All of this sounds alarmingly like obedience training. It comes as no surprise, then, to find parenting books at your local bookseller written by animal trainers. “What works for Fido can work for your child!”

If you’re totally responsible for coercing your children into being good, then it makes perfect sense to enlist some program or system like that. I, for one, cannot imagine our Creator wants us to treat children like animals. Such an approach may make parents feel big and in charge, but it leaves children feeling small and incompetent. This is certainly not the way our heavenly Father deals with us.

The fact that our children have been given the power of choice, as self-directed human beings, can thwart even the best obedience-training program. Children will soon realize they are in a no-win situation. Either they kill their own decision-making spirit in an attempt to reduce their parents’ anxiety, or they rebel against their parents’ authority. That’s the catch-22 of the “responsible for” model of parenting.

Parents either program their children correctly or they have failed. Children either conform to the system, surrender their individuality, and become “the child we don’t have to worry about,” or they rebel against the system, failing to “get with the program.”

Do you see the two categories we have neatly set up? On one hand, we have “What Will Make Mom and Dad Less Anxious,” and on the other hand, we have “Wrong Choices That Will Make Mom and Dad More Anxious.” For most families, there simply is no third option.

In this system, the possibility of children learning to act for themselves and think critically about their choices does not exist. Doing so would equal rebellion. If your child ends up “doing the right thing,” then you’ve raised a robot. He did exactly as he was programmed to do. But if your child ends up thinking and acting for himself, then you’ve raised a rebel.

There Is a Better Way

But there has to be another way—a way to say yes to our profound influence on our children’s lives without taking total responsibility for those lives. There must be a way to dramatically influence the life of a child without resorting to programming and coercion. I call this third option Scream-Free Parenting, because it emphasizes a radical focus on and approach to calming our own anxiety.

Again, not all of us scream at our children, but all of us struggle with reactive behaviors. We may scream, we may manipulate, we may even use violence. Or we may neglect, we may avoid, we may even withhold love. These are all different examples of emotional reactivity.

As I said before, they are all just different ways of screaming, and none of them reflect the character and nature of God. ScreamFree Parenting takes all of this reactivity incredibly seriously and says the only way to retain a position of influence with our children is to regain a position of control over ourselves.

Initially, this might feel or sound self-centered. It may even sound like self-indulgent navel-gazing. I promise you, it is not. Self-control is, after all, a mark of a Spirit-led life (Galatians 5:22–25). I promise that if you stick with me through the first part of this book, you will see that it is all designed to make you far less selfish, far more mature, and far more capable as a parent. Capable of the type of influence your kids really need from you. For now, the bottom line is this: You need to be in control of the things you can control, and that starts (and may end) with you.

You’re responsible to your children, your spouse, your friends, and family members. You’re accountable to them for how you think, feel, and behave toward them. The only way to retain a position of influence with our children is to regain a position of control over ourselves.