Those of us who have been on a long and sometimes challenging parenting journey may be tempted to walk past the general parenting titles in the bookstore, but I’d encourage you to pause and take a look at When the Parents Change, Everything Changes. It’s not a book about parenting children who have experienced trauma, but you might find much of it surprisingly familiar. 

The alternative parenting approaches that many of us have honed over years of reading, attending training and learning from those who have walked our path before us are, at their heart, rooted in the vital importance of relationships. Moving away from patterns of attempting to control our children’s behaviour through threats, consequences and rewards, we have looked for more relational and sustainable ways to help our children thrive. When the Adults Change is essentially a primer in relational parenting, crafted for a wider audience.  

The first lines of the introduction remind us that, “Your own behaviour is the only behaviour over which you have absolute control... In the most difficult moments, your behaviour is the difference between chaos and calm. It is the gap between strategies failing or succeeding. It sets the climate for the entire home.”  

Dix goes on to unpack his essential principles of calmness, consistency and relational parenting. He offers practical strategies for remaining calm in the face of provocation, heading off issues before they escalate, providing a sense of safety through the consistency of reliable, negotiated routines, and building our children up through the steady drip, drip, drip of positive noticing. A chapter on restorative conversations reminds us of the need to repair after each rupture. 

His style is chatty, self-effacing and relatable, littered with sometimes amusing examples of both success and failure, yet throughout the book, there is a real sense of a writer who understands the often complex drivers of children’s behaviours, actions and reactions, including the impact of trauma 

“Children who regularly lose control of their emotions don’t need you to lose control of yours. They need help, not anger. They aren’t ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’ or ‘trouble’. They are dysregulated and struggling to regain control... Being angry and taking control can feel strangely safe when other emotions that the child doesn’t understand are bubbling up.” 

This is not a therapeutic parenting manual, nor a non-violent resistance coursebook, but elements of these approaches are threaded throughout. Think of it as a foundation of relational parenting principles on which parents can go on to build more specialist extensions as needed.  

There are aspects of Dix’s advice that may not work for every family but, with its clear style and definite empathy towards the parents who may be reading it, I think it has something to offer for even the more experienced therapeutic parent, as well as offering a fresh approach to parenting for those about to become adoptive parents, foster carers or kinship carers.