Anyone who’s had more than one child can attest that kids come with their own quirks. Different temperaments, personalities, and needs. It makes sense then, that there’s no ONE, RIGHT way to parent. It takes an array of tools and approaches to be responsive when you’re dealing with different kids — or simply the mood of the moment.
But I do believe that there are principles that remain consistent. They underpin our many different parenting approaches. Putting these principles into action takes on different forms in different families, but the concepts remain consistent.
Here are my top three:
Relationships Matter (Oh boy, do they matter!)
Parenting isn’t as simple as the stimulus-response theories of behaviorism. Some of that may apply, but we can’t ignore the weighty influence of the relationship between parents and children. The more time I spend studying child development, the more I agree with Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, when he said, “There is no development without relationships.”
This doesn’t mean we need to be our kids’ best friends (see principle #3), but it does mean we have to be aware of the way we connect with them, spend time with them, cultivate respectful interactions, validate emotions, and communicate effectively.
You can’t correct if you can’t connect.
Think about it from your own perspective. Imagine yourself standing in line at the grocery store with something less than healthy in your hands. A total stranger walks up to you with a look of disappointment and tells you that you’ve made a poor choice, and really should put it back.
And then they stare at you. Disapprovingly.
Now consider it’s your best friend who steps up and lets you know that she heard some information about your scandalous selection recently and wanted to make sure you had all the information. She loves you and is just looking out for you. She gives you a quick hug and says she can’t wait for your lunch date tomorrow.
Who do you want to listen to?
Read more about building relationships and follow my Connecting with Kids Pinterest board.
Repair is Part of the Design
A mythical world where your kids never fight with each other and you never lose your temper sounds fantastic, but in this place we call reality it happens anyway. The beautiful thing is that we know that relationships actually become stronger when we FIX mistakes than when we never make any at all. Likewise, we know that humans learn through appropriate amounts of conflict and the ensuing conflict resolution.
A heartfelt “I’m sorry” or a sincere “What should we do now?” is actually better for kids than the Kumbaya-filled childhoods we daydream about.
Lucky for us, we don’t have to actually try to make mistakes, we just will. (Aren’t we lucky?) We will make mistakes because we’re human and because our relationships need that act of repair. The energy we put into feeling guilty about those mistakes is better spent focusing on the repair our relationships are designed for.
Read more about why imperfect parenting is actually good for your kids.
Still don’t believe me? Read what a psychologist has to say about it.
Choices Require Boundaries
Kids need choices. That’s a message that the positive parenting movement has gotten out quite clearly. One small, critical detail that’s is often overlooked, however, is that those choices require boundaries. Children should be respected as the individuals they are and should have opportunities to voice opinions and make decisions. But parents still need to be the parents.
It’s a critical balance where kids need to feel some control, but need to know that you, the parent, are ultimately in control. But it’s in that sweet spot where kids thrive. When we understand how to give kids an appropriate amount of power and choice, while maintaining respectful boundaries and parental leadership, parenting gets a lot less frustrating — for parents and kids!
Read more about the balance of boundaries and choices.
Need more? Here’s a fantastic resource that addresses 3 common reasons parents struggle with boundaries.
What are the basic principles that frame your parenting philosophy?
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Thank you for sharing. Great article with some really good tips. Im not sure however that having more than one child or even any children is somehow a way to learn this. Really it’s just a matter of understanding that children are people. I’m also not sure saying they each come with their own little quirks is a fair “label” them just because they are kids. Really they are just human beings and each one has their own personality just like adults so while I know your intentions are only the best, maybe we need to stop focusing on the defining children and just treat our children as we would another human. No two people are alike so why our society has this idea that all kids from one family should be treated or cared for or disciplined in the same way is memorizing to me. I think it speaks to the difficultly we have in adult relationships where we expect others to be or act a certain way without taking into account their individuality. I fully understand your points, I’m just looking for us to stop the labels. 🙂
JDaniel4's Mom says
What an amazing post! I love how much my head nodded up and down as a read it.
Well said. These same principles apply to young kids just as it does to teens. Relationship matters – as you said – and it’s important that it’s the right kind of relationship. Because there will be heartache, there will be some “bad blood” moments, but everything eventually works out, and we’re all walking down the path together again.
It’s a great way to model how adult relationships (look at marriage!) will work – it’s not always easy living together, but as long as we remember that we’re in it for the long haul, and we all have our unique place in this family, we can figure out how to make it work.
Thank you Bret! I think your comment is equally well said!
Karen Young says
This is a brilliant article. The three principles you have talked about are so important to raising children to be emotionally intelligent, successful, happy adults. They are important principles for parents but they are also valuable life skills, and there is no better way for our kids to learn them than by watching us. When my son was little the best advice I received (and I received plenty!) was from a very wise friend who said, ‘With everything you do, keep in mind the values you want to teach him.’ I’ve never forgotten it and it has been my guiding mantra in the way I’ve brought up both my children. During those times where things got messy and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, this advice pulled me through every time. The three you have stated are big ones and you have identified them and articulated them beautifully.
Elaine H says
I’ve found that just being myself works best. I can’t be the formal, hierarchical parent. It’s just not me. We talk about all kinds of things together. But there are set boundaries, too. With 2 very strong-willed kids, I did not want to turn parenting into an epic battle of wills, and be confrontational. So now we have free-flowing communication. My girl is now 14 and we talk about all kinds of things. She’d rather talk to us than the “stupid teenagers” (her words) she’s around at school. Her brother is 10 and completely different than his sister, but also loves to talk to us. We just do what works best for each kid. No one size fits all in our house.
Amen! No one-size-fits all — so true. And I too think that authenticity is key. There are principles of parenting, but we have to make them fit our own voice or our kids see through it! Thanks, Elaine!
This is fabulous! As a child therapist, I have been looking for a brief, but well-informed summary of positive parenting to share with parents of the children I work with. Many of them are new to the world of positive parenting, or connected parenting. I want to open the door to these parenting strategies without overwhelming parents, and this is perfect for doing so! Thank you!