrive in your daily life in order to make the most of the time you share as a family.”
3.5 – How to foster good relations between siblings
“Cool parents make happy kids” highlights two problems when it comes to intervening in your children’s arguments:
- It teaches them to run to us at the every opportunity instead of standing up for themselves.
Teaching our children to handle their problems with other people by themselves is essential, now and in later life.
- If you take one child’s side, the other child may find this unfair.
And as you know, there is often fault on both sides in a dispute. If you decide to confiscate the object of the dispute, the child who was playing quietly with it prior to the argument will find this completely unfair. When you are feeling slighted, it is not the best time to question your own actions.
If you get involved, you may solve the problem in the short term, but not in the long term.
Help your children to find the solutions by themselves
“Cool parents make happy kids” suggests two attitudes you can adopt to achieve this objective:
- Instead of immediately taking a side, play for time and practice active listening. This teaches your children to express their own feelings instead of blaming others.
- Use humour: teaching your children to respond in a positive way, with humour and perspective, is an effective way to help them manage conflicts by themselves.
Prevention is better than cure
The idea is to take action before the conflict actually starts. Inform your children about the proper way of doing things and let them handle the situation.
Take off your judge’s wig
When you enter the conflict too late, Charlotte Ducharme recommends always using the same method: empathy.
For example, here is how the author reacted with her daughter, Joy, when she arrived after an argument has broken out between Joy and her little brother. Leon was in tears because his sister had taken back the coveted toy:
“I didn’t judge and I didn’t take sides. I didn’t punish, I simply made her aware of the consequences of her action by asking her to look at her brother. And I urged her to find a solution by herself. […] By making her responsible instead of taking action against her, the argument calmed down and they learned how to manage their own conflicts.”
The objective was to ensure that:
- Joy would comfort Leon by herself. If, however, this does not happen, it is important to talk about the incident again once things cool down. “It’s a pity that you took the toy out of Leon’s hand earlier. You saw that it made him cry. I’m sure if you had asked him nicely, he would have given it to you.”
- Avoid Leon feeling angry towards his sister.
“What counts is that they to learn to manage their conflicts and put an end to them quickly. There should be no resentment between them.”
Quick recap of the tips from “Cool parents make happy kids” that you can apply when a fight is looming on the horizon
- Don’t take sides.
- Put the feelings of all parties into words.
- Help your children to find their own solutions.
- If a fight does break out:
- Don’t let them hit or hurt each other.
- Invite them to understand what the other child is feeling.
- Take care of the one who feels aggrieved.
- If necessary, discuss everything later one-to-one when calm is restored.
Chapter 4 – Making your child a happy individual
4.1 – How to give your child self-confidence
Help your children step outside their comfort zone and let them do things
For a child to feel confident, the basic rule is to avoid humiliation through small vexations, hurtful criticism, corporal punishment or other threats and punishments. But we can go even further. We can make our children want to excel. If we spend all our time helping our children, they will think that they are not capable of doing things on their own. Feeling helpless at the slightest difficulty, they will look for us every time they meet an obstacle. That way, they will miss many opportunities to make progress.
It is essential to let our children discover their own experiences:
“By giving our children responsibilities and allowing them the opportunity to do things by themselves, they will gain self-confidence. […] We just have to accept that things will take a little more time. Perhaps things will be done a little less well than if we were to do them ourselves.”
It is up to us as parents to promote this independence.
Don’t let them get a big head
“We do not congratulate our children because they have reached their goal. We congratulate the effort it took to succeed and the progress they made to get there.”
For Charlotte Ducharme, it is preferable for children to comprehend the path they took to get to where they are. It is better than congratulating them on the result. This will make them proud and give them confidence. They demonstrated perseverance, a capacity to make progress and efforts to reach their objective.
On the other hand, if the result is what counts, children may only choose “easy” challenges. That way, they are sure to succeed and obtain the approval of their parents. By praising the effort, we encourage them to choose challenges that require more work, concentration and perseverance.
4.2 – How to help your children feel accomplished according to “Cool parents make happy kids“
Let them become themselves
“What contributes to our own vitality (and that of our children), is to develop in an environment in which we feel good, in which our daily life is in harmony with our personality. An environment in which we can be ourselves. Doing what I enjoy, investing it what motivates me – that is the key to happiness.”
It is therefore important not to project our own desires and fears onto our children, not to force them down a road that is not their own. Our role is simply to help them to discover their element by themselves, keeping in mind that:
- The more our children love what they do, the more it allows them to be themselves, the more fulfilled they will be.
- There is no question of deciding on their behalf what will make them happy.
Encourage them to play to their strengths
“By focusing on our strengths rather than on our weaknesses, we make better progress than if we only look at our weak points.”
Starting from this observation, “Cool parents make happy kids” suggests a few ideas to apply with our children to help them find their path.
- Accept their tastes, encourage them in what they like, rather than forcing them into an activity that they hate.
- If your child is naturally calm and loves being left along, do not think that a team sport will “do him good” if he does not enjoy playing it. However, he might love harp lessons, and it could even become a true passion.
- Rather than using force to work on a school subject that she dislikes, look for other motivation (a pal who wants to be a study buddy or trying a different method to the one used in school…). “Motivation is the key, not constraint!”
- Be conscious of your child’s strengths (rather than pointing out his faults) so that he uses them to good effect: “Okay, he is slow, but he is also very meticulous”, “Okay, she’s a dreamer, but she is also very creative…”
Be specific with your compliments and encouragement
We must strive to be as precise and as positive as possible in our encouragement and the compliments that we pay our children. This will:
- Help our children to find and use their strengths. Compliments of a general nature, even if they are very nice to listen to, will not necessarily be effective for progress.
- Show your children that you care about them. They will feel important in your eyes, and loved. It’s as simple as that.
“For your children to be happy, fulfilled and to give the best of themselves, you don’t need them to match a model. By encouraging them to develop their strengths, they will gain self-confidence and flourish doing something they love.”
4.3 – How to develop their altruism
A child who feels self-confident will be more likely to reach out to others. By placing him in a positive light, you can lead him to adopt the same attitude with others:
“Ordering a child to do something does not make him caring and empathic. It is something that is cultivated day after day. You need to do the same with him every day.”
Show the positive consequences of an action on those around them
“By insisting on the way in which positive behaviour has a positive effect on those around her encourages a child to persevere in this direction. […] The objective is not to teach her to sacrifice herself for others, but to find what gives her pleasure when she gives to others.”
How about we stop saying “That’s nice” / “That’s not nice!”
Charlotte Ducharme advises avoiding the well-worn “You’re not nice!”, because, according to her, when we say this, we “freeze” our child in a negative template. In fact, by claiming that the child is not nice, the subtext says that this is an established fact. This does not encourage a change in behaviour.
If what he has just done concerns us directly, we can quite tell him that we are pleased. However, if it involves a third party, the author suggests the following:
- If he has shown positive behaviour: make him aware of the happiness that this has created among others.
- If he has shown negative behaviour: make him aware of the feelings of the person affected.
Make them want to share
Forcing children to share is not really effective. It is better to awaken a desire to share.
The author suggests inviting our child to behave in such a way that the child who does not want to share will change her mind. For example, we can advise: “You should say “You know, I am disappointed because I have waited a long time to play with the truck, and I still can’t play with it”. By inviting a child to communicate her sadness to a child who refuses to lend her a toy for example, the other child becomes aware of this. There is a good chance that she will do what it takes to bring a smile to her friend’s face.
Encourage mutual support
Charlotte Ducharme shares her experience of a snail hunt with her two children, Joy and Leon. Leon did not find any snails, while her sister Joy had several in her basket. The author tells us that instead of asking Joy to help her brother, she just pointed out: “Oh ! Poor Leon, he can’t find any snails!” Immediately and very naturally, her daughter went over to him: “Come on, Leon. Let’s find some snails for you. If you don’t find any, I’ll give you some of mine.”
A short recap from “Cool parents make happy kids” to encourage altruism in children
To sum up, the following is essential:
- Your child should feel useful.
“Let your children help you, even if it doesn’t always suit. Even if we would do things more quickly without his assistance, for example, when he wants to pull our suitcase or do the dishes!”
- Express the positive impact of her gesture on other people: it is always pleasant to hear that we made someone happy. There’s nothing like it for encouraging our children to do the same thing again.
- Offer opportunities to help other people and or to hint at what could be a helpful thing to do.
The end of “Cool parents make happy kids” by Charlotte Ducharme
“Self-confidence and empathy are the two watch words. They are the two main objectives of positive education.”
Book critique of “Cool parents make happy kids”
At the end of her book, Charlotte Ducharme looks at the results of a benevolent education for our children. She stresses that a positive education makes children truly happy and deeply happy:
“In the annual report from the United Nations on global happiness, the seven countries that practice benevolent education are in the top 11 of the happiest countries in the world! In order, they are Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden and Israel. France, despite its wealth, its social protection and its good life expectancy only makes 32nd position…”
And finally, you don’t have to be perfect to be a cool parent! All you need is a little patience, humour and love to get some perspective and to stop the little things from ruining your life.
For Charlotte Ducharme, each step that we take toward a more positive education helps to make the world of tomorrow a better place. And this, she says, is a step towards a world of peace.
Every parent should have this book!
“Cool parents make happy kids” is, to my mind, a book that every parent should read! First of all, because you can read it in the same way as you would a magazine article. The tone is “cool”, modern, simple and pleasant, with, to top it all, genuinely relevant content. No “blah blah”, no big theories, this book is 100% about genuine experience and practice. The pragmatic approach and the “on the ground” experience of positive education is directly derived from the reality of the author’s family life.
The book teems with concrete educational advice that you can apply immediately with your children on a daily basis. In addition to this, the tips are easy to remember. For the most part, they are summarised in small boxes entitled “Remember” or “Toolbox” throughout the chapters and illustrated with stories that all parents can identify with. Lastly, the tone is kind and friendly. It is not judgemental or designed to make parents feel guilty.
In fact, this book could well transform your home life!
- The approachable and pleasant style. You feel like you are getting advice and tips from an expert friend.
- The examples/stories are concrete and meaningful. They are drawn from the author’s family experience. It is easy to identify with them and to feel understood.
- The advice is very practical and realistic. You can apply it to situations that all parents will recognise. Replace one kind of sentence with another, how to respond to your child’s behaviour in a genuine setting.
- The ideas are not presented as truths, but as tips and tricks to try out or adapt. They are suggestions, which encourage us to put our methods of education into question.
- The author probably does not have enough perspective to do this yet, but it would be interesting to know more about the long-term results of this type of education.
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