I’d like to share 21 helpful tips I’ve learned from parenting books that led to definite benefits when I adopted their suggested methods.
1. Discipline is about teaching the right thing to do, not about punishment
When we witness our children’s wrong behaviour, it is hard not to react before thinking about how we could approach the situation in a way that would enable them to learn.
Personally, I made this mistake a lot in the beginning whenever I was overwhelmed with parenting and eager to discipline. My anxiety would sneak up right behind me with the thought that I should not spoil my child.
Now, after close to seven years of parenting, when my children do naughty things, I focus on making them understand why their action is wrong and what would be a better alternative.
2. Children do not yet have sufficiently developed brains to process parents’ words the way we grown-ups do
Children are pretty good at expressing their needs and negative emotions verbally, and this tends to make us think our children have the capability to understand our explanations and instructions.
It took a long time for me to not take it personally whenever my children act as though they do not understand my words or ignore me altogether.
Later on, probing them as to whether they understood or not, I realized they did not even have a long enough attention span to listen to sentences longer than a few words.
Now, I use minimal words and repeat them, which makes for better communication than long-winded explanations.
3. It is better for children to express their negative emotions than suppress them
It was hard for me to hear my child whining and making irritated sounds at first. It put me in an anxious state of mind, thinking that I was failing my child.
After changing my mindset to see that my child was expressing his/her discomfort and that this is a good thing, it made me focus on figuring out the real reason behind the whining, rather than getting upset about it.
4. More often than not, children are actually confused about their true emotions
Children go through so many new experiences from one day to the next, and their emotions are also new to them. Young children especially do not understand why they are feeling what they are feeling. It is important for parents to name the emotions and explain them, to help children understand and cope with them.
For example, “I see you’re jealous because your brother is sitting on mommy’s lap. I understand. But mommy is not holding the baby because I love him more. What if you sit near mommy and help me feed the baby?”
5. Children often do not know how to express their thoughts properly
Young children often throw things, kick, and scream when they are frustrated with something.
When a child is overwhelmed with emotions, they cannot process the flood of sensations in time to express their situation verbally. So it is important for parents to model this for them in the beginning so our children can learn.
I call it “mind-reading” – and it often calms the child, since they feel understood.
For example, “I see you can’t open the bottle lid. It’s hard, and that’s frustrating, isn’t it? Next time, let’s try saying, mommy can you open the lid, please? Let me see, I’ll help you. Oh, it is really tight!”
6. Each child has a distinct personality with different needs
This may seem like stating the obvious in a way, but it was hard for me to accept the apparent unfairness of fulfilling the different needs of each child.
So, my daughter only feels loved enough when she is cuddled on my lap, while my son wants one-on-one play. But when I cuddled one child more, I thought it was unfair. Since then I’ve come to realize I am only giving each child what they need, a bit like raising different kinds of plants. Sunflowers need lots of sunlight, but mushrooms thrive in the shade. The only thing that matters is that they each get what they need to feel loved and grow up healthy.
7. The best way to teach a child is by modelling behaviour
Some parents ask how to make their child read more books. All I do is provide enough interesting books to my child where they can easily access them, and then I read while they are playing. Sooner or later they come near me to check out my book and ask me to read to them, or flip through their own books.
8. Even your biological children do not necessarily carry the same characteristics
You know the old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” But after having more than one child, I’ve learned the apple tree can produce completely different shapes and flavors of apples.
Even though my child does not share my personality or temperament, it is simply who she is. There is no reason to wonder why she couldn’t be more like me. Even though our children might have traits that are not easy for us to accept, they are likely to have many other characteristics we can admire.
9. No matter how much love and care you pour into your children, they are bound to say and do things that hurt your heart. Your child is not someone who belongs to you but coexists with you
It was hard for me to separate myself from my children. After all, I carried them inside me for nine months. How could I imagine them not thinking the way I do and having absolutely different personalities?
But, it happens. Our children do not belong to us, they coexist with us.
10. Physical punishment is more about expressing your own anger than teaching your child a lesson
Even when our children ignore our warnings and instructions and throw hard toys that hit their siblings and even cause injuries, if we raise our grownup hand to slap that little hand, it is not a true punishment, but lashing out with our own frustration and anger.
There are typical excuses that follow our actions, for example, the child should also feel pain, or he will remember better if he feels pain.
The fact of the matter is, the child will not remember their own action for long, but they will remember their pain in connection with your anger, possibly for years to come. Discipline is not about punishment, it is about teaching what’s right.
11. Do not set your own expectations and dreams onto your child’s shoulders, but listen to their needs and help them reach their own dreams
Your unfulfilled dreams have to remain with you. You should never try to achieve your unfulfilled dreams through your child. Your child has his/her own dreams and goals.
Unless your child shares the same dream, forcing him or her to walk the path you failed to stay on will only bring unhappiness to both of you.
12. It is okay to let your child witness that you have emotions and express them. They need to know that they can hurt your feelings as much as they make you unbelievably happy
That is not to say we parents should lash out in anger at our children, but it is okay to express our negative emotions.
As a new parent, I was afraid to show my negative emotions in front of my child. This was especially hard when I was going through multiple miscarriages. As though my sadness might be contagious, I wore a smiley mask in front of her. I did not want my daughter to feel what I felt, and was afraid to upset her.
If I could go back to that time of my life, rather than try hard to fake my emotions in front of my child, I might say, “Mommy is sad today. Sometimes mommy cries when I feel really really sad. And crying is not a bad thing. It is just a way we let out our sadness. But mommy is less sad now because you gave me a hug and a kiss. Thank you.”
13. As long as you are not putting an unfair burden on your child, it is okay to show how hard you work for your family
We might think children should grow up in blissful sunshine to be happy and kind people. But the reality is they have to learn about the real world to thrive outside the home. To do that, they have to understand the family’s dynamics and general state.
Of course, we are not talking about babies and toddlers in this context. But children who are big enough to understand emotions should witness your struggles and hard work. This will actually help them to understand and relate to you more, as another human who fails and learns from their mistakes.
14. No matter how much you want to teach the right thing, there is always a way to do it without hurting their feelings
When we see our child behaving inappropriately, it is normal for us to experience our blood pressure going up along with our voices. But I learned that I as a parent have to regulate my own emotions to a civilized level when I want to teach my children. If we are emotional we often miss our own point, and the message gets garbled along the way.
15. Children are much more capable of doing things by themselves than we think
We watch our children from day one, when they are one hundred percent reliant on our help. So it is hard for us to realize that, sooner than we would think possible, children begin developing a host of skills that allow them to handle more and more things independently.
Not only that, if we restrict our child’s freedom too much, we take away their chances to discover new things, which actually delays their development.
So, give your children more opportunities. It could be something as small as putting their shoes on or buttoning up their clothes – no matter how long it might take. These little tasks will soon lead to bigger undertakings, like helping the family by setting the table, taking out the garbage, or mopping.
16. Praising is better than pointing out their bad behaviour
Focus on their good behaviour. Of course, you still have to teach when they do the wrong thing, but many times they already know this, since you’ve probably already explained more than enough – they are just unable to control their behaviour.
Instead, focus on their good behaviour and put more time and effort into praising them and making positive comments. They will see the positive effect and inherent rewards of doing positive things, and be less eager to waste their energy doing bad things that they know will get them in trouble.
17. Children might repeat the same wrong behaviour 1000 times before dropping it
Embrace yourself with endless patience. Watching your kids do the same wrong thing repeatedly is not an easy matter, but it is important to keep in mind that that is expected child behaviour.
The good news is, this means you do not have to raise your voice and exert yourself to explain the same thing each time. Just remind them, “We don’t throw hard things” while maintaining eye contact to hold your child’s attention for a few seconds, and move on.
18. It is okay for your picky eater to not eat everything you like to eat
As long as your child is getting all the nutrition they need, how they like to eat should not really matter, and you should not sweat it and get stressed out trying to correct it.
Just focus on nutrition and deliver it the way your child likes to eat, while consistently introducing new styles of food as options, remembering to keep it absolutely pressure-free.
19. Quality time is better than quantity when you spend time with your children
Since we juggle so many things as parents, it is hard for us to have enough time with our children. It is easy to think that staying in the same house amounts to the same thing as spending time together, which is not true. We are all struggling with limited time, but in a way, this is good news, since children appreciate quality time more than the quantity of time with their parents.
Set aside even just five minutes’ worth of your full attention, with as many cuddles and kisses as you can fit in, listening to their stories and asking them questions.
20. Children learn through the five senses, and nature play exposes them to all five
It means you do not have to register your child for a pile of activities while your wallet keeps getting lighter and your stress level keeps getting heavier.
The best place for children to use all five senses is outside in nature. Take them out as much as you can, and just let them run around and learn using their five senses.
21. Kids grow each day and they will not stay the way they are
It might feel as though your struggle to teach and raise your kids is a never-ending cycle when actually, your kids are growing and developing rapidly. They will not wander around the table at a Thanksgiving dinner in their 20’s, and they will not scream and kick their feet in their teens because you picked the wrong colour mug.
Let’s enjoy each moment with our fast-growing children and focus on building good memories to look back on when they become your age.
These are 21 things I have learned from reading so many parenting books to calm my hyper-attentive Type A personality. These insights have helped me so much to grow as a mom, and I hope they afford you a sliver of wisdom on your own parenting journey.