ten thoughts on parenting

today i wanted to share ten thoughts i have on parenting. this is not me giving advice ... i am just starting on the journey of parenthood, and i am noooo expert! but this is me sharing advice - tidbits that i have learned from others or from my (still very limited!) experience. parenting is such a trip, and i really believe that we need to help each other, especially in this super-connected world we live in. so, for what it's worth, here's some thoughts i've had lately on parenting. 
(obviously this applies mostly to toddlers since that's the chapter our family is in right now!)
(several of the tidbits below are ideas i learned from ralphie jacobs, whose instagram story highlights i have poured over. i love her approach and am so grateful to her for summarizing and teaching all the things she has studied.)

our kids want us.
kids want their parents' attention, more than pretty much anything. they crave us to watch them, talk to them, notice and acknowledge what they are doing, be with them, interact with them, respond to them. (if you are the parent of a toddler, you're very used to hearing "mama, watch!" "daddy, see me do this!" "mommy, mommy, mommy!!!") our kids want us. and so, our attention is the most effective reward and the lack of it is the most effective discipline. our attention - both positive and negative attention - is what reinforces behaviour.

water the flowers, not the weeds.
we get to decide as parents where we allocate our attention. commonly, the vast majority of attention (what we notice our kids doing and talk to them about doing, what we actively react to) is allocated to misbehaviour. and that reinforces misbehaviour. when our kids are behaving well, they often don't get a big reaction (or, many times, any attention) out of their parents. and thus good behaviour is not reinforced. 
if we don't want the "weeds" to grow, we should not water them. and if we want the "flowers" to grow, we should water them well. we get to decide which behaviours we reinforce through our greatest tool - our attention. 
i try to completely ignore my toddler's misbehaviour, except in rare cases when it is dangerous or otherwise very consequential. (in which case, i try to follow ralphie's advice to stop, redirect and reinforce.) and when he is behaving well, we talk about it and we celebrate it. 

kids are tiny humans.
kids are human - just like adults, they: usually don't comply right away, don't particularly like being told what to do, act cranky when they are tired, hungry or not feeling well, are suspicious of totally new things, take a long time to learn some life lessons (often making the same mistake over and over), and have good intentions in basically everything they do.
and, also, kids are tiny - their brains and bodies are developing and they have very little life experience. they don't understand a lot of things, and the only way for them to know anything is if they observe and/or are taught.
when we accept that kids are just tiny humans, we can approach them with empathy and compassion.

parents are teachers. 
i believe our most central role as parents is that of teachers. from a helpless newborn's first day on earth, parents get to teach souls about everything. we should always take advantage of opportunities to teach.
something ian and i feel really strongly about is explaining why to our children. we always try to stop and take the time to express the reasoning behind why they shouldn't have another chocolate donut or why we hold hands when crossing the street or why it's best to colour only on paper. we have found that very often, when moses is sooo upset about something, the second we say, "can i explain why?" he stops crying or whining and looks in our eyes and says, "yes."  we get to teach and he gets to understand. 

and the most powerful way to teach is through example.
our kids are so much more likely to do as we do than do as we say. as parents, we have to practice what we preach. we have to show our children how to behave. because, indeed, our examples are our greatest teaching tool. our children will copy what we do (if you're a parent reading this, you know that is true!). 
the best way to teach respect is to respect our children. the best way to teach calmness it to be calm. the best way to teach gentleness is to be gentle. we must model the behaviour we want performed. we should be constantly analyzing how we are communicating with/responding to our child and considering if that is the way we want them to communicate/respond.

apologize when you mess up.
one of the best skills we can model for our children is how to humbly admit and apologize when we've made a mistake. so when you mess up (basically daily...), say sorry to your kids. explain that you made a mistake, that you make lots of mistakes!, and you are doing your best and want to improve. 

no empty threats or promises.
ian and i agreed before we had kids that we would do our very, very best to never tell our kids we would do something that we weren't 100% willing and ready to follow through on. we want our words and established consequences to carry weight and effectively encourage good behaviour and happiness, and more importantly we want our kids to trust us. and so we have to do what we say we are going to do, without a bunch of backpedaling and exceptions, consistently. this can be so hard. and this means that we have to stop and think about what consequences we are presenting to our children (and take advantage of an opportunity to explain why we are presenting those consequences!)

frame it positively.
we want our children to behave well because they love what's right - because doing what's right makes them happy - not because they want to avoid punishment. so ian and i try to frame almost everything positively: rather than saying "if you keep throwing the rocks, we will have to leave the playground," we say, "keep the rocks on the ground so we can stay at this awesome playground for a long time!" almost everything can be turned around into something positive that helps our children connect behaving well with being happy. 

use time. 
i believe time can be a powerful tool in parenting. give kids a little time to comply. give yourself some time away from your child (just in the other room!) when you start to feel your patience spreading thin. allow your children some time to just "get the mad out" or process their emotions or come to terms with something happening that they don't like. recognize that learning takes time, especially for a two-year-old brain. 
and always allow lots of time to get out the door. haha. i give myself a solid forty-five minutes to get everyone's coats and shoes on! ;)

pray and listen. 
when it comes down to it, no matter how much parenting insight is given and shared, there is no formula in parenting. every child is different - needs different things, responds to different things, struggles with things in different ways. and so, in the end, we just need heaven's help. god knows all his children perfectly, and wants us to succeed as parents, and we will get aid as we turn heavenward. i really, really believe that, because i have experienced it. as we pray and keep our hearts open, we will know what to do. not all of the time, maybe not most of the time, but we will be guided. because our heavenly parents are truly heavenly parents that want to help their children just like we want to help ours. 


  1. As a parent and prek teacher, I LOVE these 10 thoughts! They are all so true!

  2. I like the general "energy" of this post, and also admire how deliberate you are in your parenting! I personally find the concept of "good behavior" vs. "misbehavior" unhelpful at best, and damaging at worst.

  3. Hi Charity,

    a few years ago I asked you for a book shop recommendation in San Francisco. You recommended City Lights Books and I absolutely loved it!! Thank you so much for the recommendation!!

  4. I have always stuck to the rule that I will not make a promise that I cannot 100% be sure I can keep. I usually say "Let me think about it," or "We will see", or we will try. I want promises and commitments to mean something to my children. No one likes empty promises.
    Jamie Noto

  5. Thanks for this list- I don’t think it’s only applicable to toddlers at all!

  6. Awesome advice! Relevant at all ages of childhood. Thank you!


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