The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry

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Do you want to cultivate a healthy relationship with your child? Do you wish you had the tools to understand them better?

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry offers guidance for strengthening your bonds with your child and raising an emotionally secure individual. Perry argues that you can improve your parent-child relationship no matter your child’s age.

Continue reading for an overview of this book that your child will be glad you read.

Overview of The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry writes that you can improve your relationship with your child (regardless of how old they are) by examining how your parents’ style of parenting impacts your own, listening to your child, and meeting them with respect and understanding. 

Perry is a British psychotherapist, writer, and TV and radio presenter. She worked in the mental health field for 20 years before being published, and she raised a daughter. Her other books on therapy and relationships include How to Stay Sane, The Book You Want Everyone You Love to Read, and the graphic novel Couch Fiction, which her daughter illustrated. Additionally, she writes a weekly advice column for The Guardian called Ask Philippa where she answers reader-submitted questions about life and relationships. 

We’ll discuss how to foster a strong, loving parent-child relationship. Additionally, we’ll explore ways to positively influence your child’s behavior, including the way they treat themselves and the way they learn to resolve conflicts.

Developing Your Parent-Child Relationship

According to Perry, you shouldn’t view a child as someone to manage, but rather as an individual with whom you plan to maintain a close bond for the rest of your life. Maintaining this bond full of love and connection requires you to regularly confront your emotions, understand how your past affects your present, and recognize how your actions affect your child.

We’ll explore some of the areas of parenting Perry identifies as particularly important for securing your parent-child bond: addressing how your upbringing affects your relationship with your child, creating a secure attachment bond with your child, teaching your child to process their feelings, and making amends for your mistakes. 

Area #1: Addressing How Your Upbringing Affects Your Parenting

Perry argues that your upbringing affects how you relate to your child. Emotions related to any harm your parents caused you will probably return in your experiences raising your child. This happens when your child’s actions remind you of something you did or experienced around the same age. You’ll likely relive the emotions you felt when your parents didn’t give you the attention, love, or support you needed when you exhibited the same behavior.

Often, instead of processing these emotions from past experiences—such as sadness that your parents didn’t give you what you needed—you’ll experience another strong, negative feeling toward your child. This might be anger, disgust, frustration, envy, resentment, or fear. You might not know why you’re reacting that way, but you can’t help it. For example, maybe your child becomes deeply interested in dinosaurs, and he wants to tell you facts about them around the clock. For reasons unknown to you, you find this annoying. It becomes so grating that you eventually snap at him, even though you know it’s unfair.

These negative emotions are defense mechanisms you’ve developed to avoid reliving what you went through at the same age. Your need to avoid the emotions you experienced in the past leaves you unable to empathize with your child, instead driving you to focus on an emotion that’s easier to feel (like anger).

Putting It Into Practice: Decipher Where Emotions Belong

Perry states that your past doesn’t have to rule your relationship with your child—if you examine and reflect on your childhood and allow yourself to feel the accompanying emotions, you can avoid passing the same issues down the family line. 

Every time you feel an unpleasant emotion resulting from your child’s behavior, take it as a cue to think about any other possible sources for that feeling. Pause instead of expressing the emotion, step away from the situation, and take some time to reflect. Ask yourself if the emotion fits the present situation or if it’s related to something that happened to you in the past. What’s preventing you from understanding and empathizing with your child’s perspective? This will help you avoid acting on the negative feelings and emotionally harming your child in the process.

For example, after snapping at your child to stop talking about dinosaurs, you feel bad, so you think about where your annoyance stems from. Upon reflecting, you remember that when you were the same age, your parents rarely took the time to listen to what you were interested in—they always brushed you off or shushed you so they could continue talking about their interests. Instead of snapping the next time, you engage your child in a conversation about dinosaurs so he knows you’re interested in what he cares about.

Area #2: Understanding Attachment Styles

Perry argues that another important aspect of developing a strong, lifelong parent-child bond is helping your child form the right attachment style. According to attachment theory, babies are born with the ability to bond with other humans, and they take their cues for how to do this from their parents. The way their parents interact with them in this early stage of life—when they’re learning how bonds are formed—determines how they’ll relate to others throughout their lives.

When you’re consistently offered affection, fed, comforted, and attended to as a baby, you tend to form a secure attachment style. You grow up able to trust and connect with others, and you believe in people’s goodness. This generally makes relationships and other aspects of life much easier.

If you weren’t cared for consistently as an infant, you may develop an unhealthy attachment style, such as the following: 

  • Insecure attachment: If you had to cry for long periods to get your parents’ attention, you’ll likely grow up feeling like the only way to get others’ attention is to be bold and forceful when expressing your needs.
  • Avoidant attachment: If your cries went unanswered, you probably eventually stopped trying to get your parents’ attention. You may develop a sense of isolation, believing that you won’t be heard or understood by anyone. Therefore, you grow up feeling like there’s no point in letting people get to know you well.
  • Dismissive attachment: If the attention you received was harmful or abusive, you might grow up feeling like other people are always a threat to you.
Putting It Into Practice: Consider Your Own Attachment Style

Perry states that the ideal is to create a secure attachment with your baby. To do this, think about what your attachment style might be. Do you form close, secure attachments with people, or do you struggle with this? If your experience is the latter, you may need to be more mindful about forming your relationship with your baby to create a secure attachment with them.

Putting It Into Practice: Respond to Your Baby’s Cries

Second, Perry states that the best way to create a secure attachment is by consistently responding to your baby’s cries. Babies can express themselves only by crying out. They can’t soothe themselves, nor do they have object permanence (our ability to discern that something exists when we can’t see it). So, they can’t reason with themselves and know that you’re still close to them if you’re not within their sight. When no one responds to them, they feel alone and scared.

Responding to babies’ cries is how you show them that they’re safe—they learn how to soothe themselves when you’re consistently comforting them and showing them that you’re there for them. If, in contrast, you frequently let your baby cry for long periods without going to them, Perry argues that they’ll eventually stop crying because they’re suppressing the feelings that make them cry—not because they’ve learned to calm down in a healthy way.

Area #3: Teaching Your Child to Acknowledge and Name Their Emotions

According to Perry, recognizing, naming, and respecting your child’s emotions is a key way to form a strong bond with them and raise them to be mentally healthy individuals. By doing this, you teach them how to understand, regulate, and express their emotions in a healthy way, which is an important part of their development.

The Different Ways We Deal With Emotions

Perry states that, typically, parents who have trouble handling difficult emotions fall into two categories: They suppress their feelings, or they react disproportionately. If you tend to suppress your feelings, you’ll be more likely to do the same to your child, either by dismissing their feelings or telling them they should feel something different. Because this makes the child feel like their emotions are insignificant or undesirable, they’ll likely avoid expressing feelings to you in the future. 

If you tend to react disproportionately, you might become overwhelmed by your child’s emotions, getting upset and crying with them. You take on their emotional state. In this case, your child may stop expressing their emotions to you because they feel like they’re upsetting you too much or you’re unfairly seizing their feelings.

Ideally, you recognize and respect your child’s feelings by naming and affirming them (which we’ll further discuss below), instead of denying them or making the emotions your own. When you’re able to do this, your child will feel understood and comforted instead of criticized. Over time, as you continuously show respect for their feelings and offer them love and understanding, they’ll learn to work through their emotions and comfort themselves.

Putting It Into Practice: Name Your Child’s Emotions

Perry says to practice naming your child’s emotions when they’re upset to show that you understand them and to show them how to do it for themselves. As you do this, remember to consider their age and how it affects their ability to express themselves. 

Your child may react in a way that seems irrational to you, but their feelings are as valid as anyone else’s. For example, say your child falls and hits their knee. They have a small scrape, but you can tell they aren’t seriously hurt. Still, they begin to cry inconsolably. You might feel tempted to tell them not to cry or that their scrape is no big deal because it hurts you to see them so upset. However, this likely won’t comfort them since to them, the injury feels like a real danger. They might stop crying to please you, but they won’t feel understood.

Instead, acknowledge their feelings by saying something such as “You hurt your knee and I see that made you feel scared.” This shows them that you’re in tune with their feelings, they’re allowed to feel that way, and you’re there to support them. Over time, they’ll learn to name their emotions themselves.

Area #4: Making Amends When You Make a Mistake

Perry argues that, though you should strive for the emotional stability and empathy displayed in the above strategies, being a good parent isn’t about behaving perfectly all the time. You’ll occasionally react in an unhelpful way, hurt your child’s feelings, or misunderstand your child. What’s most important for your parent-child relationship is that you acknowledge your imperfections and make amends for the harm you cause. 

Some people think that to feel safe, a child needs to believe their parents don’t make mistakes. However, this belief is faulty—children need you to model honesty and humility for them, not perfection. If you act as if you’re always right and never acknowledge your mistakes, you risk making your child feel like you don’t care about their feelings or that they’re responsible for your moods. 

Your child’s intuition will likely tell them when you’re wrong, but your refusal to acknowledge it will make them question the validity of their feelings, increasing the likelihood that they’ll suppress them later. This may negatively affect the way they relate to other people, leading them to accommodate other people’s needs over their own.

Putting It Into Practice: Change Your Behavior and Apologize

To make amends for mistakes, Perry says to start by apologizing to your child and explaining what you did wrong, why you did what you did, and what you’d do differently. Then, change your behavior—figure out what prompted your unfair reaction or the misunderstanding, and act differently the next time a similar situation arises.

Shaping Your Child’s Other Relationships

We’ll explore two areas of parenting Perry identifies for helping your child develop healthy relationships with themselves and others: 

  1. Assessing how you speak about yourself and how that might influence your child
  2. Modeling healthy conflict resolution so your child feels safe and secure

Area #1: Assessing How You Speak About Yourself

According to Perry, the way you speak to yourself has a big impact on your child’s relationship with themself. Children model their behavior on the behavior of their parents. So, if you tend to speak negatively about yourself, your child will likely develop that behavior as well. 

For example, say you have an inner belief that you’re not very smart. Even if it’s not true, it makes you feel deeply insecure. Therefore, anytime someone compliments you for your cleverness or skills, you make a self-deprecating comment diminishing your intelligence. Likewise, anytime you make a mistake, you take it as evidence that confirms your self-assessment. 

You don’t treat or think of your child the same way, so you don’t think about how your comments about yourself affect them. However, over time, you might notice they stop trying very hard in school, they’re afraid to make mistakes, or they frequently minimize their intelligence. By watching you put yourself down, they’ve learned to do the same.

Putting It Into Practice: Address Negative Self-Talk

To set your child up to have a positive self-relationship, you must address the negative ways you treat and speak to yourself. Perry states that the first step is to recognize your patterns of negative self-talk. These patterns often go unnoticed because they’re embedded in your self-image, so it’s important to consciously identify them. Start by writing down every negative thought you have about yourself for a day. 

Once you’ve identified a negative thought, don’t try to reason with it—engaging with it will take up too much of your energy and be unproductive. Instead, acknowledge the thought and pretend it’s an uncomfortable comment made by a person whose opinion you disagree with. Remind yourself that they can share their opinion, but you don’t have to listen.

Then, prove the thought wrong by doing something it claims you can’t do. By doing the thing that feels impossible, you build your confidence and create evidence to look back on when you begin to question yourself again. For instance, returning to our previous example, you might start working on the book you’ve always wanted to write despite the negative thoughts that tell you you’re not smart enough to be an author.

Area #2: Modeling Healthy Conflict Resolution

Just as it’s important to teach your child to interact with themselves in a healthy way, Perry argues that it’s important to teach them how to treat others, especially during conflicts. It’s inevitable that there will sometimes be conflicts in a household, whether between two parents, between a parent and a child, or between two other people. Having conflicts isn’t inherently an issue—it’s the way you approach these disputes that matters.

Conflict resolution has a large effect on your child’s feelings of security and safety. If conflicts are consistently handled in nonconstructive, dysfunctional ways, a child may feel emotionally insecure in their home space—unable to relax because they never know when the next conflict will happen. As they’re always on alert, they may find it hard to be open and curious when interacting with the rest of the world.

To model healthy conflict resolution for your child—whether you’re in a disagreement with them or with someone else—Perry suggests paying attention to your language. 

Putting It Into Practice: Avoid Accusatory Statements

According to Perry, when bringing up an issue, it’s best to avoid accusatory statements about what the other person did wrong. Using accusatory language can make them feel as if you’re creating a narrative and you’re unwilling to hear their point of view. 

Instead, use first-person pronouns and focus on how the situation makes you feel. For example, instead of saying, “You never help with the laundry, and that’s why the house is a mess,” say, “I’d appreciate it if you helped more with the laundry because it’s hard for me to keep everything tidy myself.”

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read summary:

  • The tools you need to cultivate a healthy relationship with your child
  • How to make sure your child is an emotionally secure individual
  • Why the way you speak about yourself has a big impact on your child

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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