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Parent goals: "Have a perfect relationship where everyone feels emotionally connected all the time. Life is always one beautiful, smooth path forward. Rainbows and unicorns abound."

Parent goals like that are effective exactly zero percent of the time. They're completely unrealistic. However, we often create all sorts of goals that--honestly--aren't all that different.

Some parent goals sound like, "Self care! Sounds great. I'll do it!"

Or perhaps, "I will stop yelling."

While these are certainly valid big picture parenting goals, I have news for you: they don't work. At least not when we leave them like this.

Why these goals fail--and what to do instead

These parenting goals, and others like them, often fail for the following three reasons:

If we want to raise kids with whom we can have a secure, joyful, and lifelong connection, we must be intentional about it--and our goals need to reflect the life we aim to create.

 

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How to create parenting goals that enhance our relationship for life

When we create solid parenting goals and follow through, we can get--and stay--closer to our children. It's a lifelong investment. Here's the secret: the goals need to be heart-centered, while still connecting to the rational part of the brain.

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Let's go through the antidotes to each of the three problems above:

Our goals are often too vague.

Antidote

Get very specific.

Tell your brain the details of what changes, specifically, you want to make. The more detailed the changes are, the more achievable they'll be. Describe what we want to change and exactly what that will look like for us.

What actions will we take, specifically, to achieve our parenting goals? This makes it easier for our brain to process, and therefore, easier to implement.

Using the examples above, although self-care and a positive parenting style are absolutely critical skills for healthy relationships with our children, they're entirely too vague. The human brain wants the details of exactly what to do, along with when and how.

Further, the brain can't learn in negatives.

In a simplified example, if I say, "Don't use the red pen," that's all well and good, but I need to tell my brain what to do, instead. "Use the blue pen instead of the red one" is actionable. My brain knows just what I need.

The red pen example is the equivalent of "I will stop yelling." Well, okay, great -- but how? What's the alternative, and how do I get to the point of consistently doing the alternative? What does that look like?

Further, while "self-care" sounds like a good thing (and it is, if we know what we want to achieve by it), it's entirely too nebulous for the brain to grasp. I might be aware that my own needs matter and that I need some way of honoring them in my daily life, but how?

As I wrote in the self-care section of Peaceful Discipline, "I’ve never spontaneously ended up in a bubble bath and wondered how I got there."

Our brains need specific roadmaps

We can read all the books in the world about how to handle difficult situations, how to create long-term parenting goals, and how to create a happier family, but if the brain lacks the specific map it needs, those ideas will be right up there with rainbows and unicorns.

I'll share examples of effective parent goals below.

First, though, issue number two.

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We often choose our goals without input from our children.

Antidote

Co-create parenting goals with our kids.

Even from a very early age, we can talk to our children about the kind of relationship we both crave. The best relationship-focused goals aren't made outside the relationship; they're co-created.

Many parents assume their child just wants to "be happy." While that's likely a good guess, even young children have different love languages.

Some will feel loved when you're baking treats and spending time together; other kids will want the parent to have story time, snuggles, and words of affirmation with them every day. Still other kids will feel loved when their natural environment is full of fun physicality and roughhousing.

Not all kids feel loved in the same ways. Likewise, the parent also has different preferences for how love expressed. Do you feel more loved when your child is snuggling with you, or would you rather be playing together? Do you need to be told you're doing a good job at parenting?

There's no "wrong" answer. It's important to acknowledge that we all have different needs.

Knowing this, if we practice inviting our children to join us in goal setting, we end up with more connected families. Everyone feels more "seen" when their opinions have been asked and honored.

This goes beyond the activities our kids enjoy doing, of course. We can also co-create our family values together. Kids want input into the emotional tone of the home, too. Where and how do we want to be spending our time together?

Someday, when our kids look back at childhood, what kind of lives do they want to remember? Let's be proactive about creating that with them.

Now, the third problem and its antidote.

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We forget our "why."

Antidote

Choose parenting goals not just from the mind, but also from the heart.

Beyond the decision-making process (which is highly intellectual), we need to create an emotional anchor to keep us motivated. What do we want our relationship to feel like?

It's one thing to read a book or take a course to enhance our parenting skills, but if we've lost sight of our emotional motivation for change, we'll fall short.

If we want to succeed in the long run, we need to check in with how we're feeling--and how we want to feel.

Our litmus test to see how we're doing over time--for both our kids and ourselves--is to see if our lives feel right. We tend to know in our gut when something's missing, but our gut also tells us when we're content.

What skills do we need to feel downright joyful about our parenting, if that's the feeling we're seeking? As parents, what are we actively learning and pursuing to nurture the life we want?

Do we feel that we're parenting in a way where our children will run to us, rather than from us, when they encounter a problem? Is seeing each other the highlight of our day? Are we modeling emotional maturity and seeing our children learn what we're demonstrating? When teaching kids, we must model the healthy habits they'll need to get along with others.

Do both parent and child go to bed at night feeling that the other is a source of emotional safety and peace (although it's certainly not our child's "job" to be those things for us)?

If it feels right, and we're intentional about creating parent goals that support these things, then we're right on track.

The best parenting goals are timeless

Whether we have young kids or older children, it really doesn't matter: mutual respect is what we're going for.

How do we create mutual respect? We begin by teaching younger kids that they are worthy of respect from the very beginning.

As adults, we have a learning opportunity to release whatever old and unhelpful narratives we've been holding about children. We start anew and join the many other adults who've set parent goals with the hope of creating a better world for future generations.

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Celebrate what's working

This is a commonly overlooked step that helps us be better parents. When a parent takes time to celebrate our wins, it gives positive reinforcement to our brain. That helps strengthen the new neural connections we've made, telling our brains, "This feels good -- let's do more of this."

At the subconscious level, when we celebrate, we're telling our brain to repeat whatever worked. When it works again, that further strengthens our neural connections.

It becomes a virtuous cycle. This is how healthy parenting habits (and all good habits) are made. It helps them "stick."

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How do we celebrate?

Cake! Always cake.

But seriously, celebrating a parenting win can be as simple as acknowledging that we did what we set out to do. Pause and give yourself a pat on the back. Words of affirmation really do work. It may seem silly, but what we focus on, grows.

If we want to deepen that focus, we can talk to a friend or a family member (or even our kids) and tell them that we accomplished a goal.

With our kids, it might sound like this: "I want you to know I'm committed to being a more peaceful parent. I had an idea that I'd pause and do some deep breathing instead of yelling when I felt tempted to yell, and I noticed that it worked. We had a really nice morning! That felt good."

With adults, we must caution ourselves not to turn the celebration back into a venting session. For example, "When my kids were upsetting me this morning, I got mad but I didn't yell." The other parent might inquire, "What were your kids doing?" That can turn into a discussion of all the things that went wrong.

What works better with a friend or other parents? It might sound like, "Hey, I had a parenting win this morning and I'd like to celebrate it. Can I tell you what worked and felt so good?" Stating our intention helps keep our objective clear and focused on the positive side of life.

Journaling also helps parents reinforce our parenting goals. When we put them on paper, it's a great way to check in with ourselves and observe how far we've come.

Setting parent goals takes practice

Let's be honest: most of us take parenting day by day. And that's fine! We've got a world of things to do at any given moment, from school activities to cooking to adulting in all the ways.

However, if we're parenting for the long run with the good of the relationship in mind, we have to remember that parenting is like anything else.

If we want to enhance our skills, we need to practice. We have to pause before we respond instead of doing what we've always done, we have to check in with our values and ideals.

We don't ever make it to a long-term goal without learning how to achieve a lot of short-term goals along the way.

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Examples of better parent goals

Here are several parenting goals that are helpful for our brains and make it easier for us to follow consistently.

Examples:

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Parenting goals aren't just for the New Year

Many adults come up with a parenting goal early in the new year, and that can certainly be a nice calendar reminder to make a change. We must remember, however, that the parenting journey is year-round.

It begins the moment we become parents (or sometimes sooner, if we're really proactive and planning ahead of time), and continues as long as we have children.

We can always invest in our mental health, to the extent that better family relationships affect it (and they do--when we feel closer to our kids and they do to us, too, everyone's mental health improves). (source)

There's no wrong time to invest in a healthier parenting style. If you have a young child, they'll benefit from all the rest of the years you have together. If you have older children, kids learn that it's never too late to heal.

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Where to start

How to follow through on your parent goals

Whether you take an online course (many are available here), read a research-backed book, or work with a certified parent coach or therapist, there are many possible "first steps" you can take. If you're unsure where to start, just pick one. Any one. There's no wrong way to increase your knowledge base, and you can always supplement in areas where you'd like more support.

Perhaps, just for today, the best parenting goal is simply to get started with that first step. Imagine the life you want to have with your children, and then get specific about how to achieve it.

The world can be a tricky place these days. There's no denying that. If we want to raise mentally tough kids who can handle it without becoming jaded--or worse, becoming part of the problem--parents need to empower children to address challenges in emotionally intelligent ways.

We need to raise children who have both grit and compassion for others--not just one or the other. In other words, we want to raise tough kids with kind hearts. This is truly the work of conscious parenting.

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Tough times call for mentally strong children

Parents are often (understandably) unsure how to discuss tricky situations with their children. We wonder whether they're too young to "deal with life" as we know it, and whether they'll have the skills to overcome whatever trouble is presented to them.

One common mistake parents make is believing kids are too young to talk about tricky issues. In reality, however, if a child is likely to walk down the street and see the situation with their own eyes, they're not too young for an age-appropriate discussion about whatever it may be.

In fact, if we don't have brave discussions with our kids, we do them a disservice. Family is the safest place for children to learn about struggles and difficulty so that they can create a healthy narrative around them.

Personal example: Years ago when we were living in a big city, someone told me they thought my child, then aged three, was too young to hear about homelessness. However, we walked past people in need every day on her way to preschool. My child has eyes, and she asked questions. This was the prime opportunity to teach her about compassion.

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Teaching children in age-appropriate ways helps them understand life better

If a child can see something and ask about it, they can deal with an age-appropriate explanation. We help create their reality of what they understand in the world.

In Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science, and Better Behavior, we learn this:

..."[young] children are still developing their sense of self. They’re learning where they fit into their family, their school (if they have one), and their place in the community. Their family patterns are just being established for the first time. They lack enough past experience to understand the context of situations and how their ability to process them matters.

'Is my experience normal?' children might wonder. 'Does everyone go through what I just did?' As a mere function of their young age, they’ve not yet had the opportunity to decipher all the patterns and schemas that are essential to understanding how life is supposed to work. Everything is normal to them because it’s all they know."

Raising tough kids requires that we help them be mentally strong--understanding how the world around them works, and what to expect from it.

Most importantly, when kids see injustices, we can discuss practical ways to:

It's true what they say about the world being harsh, but our child doesn't have to be part of the harshness. They can be part of the solution.

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Does it help to toughen up our kids by being harsh with them?

Absolutely not. To the contrary, for their optimal development, we need to give kids "a soft place to land," as Deborah Harkness so aptly put it. That means that we need to be their emotional safety net.

They need to know that we'll love them unconditionally and support them when they struggle. We'll answer their questions with love and compassion. We'll show up for them when they need us.

The point is not to "toughen up" our children; toughness alone leads to emotional distance and a whole host of potential struggles. When we focus on resilience with support, however, that raises mentally strong children who thrive because they felt emotionally safe enough to overcome adversity.

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Kids learn best when they feel emotionally safe

We know from brain science that kids learn best when they feel emotionally safe. Here's what Peaceful Discipline and the research say about it:

"...when [kids are] emotionally triggered, the limbic system (a more primitive part of the brain) takes over and effectively shuts off the frontal lobe, where most of our rational thoughts live. The limbic system’s sole purpose is to keep us alive. The frontal lobe is where we can think about others’ experiences, offer compassion, and understand the consequences of our actions.

The limbic system doesn’t understand that we’ll ever be all right again, because it’s not planning ahead—it’s trying to keep us safe in this moment only. Our goal, therefore, is to help the body feel safety so that our frontal lobe can come back and join the whole brain party. No one can talk us into safety if our limbic system is overriding it; we must feel it for ourselves."

The frontal lobe needs to be "online" in order for children to learn. When children feel safe, not only do they exhibit fewer behavioral issues, but they're also more likely to be able to grow through tough situations rather than be hindered by them.

Emotional safety helps raise tough kids, because they know they don't have to be tough to win our approval. They already have it. It's built into our parenting and our relationship with them.

Part of this emotional safety comes from learning empathy and emotional regulation skills.

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Tough kids need empathy (we all do)

One of the best gifts an adult can model for a child is empathy and emotional maturity. If a child is "acting tough" but displays no empathy, they're more likely to end up struggling in school and at home.

Empathy, emotional maturity, and compassion are learned skills, however, and they take time to develop. There's no rushing brain growth and child development.

The most effective way to raise a child who has empathy is for the parent to model empathy.

How do we do model empathy?

Parents can do this a couple of ways. For example, we can validate our child's emotions rather than dismiss them. For example, if a tough event happens at school or otherwise, the parent can say things like, "Gosh, that sounds really hard. I understand why you're so sad. You make sense to me."

This is a much more effective approach to help the child feel "seen" so that they can move on from whatever stress they experienced, rather than having had their feelings dismissed (i.e., "That's nothing to worry about--you're such a crybaby").

Over time, children will have observed and felt enough empathy--and their brains will have grown enough--that they can start to "pay it forward."

Empathy is a healing tool to help them recover from adversity.

Tough kids--especially those who've been raised in or experienced tough circumstances--need extra empathy from us, not less. It's part of what helps soften their rough edges.

More skills for raising tough kids with kind hearts:

According to research-based strategies about raising tough kids from Dr. Michele Borba in Thrivers, we can provide children with these additional skills:

Once again, kids and young adults can learn these skills. They don't have to be born with them (in fact, they aren't)! Resilient, tough kids are kids who've had good role models who also model these things.

Final thoughts on raising tough kids

Raising tough kids with kind hearts requires that we show up for them; let them know that they matter. We can remove the focus on whether they're behaving well and, instead. make sure they know they're loved well.

Children who grow up knowing they're safe with us translates to having kids who know the importance of creating emotional safety for others. This is the optimal way to raise tough kids with kind hearts: focusing foremost on the heart, and all the rest falls into place.

 

The best Christian parenting books are those that not only give practical advice, but that also help us reach our child's heart. After all, emotional safety is at the core of what helps children want to do well for us as their parents.

The children who feel the safest with us will legitimately want to learn from us.

In Christian parenting, our children check to see if our love mirrors God's love--do they see us living by the fruit of the Spirit--"love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control"? (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

If they see us embodying the fruit of the Spirit in these ways in our parenting, Christian beliefs will feel safe to them. They'll want to walk with Christ on their own someday when they're older, because he felt peaceful through us, first.

When we do this, we're speaking their ultimate love language.

At the same time, the world can be a dark place right now, and Christians are under fire.

Indeed, many of us actively work to live by the fruit of the Spirit every single day. We know we're imperfect, but from the Christian mom writing this article to other Christian parents, we know we're trying.

We're balancing Christian guidance and biblical living with an increasingly secular world, and it's not easy.

And some days, when the "big picture" view of the world feels particularly tough, we wonder whether our Spirit-filled parenting style is really changing the world

In short, can we change the world through our parenting?

Moreover, how can we spread Christ's message without the secular world shutting us down before we get a word out?

We know we can affect our own children, but can we reach the hearts of other parents, too--even those who don't want to hear about Christianity?

That's a tall order.

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If we want to radically change the world, we need to change part of our approach.

Many people, unfortunately, will automatically pass on Christian parenting books we recommend to them simply because they're labeled as Christian. They may say, "No thanks! That's not my thing."

I respect that. Even Jesus didn't force anyone to believe in him, so it's certainly not our place to do so.

At the same time, it's one of many forms of spiritual warfare that we face--how and when do we encourage other moms and dads to follow a Christian parenting journey if they're turned off by the very mention of Christianity?

Knowing this, we need another angle.

Here are two reasons some of the best Christian parenting books might not look like they used to.

1.Christ has always worked in unconventional ways--and he's still doing that.

A biblical truth is that Jesus was about as unconventional as they came during his lifetime. The Pharisees were considered the be-all-end-all for "religion," yet he despised them.

On the other hand, the tax collectors whom everyone else despised?

Jesus hung out with them--including Matthew of "first book in the New Testament" fame, not to mention others like Zacchaeus.

What does this have to do with Christian parenting books?

Perhaps it teaches us that, like Jesus, if we want to help spread the word of Christianity, we need to do it in places that people won't expect.

For instance, we can read and recommend a parenting book that is not overtly Christian.

I realize that this, too, is unconventional.

Bear with me for a moment.

2. Non-Traditional Christian parenting books can be a healthy part of sharing Christ's love.

Some parents are going to turn away from rock-solid information simply because it's labeled as a Christian parenting book. That's a hard reality.

It may be tempting to also say, "Well, if they don't want the message, that's their loss."

Last I checked, though, it's the lost sheep that Christ wanted most.

If we're going to pursue Jesus in our daily lives, we need to be like him...and not try to force non-believers to read "Christian books." It's just not going to fly with them.

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What can everyday parents do?

We know that if people are going to come to Jesus, they'll judge us by our actions, including (and perhaps especially) in our parenting:

Other parents are watching. If we're parenting our children with love--if we're leading with grace--if we're living as a lifegiving parent who displaces fear with connection that makes children run to us rather than away from us when they're struggling, people are going to notice.

So, when non-believing parents ask us if we have any parenting books to recommend, yes, sure, we can mention some that are overtly Christian, full of Biblical references and so forth.

These are absolutely valuable, and I'm not saying they aren't. And there's certainly no better book than the Bible itself.

At the same time, we can also know that Christ sometimes works through whispering to the heart instead of through neon lights.

Some books, like Peaceful Discipline, are written by Christian authors and are of the "whispering" variety.

They're the kind that say, "You're welcome here. Let's grab a cup of tea and hang out for awhile."

This will feel emotionally safer to many people, and it's a strong starting point to get them curious.

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What are the best Christian parenting books?

My favorite books, truth be told, aren't necessarily marked as "Christian," particularly because I find many of the popular ones to be contradictory to what I believe families need. More importantly, I see many that don't seem to be in line with the fruit of the Spirit.

The authors may say they're Christian, but I don't always feel God or grace or any inkling of how vast I believe his love to be. To me, this is a red flag. I won't buy them, much less use them as a guide for how to raise my daughter.

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Therefore, I'll go back to the fruit of the Spirit once again and see how we can use that to drive family-driven faith, more than any other single insightful book beyond the Bible:

If we can model these things for our children and for other adults around us, they'll learn how to find more peace, as well. My hope is that you'll feel the fruit of the Spirit very much alive in Peaceful Discipline.

If you do, I'd love to hear about it. If you don't, I'd love to hear from you, as well.

More to consider about faith-based books

As for specific books other than my own, I do like The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman, another book written by a Christian author where the book isn't expressly Christian. It helps us parent our kids well by understanding them, knowing parenting isn't a "one size fits all."

Any book that helps us teach our children through encouragement and connection is a "win" in my opinion, especially when written by a Christian author who's inspired by God.

Any book that claims to be faith-based but recommends punishment rather than grace is an automatic "no" for me. There are plenty of these, unfortunately.

Choose carefully, remembering again that there is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1 ESV)

What does this mean for our parenting style?

Jesus was punished so we didn't have to be. Once again, we can guide our children and teach them, but if God removed our punishment (and that of our kids), who are we to override his decision with punishment for our kids?

We can choose to be peaceful with them. We can invite them into relationship with us through our gentle guidance and love--we can be the kind of parent they'll want to return to when they're older.

Other parents will ask what's different about us.

So maybe, just maybe, some of the best new Christian parenting books aren't overtly labeled as a "Christian parenting book." Instead, perhaps the best Christian parenting books are the ones that feel different and guide parents to living out Christ's love, even if they don't realize that's what's happening yet.

My prayer is that non-believers will say, "Something feels different about this book, Peaceful Discipline. What's this author like? Where do they get their guidance? How can parenting feel like this?"

Perhaps part of God's plan for you is to reach others through whispers of conversation starters, as well. As it turns out, connection is what we all need, and it's the foundation for the deeper discussions to come.

May you feel the presence of God in every aspect of your life, including in your parenting. There's great hope for you and your children, and great hope for every family who wonders where your peace originates.

Peaceful Discipline is for everyone.

To clarify, my intent is not expressly to "convert" non-believers to Christianity. That's between them and God, and it's well beyond my pay grade.

Rather, my intent is to help bring more peace to every family I have the pleasure of meeting, influencing, or otherwise knowing.

As I've said before, I truly believe that peace on Earth begins at home.

If children feel loved and valued, they have the ability to love and value others. They're not bringing childhood traumas into their future relationships.

Instead, they're bringing peace and the love they received at home to their future friends, partners, and co-workers. That's what they'll have to give.

We can take baby steps toward greater peace.

If knowing about my inspiration from God helps them get curious about him, that's great. However, if they're not open to God yet (or ever) yet still treat their kids with more peace, and parent from connection rather than fear, that gives me incredible hope for a better world.

I don't pretend for a moment that Peaceful Discipline will show people how to be Christian. That's not the point, and it's not expressly what the book is about.

What I want is for non-believers and believers to co-exist peacefully.

Step one, in my opinion, is the hope that non-believers will cease believing that Christians are "scary" or "oppressive" or "crazy" or any of the other unflattering adjectives that are bandied about in this day and age.

I promise you, I am not among those who support oppression or any of the injustices we've seen so often in recent years. I don't believe Jesus would be on board with those things, either.

I desire peace for everyone.

May we have mutual acceptance as a starting point; may we truly love our neighbor (and not just the neighbor who "says the right things.")

May we choose curiosity over judgment; compassion over emotional distancing. The world has too much conflict right now.

We need to start the healing process somewhere. Peaceful Discipline may show us how to get started, even if reading the book is all we have in common with the person sitting across from us wherever we happen to be reading it.

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My prayer is that Peaceful Discipline will help us all be kinder to one another, no matter what we believe. Our kids will feel the shift not only in our family, but they'll also see it in the world around them.

It's time for a more peaceful world. Will you join me in helping that happen?

Sleep deprivation and other struggles in the early years are real, and it doesn't take long before bleary-eyed parents of small children ask, "What's the magical age? WHEN does parenting get easier?"

As exhausted as you might be right now, there's hope for parents at every stage of their child's development. I'll go through each stage in detail to help you feel more ease in your parenting journey.

Although parenting doesn't get easier, it also does.

Huh?

I'll get into the details of how this works in a moment, but the short answer is that parenting won't get easier if you get caught up in the narrative of how "easy" parenting should be every moment of the day.

That's just not reality. Parenting can be truly be exhausting. We need to shift our perspectives and our expectations.

Truth be told, many "mainstream" parenting practices have set us up to fail.

They've given us the false perception that if we just do x, y, and z, we can parent on auto-pilot. We believe our two-year-old will be making their own gourmet meals every night and we'll never have to lift a finger if we've read the best parenting books and said "abracadabra."

If only, right?

Still, we don't have to settle for the inevitable difficulty of parenting, because parenting truly doesn't have to be so very challenging all the time.

We start by checking our mindset and getting curious about our kids' natural development

A big shift happens when we explore two key concepts that make parenting easier. Perhaps surprisingly, though, they're not about what our child is doing.

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When parenting gets easier largely depends on us. Specifically:

  1. We examine our mindset. The way we think about our children matters. The good news here is that we can train our brains to see our kids in a positive light, no matter their age or developmental stage.

    As part of our mindset work, we can also work on our family of origin "stuff" so that we're not carrying forward any pain or trauma that our children don't need to inherit from us.

  2. We get curious about our children's authentic experiences, from their perspectives. Once we stop "thinking like adults" and put ourselves in our children's shoes -- and strive to understand what's going on for them socially, emotionally, and developmentally -- it can make a whole world of difference.

Being ready to see things from a different perspective directly affects what makes parenting easier.

This is paradigm-shift parenting for a better relationship with our child, forever, and not waiting for our experience to magically be "easier." There's no snake oil for this. We've got to emotionally invest in self-care and compassionate, responsive parenting.

Once we do these things, our reward will be easier parenting.

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The "magical age" is when we choose to see our experience differently

How we choose to see our children and each different developmental stage directly influences our perspective of whether parenting is easy or hard.

I'll go through each phase separately, from the baby years to teenagers. You'll see that you don't need to wait for parenting to get easier. Easier parenting is within your reach starting today.

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When life gets easier for parents of babies

Whether you've just had your first child and they're only a few months old, or if you've got more kids than you can count, what makes parenting easier at the baby stage is a couple of things:

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When parenting gets easier in the toddler years

Toddlers start off with an incredible disadvantage in life, especially when we hear erroneous titles like "terrible twos" being bandied about.

Our mindset -- expecting these years to be "terrible" really can mess with our perspective. Our brains seek something called confirmation bias, which means "...the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values." (source)

In other words, a toddler might be delightful 98% of the time, but if we believe kids this age are "terrible," we'll look at the other 2% and our brains will essentially say, "See, I was right!"

The way we view kids matters, and the paradigm shift to make parenting get easier at this age is to realize the toddler is doing the best they can with the physical and emotional skills they've learned so far.

And it's really hard to learn everything you need to know about life when you're only a toddler. You're naturally going to get things "wrong" a lot, even if you have the best of intentions.

Yes, they can do more than they could when they were babies, but just because they're learning to walk and talk and do algebra (okay, just making sure you're paying attention), doesn't mean they can consistently behave at this stage as adults do.

The world is new to them, so rather than being hard on them because they seem to understand so much more than they used to, remember that the child at this stage is still mostly a baby in a slightly bigger body.

Play with them. Learn about them; have fun, and practice connecting emotionally. You're not only raising a child, but even more importantly, you're training yourself about how to show up for them.

Give them a whole lot of grace, and be kind to yourself while you're learning how to parent these young children.

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The three-year-old and older "big kids"

True, the skills are growing exponentially at this age! Children here are starting to have friends and early social relationships. They've been watching the world for a little while now and are figuring some things out.

Even more than toddlers do, however, they often push boundaries and actively work to figure out their place in their family and in other relationships.

The mindset shift we can make here to help parenting get easier is to realize that it's important for them to practice pushing back and "being defiant" at this age. And they're certainly not always defiant. Often, they're wonderful and joyful.

Psychologically, it can help to reframe "defiance" as "learning about how to set and receive healthy boundaries."

We should not only mentally prepare for some struggles (because we're humans raising humans, no fault of the child's), but even more importantly, continue nurturing our conscious parenting skillset.

If we haven't started already (and I hope we have), this is a critical age to learn how to earn and keep our child's heart.

Why?

Parents are the safe place our children must practice pushing back before they're in school and need to express their limits, likes, and dislikes with others.

If parents haven't "allowed" this developmentally normal pushback, children may learn that speaking up for themselves isn't safe, or that their voice doesn't matter.

Every child must grow up feeling that they're safe to express themselves, no matter their age. Our job is to model how to do it respectfully, by treating them with respect, first.

When we treat them with respect and accept that "talking back" is a life skill that they'll need in order to have healthy relationships (think of it as "speaking up!"), parenting gets easier.

As an aside, there's no magical age when respectful parenting is no longer the recommended approach to backtalk; we can always model grace and kindness. Those, too, are life skills. You'll see this come up again here shortly.

As a bonus, parenting gets easier during this age range because children are now potty trained (or, perhaps more accurately, have learned on their own). Not having to change diapers is a nice shift in lifestyle.

They've also likely learned some communication skills and are starting to learn empathy.

Easier parenting in the tween years

The tween years are wonderful insofar as we don't need to spend them dreading the upcoming teenage years, but instead, we have this magical age where we get to enjoy interesting conversations with children who still genuinely like to be with us.

They vacillate between acting sweet and "little," and being incredibly capable and competent on their own.

The mindset shift we can make here is to simply enjoy these years, rather than mourn the "little kid" time being gone, or fearing what's ahead.

In fact, if we want to further solidify our gentle parenting journey with our children, this is a fantastic time to do it.

Why?

Whether these children are in school or learning from home, they're likely facing bigger social challenges than they used to, or having bigger questions about societal issues.

Now is the time parents reinforce to our kids whether they should run to us with their problems, or run from us, instead.

If we prioritize connection at this age, they won't be left wondering whether we're really their "safe place" emotionally. We'll have less to worry about during the next phase if we've invested in our future teenager.

By now, they've learned how we manage stress effectively (or don't); they're learning whether we're the parent they can trust with their "big stuff" as it comes up.

Plus, they're still young enough that we can still have a lot of fun together before they move onto other things besides us as their primary entertainment.

Other important things to note:

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Easier parenting in the teenage years

Parenting the older kid -- specifically, teenagers -- really is a different situation entirely from raising younger kids.

Teens are often actively learning the practical aspects of what adulthood will be like, and practicing those skills with you.

Will they be able to negotiate? Push back? Speak up? (Sound familiar? They keep practicing this with you even beyond the early years, to be sure -- because it IS that important.)

They worry whether they'll be able to still rest in our love, and will we still give them a "safe place to land" even when they mess up?

Another mindset shift to consider is all our stereotypes about what it means to be a teenager. Are boys really "worse" than girls behaviorally, and is the teen daughter really "more dramatic" than necessary?

Absolutely not. When we explore what's going on for them mentally -- really wonder and get curious about their own perspectives -- we can learn a lot about how to support them during this time of rapid brain growth.

Here, our job is to practice active listening (here's a lovely read about how to do that), and to not be quick to "solve" their dilemmas. Listen first, and ask consent before giving advice. That "lands" much better with the teenager and helps preserve the relationship.

When does parenting get easier--for real?

Once we understand our mindset and get curious about our own upbringing, as well as that of our children, we learn that parenting getting easier is less about what our child is doing, and more about how well we're able to meet them with curiosity, compassion, and an open heart.

Every day, parenting is going to get easier. And harder. And back to easier again.

Once I realized this, and accepted that allowing parenting to get easier was about me and not really about my child, helped me accept a new perspective: the "magical age" was when I was a 45-year-old.

It was never about my child; it was about my perspective, and the many things I learned alongside my child. At that point, parenting really did get easier.

 

When we hear the term "highly sensitive child" (HSC), we may think about an anxious child or an intensely shy child who cries often or is easily overwhelmed. Although sensitive kids may exhibit those traits on occasion, you may be surprised to learn those aren't actually the hallmarks of most highly sensitive kids.

This article will dispel common myths about highly sensitive kids and give parents tools to support their children exactly as they are. I'll share the five important things you need to know later in the article. First, I'll define what sensitive means, and what it doesn't.

To be clear upfront, though, know this: there's nothing "wrong" with high sensitivity. In fact, did you know that sensitive persons may have been instrumental to human survival?

Sensory processing sensitivity [more on this term in a moment] is thought to be one of two strategies that evolved for promoting survival of the species (Aron and Aron 1997; Wolf et al. 2008). By being more responsive to their environments, these more sensitive organisms have an enhanced awareness of opportunities (e.g., food, mates, and alliances) and threats (e.g., predators, loss of status, competitors), and thus may be more ready to respond to emerging situations. (source)

If highly sensitive people are partially to thank for the continuation of human existence, it's time we understand more about them--and help them thrive in today's environment.

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What is high sensitivity?

A highly sensitive person (HSP) or, in the case of children, a highly sensitive child (HSC) is:

"...a term coined by clinical psychologist Elaine Aron. According to Aron’s theory, HSPs are a subset of the population who are high in a personality trait known as sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS. Those with high levels of SPS display increased emotional sensitivity, stronger reactivity to both external and internal stimuli—pain, hunger, light, and noise—and a complex inner life." (source)

In other words, a highly sensitive child may literally experience the world around them differently than others do. They're often more aware of their environment and all that's surrounding them, from the lights in the room to the smells coming from the kitchen and the noises coming from outside. Sensitive people are often hyper aware of their physical surroundings.

Their emotional world may differ from others', too. A highly sensitive child is a deeply feeling child. Big emotions can be overwhelming for many HSCs. It does not mean they're "moody" or "difficult." In fact, highly sensitive people, including sensitive kids, sometimes feel all their emotions extra intensely, including the emotions most people perceive as pleasant, such as joy and gratitude.

Additionally, their self-awareness and empathy may also be greater than others', so they're often caring friends and are deeply loyal to their family members. Their empathy and loyalty can offer them some distinct advantages in friendships and other close relationships (source).

In short, there's nothing at all "wrong" with a highly sensitive child. In fact, they're invariably an exceptional child with traits that, if we take the time to understand how to support them well, we can frame as superpowers.

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The superpowers of the highly sensitive child

In addition to the empathy and loyalty mentioned above, most HSCs have greater self-awareness than others. They can sense subtle changes in not only their own emotions, but also in those of others. This can be a gift to their families in that they're often highly intuitive and can sense and adapt to the emotional tone of the room. They often come across as "wise beyond their years." This is especially true if they've received consistent emotional support early in life.

With this innate wisdom, they can often be a wonderful support to others. When they care, they care deeply. They may also be mature for their age, having picked up on and learned social cues from adults.

They may be cautious observers, sometimes seeming to hold back from larger groups while they gauge their safety, emotionally and otherwise. They often pay close attention to details, as well as the "big picture" of the world around them.

Are all highly sensitive kids introverts?

Many adults may have the sense that highly sensitive children are "wallflowers" or other less-than-flattering synonyms. However, not every highly sensitive child, or "shy" child, is an introvert (source). Perhaps surprisingly, few adults (parents, teachers, or otherwise) realize that 30% of sensitive children are extroverts. An extroverted child may be very outgoing and seem to thrive in busy environments, and still be highly sensitive.

Let's look at how a highly sensitive child who's an extrovert might perceive a situation. Although they might be outgoing and quick to play a game they don't know how to play in the spirit of making a new friend, let's say the other child laughs at them for not knowing the rules.

Although the child might've displayed extroverted characteristics in engaging boldly with someone new, that same outgoing child may deeply feel the insult. They may feel frustrated or hurt longer than some might expect, because the wound may run deeper than it would for some children. Extroverted children need as much emotional support as the child who seems to withdraw or be more introverted.

Why we shouldn't call highly sensitive kids "shy"

In addition to not every sensitive child being "slow to warm up," some can be hurt by labels. Mislabeling a highly sensitive child as "shy" can damage their self-esteem.

"...Labelling a child 'shy' means you're talking about who they are as a person, not just their behaviour. Children will often take others' observations seriously, especially those of the people they look up to..." (source)

Additionally, shyness is sometimes misconstrued as social anxiety. It's not.

"...Social anxiety disorder...involves the experience of anxiety and self-critical evaluation in social settings response to the fear of evaluation by others of one’s public performance. It has a greater disruptive influence on one’s social behavior than the experience of shyness..." (source)

Shyness isn't "bad," but as western cultures tend to value extroversion more, the label may prove damaging to the child. (source)

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Is having a highly sensitive child medically diagnosable?

Being a highly sensitive person means little more than having certain temperament traits common to sensitive people. It is not a medical diagnosis, although it can be measured medically:

[SPS] is a temperamental or personality trait involving "an increased sensitivity of the central nervous system and a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social and emotional stimuli". The trait is characterized by 'a tendency to 'pause to check' in novel situations, greater sensitivity to subtle stimuli, and the engagement of deeper cognitive processing strategies for employing coping actions, all of which is driven by heightened emotional reactivity, both positive and negative'. (source)

Interestingly, it is possible to measure greater levels of sensitivity in MRI scans (source). Moreover,

[SPS] is becoming increasingly associated with identifiable genes, behavior, physiological reactions, and patterns of brain activation (Aron et al. 2012). A functionally similar trait—termed responsivity, plasticity, or flexibility (Wolf et al. 2008)—has been observed in over 100 nonhuman species including pumpkinseed sunfish (Wilson et al. 1993), birds (Verbeek et al. 1994), rodents (Koolhaas et al. 1999), and rhesus macaques (Suomi 2006).

Highly sensitive pumpkinseed sunfish. Huh.

High sensitivity is increasingly recognized in the medical community, but it's not a diagnosis and needs no "fixing." Although that's great, we also need to know how this affects our day-to-day life in parenting.

How does a highly sensitive child experience life differently?

Being a highly sensitive person, whether child or adult, means feeling deeply. The "highs" of life may feel euphoric and joyful; the "lows" may touch on despair. Of course, a highly sensitive person will spend plenty of time in the emotional middle ground, too--but when they're inclined to feel something strongly, it may be amplified as compared with others' emotions.

As such, a highly sensitive child has a nervous system that can be easily overstimulated. They may be prone to expressing big emotions, because their nervous system is literally experiencing them as feeling bigger than those of other people.

Some highly sensitive kids will despise clothing tags, for example, because they find them uncomfortable. A less sensitive person might feel frustrated by what seems like "no big deal," but these kids are literally feeling them differently on their skin.

Not every highly sensitive child will care one whit about clothing tags, however. Each child's development is different, and sensitivity will show up in different ways for different people.

What it doesn't mean to be a highly sensitive child

Highly sensitive children do not, by definition, have any "disorder," including attention deficit disorder, and they're not necessarily more anxious than other kids.

Further, they don't grow out of it by a certain age, nor are they "problem children." In fact, many highly sensitive kids are extremely well behaved due to their self-awareness and extremely perceptive understanding of others' experiences.

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What "makes" a child highly sensitive?

High sensitivity comes from not only the same types of genes that affect other temperament traits, but also the child's environment:

"...genetic factors account for between 20% and 60% of the phenotypic variance in personality, which means that the remaining 80% to 40% of the variance is attributed to environmental factors. Clearly, the environment is very important to temperament." (source)

Does this mean parents "make" their children sensitive? Not necessarily. Environment is important, but genetics play a strong role, too. As an example, let's think about hair. If a blond-haired child spends a lot of time in the sun, their hair is likely to get lighter. Conversely, if they spend more time indoors, their hair isn't likely to lighten much. There's variation within the "blondness" that can be affected by environment.

At the same time, if you put a black-haired child outside, it's highly unlikely that their hair will get substantially lighter. Their genes simply don't allow for that.

When it comes to a highly sensitive child, we can influence their sensitivity through their environment, but we can't give them genes they don't have, nor can we take away the genes they do have.

Highly sensitive children grow up to be highly sensitive adults. How we support and nurture them, however, can help determine how effectively they manage their sensitivity, and whether they see it as a gift or a hinderance.

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What your highly sensitive child needs you to know

  1. Know that the highly sensitive temperament means the child will experience legitimately more intense emotions than nonsensitive children. Feeling emotionally intense can be both wonderful and difficult; higher "highs," but also lower "lows."

    As such, it's helpful to be emotionally attuned to their feelings. Something that might bother other kids only a little, for example, might be truly disturbing to sensitive kids. Check in. Validate what their emotional experience is, rather than projecting your own or assuming all children feel the same way about their experiences.

    Example

    A toddler was meeting her uncle for the first time. Her uncle, assuming this child was like his own children, attempted to bond with her by startling her with an unexpected "Boo!" The child, however, was more startled than he anticipated, and she burst into tears. She withdrew from him for the rest of their day together, which was the opposite effect of what he'd hoped would happen.

    Helpful hint

    In this example, the uncle could've paused to read the child's body language and see if she was advancing toward him with curiosity and playfulness, or retreating when he got closer, rather than charging at her with the "boo."

    Although toddlers aren't developmentally ready to regulate their emotions, we can work with older highly sensitive children on their emotional regulation skills. This is not to say we should stop anyone from feeling their feelings. Quite the contrary.

    Instead, we set them up for future success by teaching them what to do with their big emotions. This will help them immensely not only with their day-to-day existence, but it will also help them adapt in new situations as they arise.

  2. Your child will experience their surroundings differently than others will.

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    Example

    If a highly sensitive child is at a birthday party standing next to other children, hearing the same sounds and seeing the same lights, the highly sensitive child may literally experience those sounds and lights as being louder and brighter than the others kids do.

    It's important to have a proper understanding of the child's perception; they may simply be highly aware of their surroundings, and therefore, may need more downtime to compensate for all the sensory input.

    Helpful hint

    Be proactive about creating downtime before and after big-to-them events. Your child's nervous system will need the extra support and empathy for everything it's processing all at once. Your child may need more emotional support than some others do, including for some, more physical touch and words of affirmation.

  3. Your tone and emotional authenticity matter. A lot.

    Because highly sensitive children are often so in tune with their surroundings, they're likely to notice subtle changes many others might miss.

    Example

    Let's say you have a challenging day at work. You come home and are happy to see your family, but you've got some lingering stress. The highly sensitive child may pick up on this stress, but because you've only said that you're "fine," they'll pick up on the disconnect between your tone and your words.

    Younger children, in particular, may be prone to assuming that you're upset with them, even if it's not true. They simply don't know what else might be bothering you besides their presence, so they internalize the worry and their sense of emotional safety decreases.

    Helpful hint

    Imagine what they're likely to be "reading" in your demeanor. In age-appropriate ways, be transparent about what you're feeling so they don't assume they've caused you to feel upset. Further, you can model for them healthy ways of managing your stress so that they learn how to release their own struggles.

    Being authentic also helps the highly sensitive child learn to trust their intuition.

  4. Your child probably wants you to unapologetically advocate for them until they're able to advocate for themselves.

    Example

    Be aware of their school setting. Teachers understand that different children have different temperaments, and they can be aware that the highly sensitive child may not act quickly or feel emotionally prepared when pushed far out of their comfort zone. Instead, the teacher can help them ease into new situations by talking about them beforehand and showing empathy when kids are slow to warm up to new children, or activities, at school.

    If you homeschool or unschool, child-led learning often helps highly sensitive children thrive.

    Helpful hint

    Ask for your child's consent to speak with the teacher. If they give it, follow through. This doesn't mean "coddle" the child; it means support them.

  5. You aren't "making" a child be more sensitive by being responsive to their pleas for love and attention. Some family members may erroneously say things like "You're creating a mama's boy" or a "daddy's girl," but those are old clichés that serve no purpose . To the contrary, being responsive to a child's needs helps promote their independence. Responsiveness, along with attunement to a child's emotions and experiences, are proven to nurture secure attachments (source).

    Example

    Adults in your child's life may pressure you to be tougher on your child to "prepare them for reality."

    Helpful hint

    Remind those adults that we're raising children for the world we want. The gentler we are with children, the more gentleness they'll have to pass on to others as they grow up. Harshness breeds more harshness and disconnection. Kindness begets kindness. We are preparing them for reality if they grow up choosing friends and partners who treat them kindly and respectfully. They won't stand for less.

How we can help highly sensitive children thrive

The most important thing parents and caregivers can do for sensitive kids of any age is to accept them for who they are, without trying to change them or "toughen them up." In fact, if we try to make them tougher, it may backfire--causing them to feel less supported, and more insecure.

A highly sensitive child can be extremely secure in their sense of self, especially when surrounded by adults who celebrate and cherish their sensitivity. In fact, as they grow, they can share their gifts with others. Celebrate and support these kids exactly as they are.

Conscious parenting is connection-based parenting, where we prioritize relationship and mental health over parental dominance. Still, "conscious parenting" sounds rather funny, doesn't it? It's as if the alternative is unconscious parenting, and that's what I do when I'm asleep. That aside, there's a lot of confusion about what conscious parenting is and why it's such an important shift for parents and children alike.

One thing to know for sure, though: conscious parenting isn't a fad. It isn't going anywhere. In fact, I daresay it's changing the world.

What people get wrong about conscious parenting

Some people assume that conscious parenting is permissive parenting. Some even call it "lazy" parenting. Much to the contrary, conscious parents are well aware of the importance of healthy boundaries that are appropriate for the child's age. And parenting this way can be incredibly hard work.

A conscious parent often spends a lot of time in self-reflection, working to understand their own behavior and patterns from their family of origin. They also get curious about children's behavior to learn what's developmentally appropriate, how to be peaceful despite triggers, and how to raise emotionally intelligent kids.

This parenting style requires parents to look at the bigger picture of their relationships rather than addressing children's behavior only at a surface level. The parent works to understand the child's needs and underlying motivations.

Conscious parenting is not the "easy way out." In fact, practicing conscious parenting requires a much deeper level of support and self-reflection than do many other parenting styles.

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How does conscious parenting work?

1. We model respect rather than preach it.

As a conscious parent, we know that kids are going to emulate whatever they experience firsthand. If they experience respect, they'll have respect to pay forward. Children learn respect from an early age because we've been mindful about how we act towards them.

If kids live in a naturally loving home, they'll share that love with others. They'll act out what they know from their own awareness of what they've encountered in life, much more than what we teach through words alone.

Example of what it can look like:

Instead of, "Don't use that tone with me," we make sure we haven't instigated using a negative tone with our child. We're willing to look in the proverbial mirror.

2. We embrace emotional authenticity and welcome all feelings.

This does not mean we welcome all behavior; we still get to have healthy limits and loving boundaries. However, we accept all feelings as messengers. Additionally, we model what to do with those big feelings.

Example:

A child is having a meltdown. Rather than sending the child to their room, we might say, "All of your feelings are safe here" and invite them onto our lap for a hug.

Moreover, knowing emotions are messengers, rather than running from or avoiding them, we can ask, "What's this feeling here to tell us? What are we needing?" We get to the root cause of the big feelings (or big behavior) rather than just addressing it at the surface level.

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3. We use non-violent communication.

Naturally, in any relationship with other humans, there will be times of conflict. Conscious parenting does not mean everything will be perfect all the time (if only!). When a conscious parent feels upset, though, we don't take it out on our children. We work to avoid passing along our stress and unresolved trauma.

Instead, we model healthy conflict management skills and self-control. We avoid blaming and shaming. When we mess up, we fess up. We repair our wrongdoings and apologize.

Example:

Instead of yelling at a child for spilling their drink on our papers, we pause, take a breath, and remember that accidents happen. To our child, we might say (modeling emotional authenticity), "I feel frustrated about the papers, but I know it was an accident. Let's grab a rag and wipe up the spill together."

Then, we go about the task peacefully, using whatever calming tools the parent needs to avoid taking out our frustration on our child. We model emotional regulation and self-control.

Self-awareness and self-regulation skills take practice and certainly don't happen overnight. However, we're willing to muster the internal control to stay calm and peaceful.

4. We encourage self-expression.

Rather than trying to mold our kids to meet others' expectations of them, children are encouraged to be themselves and pursue their own passions.

Example:

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We might have a child who wants to wear yellow and green plaid pants with a rainbow shirt. Rather than telling them they look ridiculous, we realize that many children love expressing themselves creatively, including in their clothing choices.

We might choose to worry less about what people will think, and forgo the "cute" outfit we picked out because our child is happy.

5. We involve children in decision making.

Rather than giving children our unsolicited advice and expecting them to follow through in their life, we collaborate with them whenever possible.

Example:

Instead of, "I signed you up for piano lessons because it's important that you learn to play an instrument," we might say, "There are all sorts of benefits to playing an instrument, and I think you'd like it. Do any particular instruments appeal to you?"

6. We don't pretend to have all the answers.

The parenting choices we make intentionally usually requires a significant paradigm shift from believing that adults should control their children, to viewing effective parenting as a journey of growing up together.

Conscious parents rarely, as new parents, believe they naturally know what their kids need "because the parents are the adults and the children 'should' listen to them." Instead, they take cues from their children as individuals and tailor their support accordingly.

Example:

Although conscious parenting doesn't put children in the inappropriate position of leading or supporting their parents, we do model healthy vulnerability. We realize, when met with adversity, that it's alright to say to our child, "I'm not sure what to do here. Let's think about this together and come up with a good plan." We can be confident and vulnerable.

7. We're willing to do the inner work of conscious parenting.

Raising children really seems to come naturally to some parents, doesn't it? Although there may be some truth to that perspective, I've never met a conscious parent who didn't have some significant inner work to do. 

There are exceptions, of course, but many conscious parents are actively choosing a parenting approach that differs from that which they experienced growing up. Breaking generational patterns is not for the faint of heart.

Example:

Our own parents might criticize our parenting style and say we're being "too soft" with our children. Rather than caving under pressure and doing what other parents have done, we can be brave enough to say, "Thanks for the advice. I'm choosing a different path that feels right to me." This bravery requires that we show up for ourselves, questioning what we've known before and peacefully challenging it. Here are more ways to handle advice that doesn't feel right.

More about breaking generational patterns

If we want to be a better parent, we need to do better--in some cases, better than our family of origin. That doesn't mean we love our parents any less. It simply means that we have some new tools that perhaps they didn't know about at the time. Raising kids requires an evolution of knowledge.

Indeed, it can be incredibly hard work to break generational cycles and unhealthy patterns. Over time and with practice, though, it's absolutely possible. You're likely to find that conscious parenting actually results in reduced stress as a parent because there's more harmony in the first place. Through your peaceful example, you can absolutely help your child become the kind of person--kind, loving, respectful--that you want them to be. Punishment isn't necessary.

You'll help your child's sense of right and wrong grow because they're watching you as a role model. When we're mindful of our own emotions and behaviors, our children benefit.

Related mini-course: The World Is Tough, So Shouldn't We Toughen Up Our Kids?

Why punitive methods don't work

Most parents genuinely want to do well for their children, and if they're punishing them, they believe it's the best path to raising children who thrive in the world.

This is a tricky and misguided message, though. Many of these same parents were punished when they were children, and they believe they "turned out fine."

However, my compassionate inquiry is, "Is there something better than 'fine' to which we can aspire?" I address this topic more thoroughly in this article about spanking and punishments. In short, though, when we bring awareness to our children's mistakes by punishing them, the focus moves away from the teaching and into fear. We don't want to parent our child from fear.

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Why conscious parenting vs. other styles

There's plenty of research about parenting styles, and historically, the authoritative parenting style came out on top as being most beneficial.

Authoritative parenting encourages parents to offer high degrees of warmth while they also have high expectations for their children. Although that doesn't sound "wrong" at face value -- in fact, there's plenty that's right about it -- some parents focus too much on positive reinforcement tactics for the sole purpose of furthering their children's achievements. Some take the "expectations" part too far and the child gets lost in the process.

If we want our child to thrive, we need to couple that warmth with focusing on what's really important to them, rather than just what's important to us. A child's growth depends not only on warmth and direction from the parent, but also on the child's ability to feel a sense of self-agency (which means, "I'm in charge of myself.")

Conscious parenting considers and respects the whole child.

Why parenting books don't mention it

Traditionally, only the most commonly recognized parenting terms--authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful (explained here)--showed up in most books.

By contrast, however, we now have more terms than we know what to do with -- helicopter, snowplow, lawnmower, bulldozer, elephant, tiger, dolphin, positive, gentle, peaceful, respectful, and the list goes on.

Do the differences in nomenclature matter? When we're talking about conscious parenting, not really. There's no "quiz" you need to pass; there's no certain way you need to live your life on a daily basis.

My personal brand of conscious parenting is called peaceful discipline, and I've written a book about it. As far as I'm concerned, if you can your kids can both go to bed most nights feeling good about your relationship, that's the end goal. We don't need to overcomplicate it.

What children say about conscious parenting

I've heard from parents I've coached around the world that their children's lives are positively transformed by conscious parenting. Not only do they agree that conscious parenting works, but the children feel more connected, more joyful, and more peaceful toward their parents, too. Here's what my own child has to say about it.

How conscious parenting is changing the world

At the beginning of this article, I noted that conscious parenting just may be changing the world. When you have a movement of responsible adults who want to be better parents through connection rather than control, we create a more peaceful world. Peaceful parents raise peaceful kids. It's a virtuous cycle.

Although most children like going to school, it is a real fear for other kids. A fear of schools can escalate to avoidance or refusal, resulting in physical symptoms and missed opportunities for learning. Parents and educators may experience immense stress trying to fill the gaps.

This post will explore the five most common causes of school phobias. Most importantly, it will outline essential steps to help your child overcome school refusal and thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.

What is a fear of schools?

A fear of schools, known as didaskaleinophobia, is intense and persistent fear, worry, or distress over going to school. School phobia occurs most often in childhood. Didaskaleinophobia may develop in response to a traumatic event (e.g., bullying) or the anticipation of the event (e.g., returning to school after summer vacation).

Roughly 5% of kids say they feel afraid to attend school at some point in their academic journey.

What is school refusal?

School phobia may escalate to school refusal (commonly called school avoidance). Children may have difficulty completing a full day of school or even entering the building. In these instances, parents and educators should work in collaboration to:

  1. Identify the source of fear.

  2. Implement interventions and supports to help the child overcome their fear and access their education.

What are the signs & symptoms of school phobia?

School phobia can have a widespread impact on the lives of children and their families. Signs and symptoms in children may include:

Related post: How to Handle After-School Meltdowns

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What causes a fear of schools?

Children may struggle to identify or articulate why they are afraid to go to school. However, families and schools should work to pinpoint the underlying reason to help kids overcome school avoidance.

There are five primary causes:

(1) Response to a new situation or change in the school environment

In many instances, feeling afraid of school can be a normal, healthy part of development. We can expect many children to feel nervous for a short period when:

Note:  Young children who are already acquainted with their school setting can experience a brief period of separation anxiety seemingly out of the blue. Often, this is normal as kids become more aware of their environment and emotions as they grow and develop.

A change in a child's behavior always warrants a conversation about his or her fears and an effort to rule out other causes.

Also, note that Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) can emerge as early as third or fourth grade.

(2) Bullying & social problems

Victims of bullying often face school phobia and may avoid seeing their perpetrator(s).

Bullying can be physical, verbal, or emotional and can happen in person or online. If someone bullied your child, they may fear retaliation and might not want to report the problem to teachers or parents.

Another cause of school phobia is social problems. Kids might feel like they do not fit in with their classmates. They may also face significant worry about peers making fun of them (even if it has not necessarily happened).

Neurodivergent and LGBTQIA+ children and adolescents are at an increased risk for bullying and social challenges at school.

Related post: How to Raise Kids who Thrive

(3) Academic Stressors

Children may shut down in response to academic pressure placed on them by others or themselves. Avoiding school becomes a way to cope.

For example, kids may become overly worried about school work and grades, experience severe test anxiety, or worry about being seen as unintelligent by peers or teachers.

School avoidance can occur among low and high-achieving students. Children with perfectionist tendencies may fall into all or nothing thinking and avoid school when stress levels get too high.

(4) Fear of school shootings

Fear of school violence is a widespread concern, particularly among older children. This fear may spike after a personal trauma or national tragedy. A survey provided to teenagers shortly after the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida revealed:

(5) Underlying mental health causes

Kids with mental health conditions are more likely to fear school. An anxious child may even experience a panic attack over the thought of attending school. Underlying causes for school avoidance can include:

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 9% of children have received an anxiety diagnosis and 4% a depression diagnosis.

Unfortunately, mental health conditions are often further compounded by other school avoidance factors such as social and academic stressors.

Related: Watch interviews here with some of the world's leading experts on education and child development

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6 Key Ways to Help Your Child Overcome School Avoidance & Refusal

If your family struggles with school avoidance, you are not alone. Also, know that you are likely a phenomenal parent (after all, you're researching how to best support your child)!

Take a moment to breathe. Remind yourself you are doing your very best to work through a highly complex and challenging life problem.

Even if you don't know the cause of your child's school refusal, there are simple, actionable steps you can take to help them through their fears.

(1) Validate your child's feelings and perspective

Research shows that minimizing feelings or reassuring your child that things will be okay can worsen fears. Trying to convince your child to love school typically falls flat.

Instead, your child will be more likely to open up and try out solutions after they feel heard. Let your child talk more than you. Then, listen and answer questions.

Parent Response Examples:

Note: Validating does not necessarily mean giving in to school refusal. Trust your child and your intuition about how best to support them.

(2) Talk through a typical school day

Talking through each part of the school day with your child can help:

Ask open-ended questions and take ample time to listen. Avoid why questions, which can put kids on the defense. Note any changes in your child’s speech or body language as they talk about their life at school.

Parent Response Examples:

(3) Serve as a consultant in the problem-solving process

Rather than telling your child exactly what they need to do to combat their school phobia, brainstorm, teach and practice coping strategies* together.

*Research shows children who report using coping skills such as "controlling negative thoughts" and "remaining calm when angry" are more resilient during the early stages of school refusal.

Rather than giving quick advice, get curious about what’s on your child’s mind and explore potential solutions together.  Offer choices that encourage your child to gain control over their school day.

Parent Response Examples:

(4) Maintain open and honest communication with the school

Always be upfront and honest with your child's teacher and school stakeholders. Unless you're making the formal switch to home education, avoid strictly isolating your child from school.

Repeatedly calling your child out sick or staying home without seeking proper mental health treatment does not address the root of the problem. The more separated a child becomes from school, the more avoidant they may become.

Furthermore, if a student is flagged for truancy per compulsory school attendance laws, the stress on a family can grow.

Your child’s school would likely rather have you call and say, “I don't know what to do! My child is hysterical and refuses to get in the car,” than to be left in the dark. His or her teacher and school staff are there to help your child and family.

You can learn more about how to advocate for your child and maintain a peaceful parent and teacher partnership here.

(5) Assemble a home-to-school support team

If your child’s school phobia interferes with their ability to attend school on time each day or engage in learning, it’s time to partner with school staff.  

Teams should include an adult family member/parent/guardian and all relevant school stakeholders, including:

Always request the presence of a school mental health professional. As a parent, you may need help advocating against punitive disciplinary measures for mental health concerns, which can cause further emotional turmoil.

Teams should convene to discuss potential interventions to help your child through their fears and encourage regular school attendance. If age appropriate, your child may also benefit from attending the meeting (depending on the concerns).

(6) Seek outside professional help

School refusal can have serious consequences. It is essential to seek professional help if you suspect your child may have an underlying mental health condition.

If your child expresses suicidal ideation or threatens self-harm over going to school, maintain close supervision and seek professional help immediately by calling 911 or visiting your local emergency room, or contacting the appropriate emergency resources in your area.

If your child works with a professional outside of school, such as a child psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, or board-certified behavior analyst, they should collaborate with the school staff to develop a school refusal treatment plan.

Parents must sign a release of information form to allow outside professionals to communicate directly with the school.

The last thing you need to know about the school phobia

Supporting your child through the stress of not wanting to go to school can evoke intense feelings for parents. Frustration, heartbreak, and fears are common at any age.

Children quickly pick up and respond negatively to our stress levels as parents. Self-awareness of emotions, coupled with self-care, is critical.

I invite you to learn key ways to become a safe, calm space for your child through times of family stress here.

While processing your own emotions, strive to keep an open mind. Avoid comparing your child to other children. While their school phobia might seem irrational, empathize without judgment.

Remember, the most powerful parenting tool at your disposal is always unconditional love.

*

Guest Writer: Tana Amodeo

Guest Writer, Tana Amodeo, founder of suchalittlewhile.com

Tana Amodeo is a mother of two, former professional school counselor, Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator, and founder of suchalittlewhile.com. She has partnered with thousands of parents internationally to foster healthy social/emotional child development through foundational positive parenting tools.

References

The American Academy of Pediatrics. (2017, September 5). School avoidance: Tips for concerned parents. HealthyChildren.org. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/School-Avoidance.aspx

Bitsika, V., Heyne, D. A., & Sharpley, C. F. (2021, November 9). The inverse association between psychological resilience and emerging school refusal among bullied autistic youth. Research in Developmental Disabilities. Retrieved April 26, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34768056/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 4). Data and statistics on children's Mental Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html

Graf, N. (2020, May 30). A majority of U.S. teens fear a shooting could happen at their school, and most parents share their concern. Pew Research Center. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/18/a-majority-of-u-s-teens-fear-a-shooting-could-happen-at-their-school-and-most-parents-share-their-concern/

How can a behaviorist help my school Avoidant child get back to school? School Avoidance Alliance. (2021, August 9). Retrieved April 26, 2022, from https://schoolavoidance.org/how-can-a-behaviorist-help-my-school-avoidant-child-get-back-to-school/

Knollmann, M., Knoll, S., Reissner, V., Metzelaars, J., & Hebebrand, J. (2010). School avoidance from the point of view of child and adolescent psychiatry: symptomatology, development, course, and treatment. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 107(4), 43–49. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2010.0043

Separation Anxiety Disorder in Children. Cedars Sinai. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2022, from https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions---pediatrics/s/separation-anxiety-disorder-in-children.html

Separation Anxiety Disorder in Children. Stanford Children's Health - Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. (n.d.). Retrieved April 26, 2022, from https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=separation-anxiety-disorder-90-P02582

Sorin, R. (2003). Validating young children's feelings and experiences of fear. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 4(1), 80–89. https://doi.org/10.2304/ciec.2003.4.1.8

The University of Exeter. (2019, February 27). Child anxiety could be factor in school absences. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 26, 2022 from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190227191056.htm

I'm here with a message that I never wanted to cover: how to talk to kids about war.

This is a scary time for many of us. I'm unsure whether it's more frightening for kids -- who know little about war -- or for adults, who, frankly, may also understand little about this devastating topic, but who know enough to understand its terrifying ramifications.

We know one thing for sure, though: children are going to hear about it. It will come up at school, on the playground, and in adult conversations they overhear.

Part of the tragedy, of course, is that as a society, we were already deeply enmeshed in a mental health crisis. Even before the recent events in the world, 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) had diagnosed anxiety; 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 1.9 million) had diagnosed depression. They certainly didn't need the fear of war on top of this.

If we want to help safeguard children's mental health, we need to take action immediately.

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How to Talk to Kids about War

We can mitigate children's fears by doing these six things to support our children:

  1. Be proactive.
  2. Give children honest answers tailored to the child's age and level of sensitivity.
  3. Limit media outlets (and media consumption) in general.
  4. Avoid stereotyping groups.
  5. Let children process at their own pace.
  6. Find the safety all around you.

I'll expand on each of these ideas below.

Be proactive

Who would be safer than you -- your child's special and trusted adult -- to tell your kids about the war? Just like with the "sex talk," you don't want your children learning about it from the Internet, or on the playground from older children, or from a neighbor. You want to make sure they're getting accurate and age-appropriate information, to the best of your ability.

Furthermore, many children, even if they haven't yet been told about the war, already know something's up.

How?

Children learn early on what it looks like when we're stressed or worried. They pick it up from us. Chances are, if you've been carrying anxiety this week, you've been projecting it to some degree (which is only human). We're not robots, no matter how good we are at masking our fears.

Personal note: I used my stress as the segue to bring up the topic to my own child, who's eight years old. I sat her on my lap and told her, using a book as a makeshift globe, that a war had started on the other side of the planet. I said that because I was feeling sad and anxious about it, I wanted her to know so she wouldn't wonder why I was upset. I also told her that I wanted her to hear it from me first because I know I'm her safe place emotionally, and that she'd likely hear others talking about it.

Modeling emotional authenticity is important, albeit without terrifying our children. Even for kids, it's disconcerting to know something's bothering a loved one without knowing what it is. Kids understand when we're being disingenuous. When we help them make sense of what they're sensing, it grows their emotional intelligence.

Naturally, you'll want to tailor your message to your child's age and level of sensitivity.

Give children honest answers

What we know from brain science is that humans like to have complete information; we want to make sense of our stories. It's part of forming a coherent narrative. We struggle with ambiguity, and in the face of ambiguity, it's human nature to guess what might happen.

War is not a time for guessing. Children and adults alike are often drawn to worst case scenarios, so unless we're careful, we can get further caught up in a vicious cycle. Unchecked fear only begets more fear.

You know your child best, so trust your judgment on how much to tell them. It's generally advisable to start small -- bite-sized chunks of information. They'll ask if they want to know more. If they start asking questions to which you don't know the answers, be honest.

Lest the aforementioned ambiguity raise stress levels, tell them what you do know for sure: "I love you. I will do everything in my power to keep you, me, your stuffed animals, our pets, and everyone else safe. Whatever comes up, we'll deal with it."

Note that I did not say, "Whatever comes up, we'll be okay," because we cannot guarantee things will turn out fine. "We'll deal with it" is more accurate, and frankly, more empowering.

Limit media

Let's be real -- children watch lots of screens these days, and we don't always know what they're seeing. Even if they're playing something benign on our phone while we're otherwise engaged, who's to say a fear-invoking notification won't pop up for them? It's easy to get news they didn't ask for.

Furthermore, even if you're allowing some media (as most of us do), we want to avoid violent or upsetting images. Personally, I'm choosing to keep the television off for the foreseeable future, save for my child's cartoon channel. I decide when to look up the latest news while she's not watching. Media is designed to be attention-grabbing. Most children will do much better if they're not caught off-guard by stressful images.

Avoid stereotypes

Remember that people around the world are all just people like us: moms and dads holding newborn babies; children playing at playgrounds; siblings squabbling. Somewhere, right now, a child on the other side of the world is sitting on their mama's lap and reading a story. We do not want to portray them as bad people, or raise concerns that "the enemy" includes entire populations.

Very few of us would want to be defined by the actions of our country's leaders, no matter how much we may (or may not) respect them. We are all our own people, and in some cases, the people of a country vehemently disagree with their leadership.

As a result, it behooves us to avoid saying things like, "the Russians..." or anyone at all. Surely, not all citizens of any country reflect the beliefs of their leadership.

It's unfair to stereotype. It breeds nothing but unfounded hate and fear. Xenophobia is real and all too prevalent.

Explain prejudice to your children, and talk to them about how some people will target people who "look" like the enemy for bullying or other unkind behavior, even right here in their very own communities. Tell them that it's wrong to do this.

Model kindness and acceptance. Teach tolerance. These families are very much like ours, save for speaking other languages.

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Let them process at their own pace

When I spoke with my own daughter about the war, she seemed to do alright with the discussion. If anything, she seemed relatively indifferent -- at first. Later that day, she had a massive emotional release, undoubtedly related to the stress she was now carrying.

We can't force children to feel their feelings. Many children tend to internalize new information and process it for awhile before their true reactions show. Children may seem fine initially, but have intense reactions later. Delayed responses are known to happen with trauma. Perhaps your child hasn't experienced trauma from war directly, but the very concept of war is, at the very least, jarring.

Watch your child for physical symptoms of stress, such as ongoing trouble sleeping, persistent upsetting thoughts, or seemingly inexplicable physical aches. Especially for young children, tummy aches are a common symptom of anxiety.

It's also common for children under duress to have increased bouts of suboptimal behavior. We all process stress differently. Expect that news of a war, or violence of any kind, is going to affect your child's executive functioning skills. They may "regress" a bit, perhaps be more reactive, or show other signs of internal strife.

Even if your child's struggles don't seem to be connected to discussions about the war, know they likely are connected. Give kids grace; a minor upset that turns explosive may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Their stress is real, and it's extremely important to lean in and offer connection to our children rather than punish them for subconsciously expressing their anxiety (even if it comes out in challenging ways).

Be proactive about helping them process. Older kids will benefit from writing stories about their feelings; younger children may be more comfortable drawing pictures. At the same time, you don't want to bring war to the forefront of every conversation. As the adage goes, let them be little. Play is the most natural form of childhood stress relief.

If you're concerned about your children, you'll never go wrong by engaging the support of a qualified mental health professional. Normalize getting extra support from other adults who are trained to help.

Find the safety all around you

Finally, lean into a predictable routine of proactively finding and creating emotional safety in your life. Safety has very little to do with what we say, and much more to do with how we are around each other.

If your child typically releases stress through group activities with friends, go do those. Does your child want to climb trees and play in nature? Great. Do they want to sit on your lap and read stories all day? Perfect. If your family prays, pray together. If you do loving-kindness meditations, do them now.

Personalize safety for your children by being cognizant of what works for them. This is a time for greater connection in whatever form it takes. Above all, they need you.

Lean into each other. We have each other. Even in the midst of turmoil, we can create a sense of safety from within.

Whatever happens, we'll deal with it.

Love like Jesus: 4 Ways to Let the Spirit Move Your Parenting

How in the world are we humans supposed to love like Jesus? The notion is daunting, especially those of us who are parents. I mean, he's JESUS! Isn't that bar a little high for the rest of us? Parenting is hard sometimes!

To be clear, I am not asking you to BE Jesus (that position is already filled, thank God). Instead, I challenge you to love like Jesus by inviting the Lord into your parenting. With God's help, we can parent without damaging our children -- and bring our kids closer to the Lord in the process.

How to love like Jesus

As Christian parents, one of our priorities is to help our children actively feel Christ's eternal love. We can do that by:

  1. Being truly present in our children's lives.
  2. Remembering that we are God's living disciples to our children.
  3. Believing and acting as though our children are God's children, and therefore, they are not our enemies (even when it feels like it). We're on the same team.
  4. Forgiving like Jesus, praying like Jesus, and walking as Jesus did in his daily relationships.

I'll explore each of these below.

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We can be fully present (more often).

Let's be real: being fully present is hard. We live in a highly distractible society filled with an exhaustive list of things to do each day. It's easy to get so immersed in our over-scheduled lives that we lose sight of the importance of being in Christ-like community with one another -- including with our children. I'm certainly not shaming you for this; I'm right there with you.

It's easy to slip into focusing more on the minutia of parenting instead of pondering how we can bring perfect love to our relationship. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just order up some Christ-inspired simplicity from Amazon and call it a day? Curbside delivery for a moment's rest, maybe?

If only.

God really does put the onus on us to do the daily work of parenting, and indeed, it is definitely work. Perhaps counterintuitively, part of that work requires that we slow down.

How can we be more present to love like Jesus?

Take time to do "nothing" with your kids every day, even if just for a few minutes. That might look like reading together or snuggling on the couch. It might mean taking those few extra minutes at bedtime to learn about your child's friends or what's stirring in their hearts.

In doing so, we make room for not only the neutral- to positive emotions of running through our busy days, but also for whatever else they feel called to share when we let them be still, physically and emotionally. We must slow down enough to let them feel what they need to process, without their childhood going by in a blur.

(We must do this for ourselves, too, even when it feels like we can't -- God was serious about the importance of the Sabbath).

The point is that we're intentional about slowing down and truly hearing what's behind our kids' words; truly seeing them -- just like Christ does for us. Our kids children feel how God loves them in our quiet moments together.

Example of how to love like Jesus: "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." Jeremiah 29:12. Jesus isn't scrolling his phone while we pray to him. He leans in and listens intently. We can do this, too.

Will our kids feel the presence of the Father in the still and quiet moments of family time, or will they miss God's peace because we're all too busy with all the fun, all the challenges, and all the pitiful pleasures of a life without rest?

Example of how to love like Jesus: "Amidst the busy-ness of the crowds and an urgent pull to be elsewhere, Jesus slowed down and healed the woman who merely reached out and touched his cloak." (Luke 8:43-48) Jesus showed her she mattered by slowing down despite the distractions. We can be less distracted, too.

True presence is different than spending 24x7 together; it's about making sure we don't miss what's going on in our kids' internal world. In doing so, we nurture not only a secure attachment with our children, but we also create neurochemical reactions that reinforce our desire to be together.

Loving presence is a virtuous cycle. God designed it to be so.

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We are God's living disciples to our children.

When our kids look back someday how we parented them, will they have felt us bringing God's perfect love into our relationships, albeit in our innately flawed version of the heavenly ideal? Or will they have felt something less? Will they remember home as a physically and emotionally safe place for them?

Example of how to love like Jesus: "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." (Psalm 91:2) We can make our homes and our family life feel like a true refuge from the world; a safe place where our children learn that Jesus loves them perfectly and unconditionally. They don't have to do anything to "earn" our love.

We can further fortify the walls of our "fortress" by actively praying for our children. Moreover, we can pray with our children; not as an empty habit like feeding the cat or taking out the trash, but by praying when the Spirit moves our hearts. Yes, we can say grace at the dinner table, but it's more than that. Show your kids that God is with us in the big and small things.

Further, talk about faith by reading the Bible together; live faith by going to church; truly living the scripture and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). That means we model loving all our neighbors -- not just the ones we like, or who voted like we did, or whose skin looks like ours, or whose life choices we support. (And yes, some of this can be really hard.) God isn't picking and choosing who's in the cool crowd. He welcomes everyone who will have him. We don't get to model exclusivity.

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No matter the conflict, remember that our children are not our enemies.

If we want to love like Jesus, we need to remember that we're on the same team as our children. When conflict arises, it's not us versus them -- it's us AND them versus the problem we're trying to solve.

God's sincere desire is for families to stay unified for and through him. Because Christ loved us first, we love our children first. That means we wholly love and accept our child "just as they are" before we focus on their behavior -- even knowing they're going to mess up.

To love like Jesus Christ, remember that "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth." 1 Corinthians 13:4–8a (ESV) We're not here to exert power over our children or lead by fear; we're here to guide them peacefully.

Spoiler alert: we as parents mess up, too. Loving each other without resentment or irritability isn't a new commandment. God calls us to be peaceful in every love-based relationship, including those with our kids.

It may actually serve us well to wake each morning affirming, "My child is going to make mistakes today. They don't have the higher level brain functions that allow them to act like an adult yet, much less like Jesus. My child is going to be flawed -- and I'm going to choose to love them anyway. God loved me and invites me to rest in his love without having to work for it. I'm going to do the same for my child."

God's love proactively accepts our flaws; our weaknesses. To be clear, I'm not saying we should expect the worst of our children, nor am I saying all behavior is acceptable. My point is that we focus on the eternal and forgiving nature of God, rather than on his condemnation for our mistakes. We can proactively choose to be peaceful even when it's really darn hard. Peace is always an option in parenting.

God calls us to love our enemies, pray for our enemies, and forgive our enemies, so that we might bring them closer to Christ.

If we're struggling to love like Jesus in the ways the Bible asserts, we can focus on self-care, meet with a parenting coach, seek counseling, or find other ways to heal the parent/child dyad. Start with prayer and ask to feel the type of love that Jesus means for you to have with your kids. If requires vulnerability, but God will see us through it.

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To love like Jesus, we must forgive like Jesus, pray like Jesus, and walk as Jesus did in his daily relationships.

When we think about how to bless our children with the love of Jesus Christ, we must ask not only who Jesus would love, but also how he would love. Let's explore this.

Who Jesus would love

Sometimes we see our children making choices we believe are wrong. Perhaps its our child's choice of friends; perhaps it's the person they're interested in romantically. Maybe they're acting in a way that would hurt someone else, or not being a good friend to others.

Some parents' response to their children's decisions like these is to withhold love or support from their children until they "shape up." Our feelings of wanting to reject our children's choices make sense, because some of their choices are hard to accept!

At the same time, if we want to love like Jesus, we must remember that Jesus was kind to sinners. He ate with them. He spent time with them; he listened to their stories and loved them before he ultimately died for them. He didn't just give his life for the "small" sins, though, like, "I'll forgive people who get speeding tickets" or "I'll forgive people who occasionally use swear words." Much more than that, Jesus gave his life -- and his full eternal forgiveness -- to the worst of the worst. The Sinners with a capital "S."

Does that mean he accepted all their behaviors and didn't set boundaries with them? Of course not! We know from the Bible that he told them to sin no more. To "turn the other cheek" doesn't mean to turn a blind eye to problems. Our job as parents, however, isn't to send our children into an earthly version of Hell, full of pain and rejection for their transgressions. We can love them and prioritize the relationship in everything we do.

Remember, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21 ESV)

The Bible gives us a perfect example of parenting through "bad choices" in the story of the prodigal son.

In that Bible story, we all know the son messed up big time. The defining mark of this story, however, isn't the part where the father hands his son the keys to the BMW and says "Sayonara. Get out of here. Don't even think about coming back until you clean up your act." Instead, the focus is on the father's proactive forgiveness of his son -- knowing full well all the mistakes his son was actively making -- and welcoming his son back with joy.

To take this story one step further, when the son did come back, the dad didn't say, "Now, go to your room and stay there until I punish you." This dad, representing the joy of the Lord when sinners turn back to him, danced and shouted happily and threw the kid a party! The point is the reconnection. The healing. The relationship.

There is no feeling of greater love than to be welcomed back with open arms -- and with a feeling of true safety. Jesus loved us this way, and we can love Jesus back by sharing his grace with our children.

Yes, we can have boundaries; and yes, we can uphold family values. When we remember how Jesus loved us first, though, even while we were acting like the prodigal son, we're reminded of his truth, his presence, and his grace. This story is not only a metaphorical story of God's love, but it's also very practical and literal parenting advice.

How Jesus would love

A common misperception is that, as disciples of Christ, we must punish our children when they transgress. I have yet to find a Bible story where Jesus sought out a sinner so he could punish or shame them. Instead, Jesus demonstrated compassion, even for the worst sinners.

Instead of making them feel worse for what they were doing, he met them with love and gentle, peaceful correction. He saw the struggling person within. His teaching modeled the truth of his peaceful nature. Consequences don't need to be punitive.

Perhaps most importantly, to be God's disciples and model Jesus' teaching, we must live by the Fruit of the Spirit. When we let the Holy Spirit guide our parenting, our children can feel God's grace upon them.

Example of how to love like Jesus: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23) This Bible verse does NOT go on to say, "...except when your kids are misbehaving, in which case, you should flip out on them and punish them. Go back to 'eye for an eye, baby!'"

Meet evil with kindness; model forgiveness of sins. When we go to God with our sins and sincerely ask for forgiveness, we know we have it. That was the point of Jesus' death on the cross; he died while we were still sinners. We didn't have to do anything to earn it.

We can meet our kids with grace and compassion rather than punishment and wrath.

ruthless elimination of hurry
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As John Mark Comer asked in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, perhaps we shouldn't ask, "What would Jesus do," but rather, "What would Jesus do if he were me?" When we invite him into our parenting -- the very toughest of the tough moments -- we can feel him calling us to offer grace to our children.

We can practice love in the way that Jesus modeled for us -- and that love endures eternally.

Indeed, love is a practice, and we're all going to struggle not only in our faith, but also in execution of grace-based parenting sometimes. Perfect and faultless love is God's alone. At the same time, when we go the extra mile to intentionally love like Jesus in our parenting, it gives us -- and our children -- practical ways to feel Christ's Word come alive in our homes. May God bless you and your family.

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