Twenty-six years ago, when I was searching for a way to raise my kids without hitting them, I wish I had come across Aletha Solter and the Aware Parenting philosophy. Instead, I was inquiring from breastfeeding groups and friends in the area where I lived, on how to discipline my kids without hitting them. No one could tell me how to raise my kids without punishment, nor could they help me with my terrible feelings of guilt and pain when I did. So I struggled along on my own, delving within myself, my own childhood, doing research and trying to control my anger when it threatened to unleash itself on one of my darling baby boys! I found Aletha Solter’s books, ‘The Aware Baby’, ‘Helping Children Flourish’ and ‘Tears and Tantrums’ after the birth of my second son. They became my handbooks and I vowed never to hit my boys again….a hard thing to do in a culture that sanctions physical punishment of children.
Not only does Aletha Solter deplore physical punishment, but she also maintains that time-out or any other form of punishment is harmful to children, as well as harmful to the relationship between parent and child. Children are innately programmed to be social, responsive, feeling and expressive. When we interact with babies and children in ways that are not responsive, social and caring, (and that can range on a continuum from severe neglect to physical and emotional abuse), we stimulate the development of asocial or aggressive responses within our children. It is these responses that can hamper relationships in adult years and can lead to interpersonal and social violence such that we read about in our daily newspapers, both locally in South Africa and globally in dramatic international wars.
Who is Aletha Solter?
Aletha Solter is a Swiss/American developmental psychologist, who is internationally recognized as an expert on attachment, trauma, and non-punitive discipline. She studied with the Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, where she obtained a Master’s degree in human biology in 1969. She then earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1975, after which she taught psychology at the University of California and conducted research for a few years.
When her first child was born in 1977 (following a traumatic birth) she herself, did not find any parenting books that advocated attachment-style parenting and non-punitive discipline while taking into account the impact of stress and trauma on children’s development. The first book she wrote, The Aware Baby (first published in 1984, revised in 2001), is the one that she wished she had had as a new mother. Her latest book, Raising Drug Free Kids, has sparked international interest as it touches the root of a problem so close to the quick of many parent’s crisis with their teenage children.
Her goal is to help create a non-violent world in which all children are allowed to attain their full potential. With the tools she describes in her Aware Parenting books and workshops, she is confident that parents can raise their children to be competent, compassionate, non-violent, and drug free. She also recognizes that parenting is an enormously difficult task and that parents deserve acknowledgment, information, and support.
What is Aware Parenting?
Aware Parenting, as defined and explained by Aletha, is a philosophy of child rearing that has the potential to change the world. Based on cutting-edge research and insights in child development, it questions most traditional assumptions about raising children, and proposes a new approach that can profoundly shift a parent’s relationship with his or her child. The three basic assumptions are as follows:
- Attachment style Parenting
- Natural childbirth and early bonding
- Plenty of physical contact
- Prolonged breastfeeding
- Prompt responsiveness to crying
- Sensitive attunement
- Non-punitive discipline
- Healing from stress and trauma
I have copied below four of the ten Aware Parenting Principles from Aletha’s website (www.awareparenting.com) to illustrate a few of her ideals:
- Aware parents encourage children to be autonomous problem-solvers and help only when needed. They do not solve their children’s problems for them.
- Aware parents set reasonable boundaries and limits, gently guide children towards acceptable behavior, and consider everyone’s needs when solving conflicts. They do not control children with bribes, rewards, threats, or punishments of any kind.
- Aware parents take care of themselves and are honest about their own needs and feelings. They do not sacrifice themselves to the point of becoming resentful.
- Aware parents strive to be aware of the ways in which their own childhood pain interferes with their ability to be good parents, and they make conscious efforts to avoid passing on their own hurts to their children.
Phew – quite a tall order for most parents and certainly the kind of parenting I would like to have received! No doubt that is why I strive to ‘do it better’ than they (our parents) did; yet there is something about this approach that resonates more deeply with me than other approaches have resonated before.
This process of learning and growing with your child does not advocate perfection, but rather a humane and respectful way of relating to another human being. How we get there takes place through a continual series of small practical actions and decisions on how to interact, relate, treat another human being; in short, the way we would like to have been treated. This doesn’t mean it will always be pretty. When a child or parent rages it can be overwhelming. yet parents need to offer an approach where children can express their negative feelings without hurting themselves or others. Helping ourselves as parents to really connect with our children and facilitate this process is precisely what I teach.
Excerpts from the Aware Parenting website copied with permission from Aletha Solter. For more information on Aletha Solter and Aware Parenting, please visit www.awareparenting.com