The Christian Broadcasting Network


ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool

(WaterBrook Press)


Scream-Free Parenting

By Hal Runkel Hal Runkel, a licensed marriage and family therapist and a former pastor, is America’s newest parenting expert.  With a powerful, biblical, and revolutionary approach to parenting, he has produced remarkable results for the many thousands of children and parents he has counseled in his breakthrough clinical work. 

His new book,ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, equips parents with all that they need to handle the 21st century child—without resorting to coercion, force, fear, begging, bribery, or screaming.  It is changing lives everywhere.

Runkel exposes a pivotal truth: No one, not even your kids, can make you feel or do anything.  They can’t push you over the edge. They are not that powerful.  Your emotional responses are entirely up to you.

He recently discussed his book.

How did you come to develop ScreamFreeParenting?

Back in graduate school I became amazed at the level of existing knowledge on how relationships and family systems really work.  But most of this great knowledge was couched in academic language and available only to the most educated therapists.  So, as I learned to work with families and began to raise my own kids, I searched for ways to capture the best theoretical concepts and effective biblical principles into the working language of real families and organizations.  I then began to see that any truly helpful teaching would have to begin with calming our emotional reactivity.  “Emotional Reactivity-Free Parenting” sounded too academic, so ScreamFree Parenting was born.

You say “emotional reactivity” as a parent can be our biggest enemy.  Please explain what it is and where it comes from.

Emotional reactivity is the driving force behind every bad decision, bad pattern, and bad relationship.  It is the opposite of responding according to our highest principles; it is reacting out of our deepest fears.  Emotional reactivity is what happens when our anxiety gets the best of us, and we act in ways that are actually contrary to our intentions.

What responsibilities do parents have to each of their children?

We’re called to launch our children into adulthood with the best foundation for living an effective life. We are meant to help them become self-directed adults, capable of discerning the factors that shape their lives, deciding the direction to take, and living with the consequences of their decisions.  That means our main responsibility to them is to not be responsible for them.  They cannot become responsible for themselves as long as we consider ourselves responsible for their life and their choices.  We are only responsible for our own lives and choices, how we manage our own emotions and relationships, and how we take care of ourselves.  Our primary responsibility is to create a Christian home that nurtures their self-direction.

Why do you say the greatest thing a parent can do for their child is to focus on themselves, rather than the child?

As long as I am focused on my children, orbiting my whole life around them, then I am putting all of my emotional responses into their hands.  I become dependent upon the least mature persons in the family to actually lead the family.  This is simply backwards.  Children are not given to us to become our whole world.  They are here to become self-directed, contributing adults.  Our calling is to create an environment that helps them do that.  This means focusing more on what we’re doing and less on them.  How am I going to behave, regardless of their behavior?  I have to focus on me because I am the only one I can ultimately control.

What do you see as the paradox of parenting?

We know that parents are a critical element in shaping the future of kids’ lives.  And yet we also know that for kids to lead the most effective lives, they have to grow themselves into the most critical element in shaping the future of their lives.  So, we have a paradox: Parents shape kids, and kids shape themselves.  This is why we have so much confusion about the childhood roots of adult dysfunction. Are you a victim of your parents’ bad choices?  Yes, we all are.  Are you yet responsible for your own choices?  Yes, we all are.  Both are true, and that creates the paradox.  The only way out is to begin with yourself, right now.  How do you want to relate with your kids, regardless of your past influences and their present behavior?

What should parents do when their child is seemingly out of control?

Maintain the most possible control of themselves.  So often we focus so much on the child that we lose control of our emotions, making things even worse.  This can occur with the toddler’s tantrum in the restaurant or the teen’s struggles with promiscuity.  Once we’ve brought ourselves under control, however, then it becomes much easier to respond to our child with wisdom and principled decisions. Then we can set and enforce consequences and gain a better understanding of what’s emotionally behind our child’s behavior.  Most importantly, we then can see our own role in contributing to our child’s situation.

So how do you bring yourself under control when your kid seems to be out of control?  How do you calm down?

Heavy medication (just kidding).  If we wait until the heat of the moment, without making some serious changes to our thinking and our patterns, then there’s little hope of creating lasting change.  We’ll just have to resort to pale anger management techniques, like counting to ten or snapping a rubber band.  The ScreamFree way is about making some revolutionary shifts.  And choosing to focus on ourselves is the first and most important shift.  And when it comes to making such a shift, people do not need a “how to” as much as they need a “why to.”  My hope is to provide enough vision to prompt people to truly investigate the “whys” behind their parenting choices, well before the heat of the moment.

Purchase your copy of ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool.


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Interview courtesy of The B&B Media Group.


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