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"ScreamFree Parenting," by Hal Runkel, is an excellent parenting guide that will help moms and dads everywhere to keep (or regain) their sanity. Runkel is a licensed family and marriage therapist and one of the founders of ScreamFree Living, Inc. His thesis is that parents cannot keep tabs on their kids 24/7, nor can they force their children to consistently behave in a certain way. Therefore, mothers and fathers would be better off learning to focus on how they react to their children's words and actions.

Parents, Runkel contends, should take stock of themselves. Are they in control of their behavior when they interact with their children? Or are they at the mercy of their "emotional reactivity"--their unthinking, knee-jerk reactions? If the latter is true, it is likely that parent-child interactions will be tense, angry, and unproductive.

All of us who have struggled with parental responsibilities instinctively realize that a calm and reasoned approach is far more effective than a hysterical and dictatorial one. However, because of fatigue, ignorance, or inertia, many of us impulsively lash out, saying things that we don't really mean when our kids push our buttons. What to do?

Runkel does not advocate permissiveness. Rather, he recommends what he calls "judo parenting." Judo is "the art of going with another's momentum." A ScreamFree parent facilitates rather than dictates; he encourages his children to use their own resources to solve problems. By helping kids to get in the habit of making their own decisions and living with the consequences, parents will be more likely to launch "self-directed" adults.

The writing is clear, concise, humorous, and to-the-point. "ScreamFree Parenting" is conveniently divided into easy-to-read sections and the chapters all conclude with thought-provoking "reflection questions." In addition, there are many practical examples that demonstrate how the principles discussed in the book work in the real world. Runkel's amusing quotations from a wide variety of sources add liveliness to his message. In additon, there are lengthier anecdotes that are taken from the author's experiences as a family therapist. Most parents will pick up many useful tips from "ScreamFree Parenting." It is an entertaining, intelligent, and practical approach to raising our kids without losing our minds.
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on October 10, 2005
I've been trying to cut down on yelling and work through problems by staying calm, which is the approach Runkel, a licensed family and marriage therapist, advocates. The book is an easy read and doesn't overwhelm the parent with too many steps as self-help books often do.

The clear, direct, and humorous writing style allows parents with hectic lives to quickly read the book, absorb its concepts, and put them to use. Each chapter ends with reflection questions to reinforce the themes from the chapter. The book continues its effectiveness whether or not the reader answers the questions. However, thinking about the questions might shed light on you, your kids, and your relationships.

The concept of parents not letting their emotions guide their response to a child's troubles is not new, but Runkel shares stories, experiences, and explanations on how to do it. Sure, junior spilling juice all over the carpet can make any parent mad, but dealing with the situation while maintaining control has better results than a scream fest, spanking, or arguing.

Though the book focuses on parenting, its concepts largely address ourselves as individuals. For we have to take care of us first before others. Instead of permissive or dictatorship parenting, Runkel encourages judo parenting, which is "the art of going with another's momentum." He shows how to do this by providing the answers to the questions all parents get like "I'm bored," "Are we there yet?" and "I hate you!"

Two nitpicks. First, there are a few religious references. I wish this had been omitted because religion is a hot issue and the book's concepts fly well without the religious quotes or references. Using these unnecessarily limits the book's reach as people who skim the book might get the impression it's only for Christian parents. It's not.

The second is not an issue, but rather a want for more examples of using the ScreamFree approach. The stories in the book explain the concept very well and having more would enhance the book's usefulness.

When I told my oldest about the book, she said parents who yell are teaching their kids to yell when they become adults. Deep and accurate insight, as we've seen many children grow up to pick up their parents' bad habits. Overwhelmed parents can begin with one step by picking one situation that pushes their buttons and applying the ScreamFree approach until they get the hang of it. Runkel doesn't pressure the reader and the concepts are doable.
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on February 21, 2007
I wish this book was out five years ago when my daughter was born. This book has been such a Godsend to me - a real eye opener. Of the hundreds of books I have read on parenting - this is the only one that actually deals with being a parent and not about molding/training your child. I also bought his class on cd and it has changed the relationship I have with my children. I can't recommend it enough.
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on April 5, 2005
Hal E. Runkel's ScreamFree Parenting is a great book. If, like me, you share a certain aversion to self-help books then this book will pleasantly surprise you with its good sense and clear non-jargoned prose. And if, like me, you are somewhat cynical about your ability to change long established patterns of behaviour, Hal has the unnerving ability to surprise you into believing that you can.

The author's understanding of the real ways human beings interact in families is revealed both in his persuasive arguments and in the excellent anecdotes that pepper the book. The book is about parenting, but Hal has much more to say about human relationships in general. He even has some fascinating comments on the modern disease of obesity in Western society.

Hal basically asks the reader to "grow up." But he does this so persuasively, and with such good humour, that this reader actually wanted to grow up, and more importantly, thinks that this may be a possibility.
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When our youngest child went off to college, the school's president told us that many parents cannot let go. They call before, during and after every class. They help out with homework over the Internet. They want to hear about every stumble and bruise. The parents act like they are students in terms of how often they contact advisors and administrators on their children's behalf.

You can imagine what these kids are going to be like when their parents are ill or die. They'll feel like the world has ended. Is that any way to be a parent? I don't think so.

I like having children who become responsible, effective adults. I have four of them, and I'm happy with how it all turned out.

At the opposite end, you see parents going nuts because their two-year-old drops a spoon on the floor in a restaurant . . . again . . . and again . . . and again. We've all been there. We've all wanted to go nuts. But it's not good for anyone if you do.

ScreamFree Parenting gives you solid, realistic advice for how to handle those years from 2-18 so that your children end up the way you would like them to be . . . as themselves in a responsible life. . . and not as robots ordered around by you.

Hal Runkel does a good job of explaining how setting limits, letting children make mistakes and learn, and being calm make for a wonderful difference. I was reminded of the importance of calm last week when our local high school put on a one act play written by the students that described a 9 year-old girl being driven crazy by her parents' fights. Calm is good for children. They will eventually learn calmness from you . . . if you are a good role model.

So start to help your kids . . . by working on you!

I wish I had read this book when I was a new father. It would have saved lots of anxiety for everyone.

Nice going, Mr. Runkel
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on March 25, 2005
I got this parenting book thinking it would provide me with a bagful of techniques for parenting my newly adopted baby girl. As a person with inadequate examples of parenting, I knew I needed a different approach, especially since our daughter was adopted. You see, not all parenting books take into account the unique dynamics of adoptive relationships. What I found in ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool was a fundamental shift in how to view parenting altogether, adoptive or biological. Hal Runkel's central them, "Parenting is not about kids, it's about parents", means it not only applies perfectly to familes with adopted children, but to anyone and in any relationship, period. This book absolutely has changed my life. It has not only improved my relationship with my daughter, but with ALL my relationships, including my marriage. I highly recommend this book for improving your parenting and when you finish it, start reading it again. You will thank Hal for helping you to improve all your relationships!
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on November 17, 2008
OK, I bought and read ScreamFree Parenting and have to say I was unimpressed. He really does not give you any "action oriented" parenting advice and I could probably boil the book down to a few bullet points:

1. Work on keeping yourself calm in the face of children melting down.
2. Give them latitude to be themselves, learn privacy, and make better choices (read very much like free-spirit parenting of the 60's, including suggestions that you allow your teenage daughter to have boys in her room with the door closed, because you trust her and respect her privacy -- yeah, right).
3. Force children to suffer consequences for their decisions, even if it's difficult for you, as the parent, to follow through with those consequences.

I can't say I would recommend this to anyone -- even getting a library copy would be a stretch, as there are much better parenting books available.
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on February 22, 2009
I bought this book with high expectations, eager to educate myself and to add to my repertoire of high-quality parenting books. What I found was that this book was basically a poorly-written version of Cline & Fay's "Parenting With Love and Logic," which is in my opinion the best parenting book available. I read 3/4 of the way through this book. What I found was a very well-intentioned author with excellent basic concepts that are not explored deeply enough or in a coherent enough manner to be turned into a practical and proactive parenting approach. The thoughts seem to bounce back and forth a little bit, and the techniques or approaches that parents should adopt are sort of sprinkled around rather than laid out in a very cohesive manner. I finally had to ask myself why I was wasting my time reading a book that was so much inferior to the other that was staring at me from my coffee table. So I shelved it and dove into "Parenting With Love and Logic" again where the hows, whys, and wherefores of this phenomenal parenting concept are so much better illuminated, explained, and illustrated.
In short, it's a great idea, a necesary message, but poorly exectued in this book.
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on October 14, 2012
I found this book to be a waste of my time. I thought the author spent most of his book trying to promote his ScreamFree "brand" with an overinflated ego rather than trying to write a coherent book.

None of the chapters seemed to flow or relate to each other. Each chapter was simply a new opportunity for the author to make seemingly random observations about his own childhood and how he's raising his child.

I lost even more respect for him as I realized about half way through that he cites nearly no studies or other books. There are plenty of quotes from stand-up comedians, but an appalling lack of research or thought went into the book.

More importantly, and I should have started with this, is the fact that the book has NO advice whatsoever about actually learning how to parent ScreamFree. I got all the way through the book without *ANY* concrete advice about how to "Keep Your Cool", as the subtitle would indicate. In light of this fact I really have no idea what he hell he even means by ScreamFree.

The rampant sexism, as found in Chapter 8 was extremely distracting:
"Your son will flip out completely when you all need to leave in five minutes and he has just one more level to go before rescuing the princess warrior. Your daughter will do the same when she needs a few more brushes to get her hair just right."

Ironically, this quote is found AFTER the chapter on not labeling your children. My eyes are rolling so far back in my head I can barely type this.

Total waste of time.
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on September 14, 2010
If you have young children, don't bother with this book. Like others have said the whole book can be summed up in the title...don't scream. Translated: keep your cool, your kids don't have a remote control to your emotions and by staying calm you show that you're in charge. I found Hal Runkel's style meandering, pointless, stretching to find many ways to say the same thing. He gives extreme examples (the power of language...yes kids repeat things, but sometimes I LOVE hearing my messages repeated that I was thinking weren't getting through...but the stupid example about the girl who told the wheelchair-bound person that he didn't eat his vegetables? Maybe there was another teachable moment there.) He lacks actionable advice, i.e., tell me how to keep my cool...maybe deep breaths, counting? (To name a couple of ho-hum things I can think of).

I suppose he believes that calming your anxiety about their choices is one way to keep "screamfree." Give your child space... "calm your anxiety about their messy room...whenever you feel anxious about their mess, go clean your own room." Perhaps he thinks that I should let my far-sighted daughter suffer the consequence of not being able to find her eyeglasses anywhere, or not remembering where she left them. Now, I didn't scream or shout over that incident, but it's still a little ludicrous that he suggest that at a young age (6), I'm leaving her to her own devices.

There's something....missing. Runkel doesn't address differences in personality or ages. I certainly think not all parenting is cookie-cutter and that it changes as years progress and as situations and inputs change. And while I think the message is fine: don't scream, there's a lot more to consider when you're parenting. Give them space is fine I suppose, but only after you've laid all the groundwork and you can reasonably feel that they have the tools to make their own decision, only THEN you can say "I'm here if you need my help" (as he suggests as part of being "screamfree") and only THEN let go of some anxiety because you know you did your job.
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