Becoming a permaculture parent - 4 steps to improve family communication

Looby Mcnamara
Monday, 10th December 2012

Christmas is a time when we turn more of our attention to family life. We look at how permaculture principles can inform our parenting to create happier, healthier families.

Permaculture principles come from the observation of natural systems which can help us interact with different aspects in our lives to promote well-being. In many ways, families have the same characteristics as any natural system, therefore we can always benefit from looking at them with a pair of permaculture 'glasses.'

When we merge our understanding of these principles with our responses as parents we have the possibility of placing in our family lives, the same health, vibrancy and productivity that we inherently find in the permaculture garden. Here are permaculture principles in action:

1. Observe and interact

From the word go we are observing our babies and listening to their cries. We continue this observation of our children, to establish what works well with them and what factors contribute to difficult situations and behaviour. How do they respond to different foods and activities?

How can we interact with these observations to prevent, diminish or enhance behaviours? Just by looking, we can see where our energy drains are. Time can be spent observing the situations that precipitate tantrums and illness, helping us to intervene earlier, forestalling them, and using the energy in a more beneficial way.

2. Catch and store energy

The energy that we put into our family system determines the energy that we get out. If we put energy into family meals, outings and games we are more likely to get fun, laughter, growth and connections as a result. Remembering precious memories together by sharing family stories, photo albums and memories enables us to make more use of these positive experiences.

It is of equal importance to prevent negative energy from building up, in order to deal with, and dissipate any bad feelings from arising. The proverb make hay while the sun shines reminds us to catch opportunities as they arise. When our children are babies, we can sleep when they sleep. With older children and teenagers we can be open to talking when they want to talk.

3. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

It is imperative for our children to learn how to self-regulate and establish their own limits rather than these being enforced by the parents. If as parents we are continually laying down the law, it can become draining for us, and actually encourage children to do things behind our backs. If they can agree reasonable amounts and learn to stick to them it can save a lot of tiring debates and provide a useful lessons on self-regulation.

When we give feedback, we sometimes attach non-related consequences. We say 'don't jump on the sofa or you can't go to your friend's house.' This makes it difficult for the child to process the actual message, because they are distracted by working out the connection and whether they want the consequences.

Faber and Mazlish talk about 'natural consequences,' the actual ramifications of an event, what will in fact happen if you jump on the sofa; 'it might break; you will give me a headache; you could knock over the plant next to it.' When shown the natural consequences they are more able to process the information and alter their behaviour appropriately.

Feedback can come about very quickly in family dynamics; young children do not store their feelings, they immediately communicate what is happening to them. With this as an example, we must try to create a culture where everyone is listened to and constructive feedback can be given and received. This also means being open to receiving feedback from your children about the changes they would like to see in your behaviour. Parenting is a two way process of learning and growth.

Children unconsciously mirror our behaviour, our needs and emotions. A frustrating element in a child's behaviour may well be a behavioural trait of ours. It is therefore important for us to look at our own conduct and emotions so that we can provide a better, more positive example for the entire family. A valuable way of bringing about such positive change is through family feedback sessions.

4. Use small and slow solutions

It takes time to re-establish good rapport with our children especially if things have been challenging. Changes will not occur overnight, rather they will change gradually over time while trust is rebuilt. Spending positive time with your children every day - playing, talking, listening, just being with them - can start to ease the wheels.

This excerpt taken from People & Permaculture (E-Book edition also available here) by Looby Macnamara, which explores how to use permaculture principles and design in situations ranging from our own health and relationships to education systems. 

To learn more about Looby visit her blog at 

jennynazak |
Thu, 20/12/2012 - 16:18
Social permaculture - great topic and thank you for taking it up! I've shared this article link on the Austin Permaculture Guild Facebook community. Also I'm going to buy your SOCIAL PERMACULTURE ebook. And even based on just my reading of the sample pages, I've put your book at the top of my Recommended Reading list on my Permaculture FAQ page Cheers and Happy Holidays!
Maddy Harland |
Mon, 24/12/2012 - 18:08
Thanks Jenny for your positive feedback. We have so many of the technical aspects of sustainable agriculture, design and earth restoration in place but us human do struggle with co-operation. It is key.
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Abbiealaric |
Fri, 27/04/2018 - 10:55
The vitality that we put into our family framework decides the vitality that we get out. In the event that we place vitality into family dinners, excursions and diversions we will probably get fun, giggling, development and associations thus. Recollecting valuable recollections together by sharing family stories, photograph collections and recollections empowers us to make more utilization of these positive encounters.