Principles of Parenting

If you're not having fun parenting, then you likely have unnecessary conflict. Connection based parenting leads to greater happiness and less conflict.

There are two basic rules in parenting that help guide us to making the right choices.

  1. Parenting should be fun
  2. At all times aim for connection.

If you’re not having fun parenting, then your child isn’t having fun being parented – which leads to unnecessary conflict. Some conflict is necessary, but it’s a lot less necessary than most people think. We’ll talk about discipline later. For now we want to focus on the second point. Connection.

There are dozens of different parenting ‘styles’ out here. They tell you what to do and how to do it. They create a list of rules that are hard to follow because your situation never really matches the one they present.

I want to show you how to figure out for yourself how to be the kind of parent that enjoys parenting, enjoys their children, and enjoys who they are through all of it. 

There are 7 principles to remember. These principles will help guided you to making the choices that’re right for you and your family.

  1. Know where you stop and your child begins (and vice versa).

    Sounds basic, but this is where the majority of parents get hung up. Parents often try to make their children happy. Make them stop being sad or stop being angry. They do this for a variety of reasons – after all who wants to be around a screaming toddler (let alone a screaming 6 yr old or older)?

    If in doubt, don’t even comment on the emotion, rather sit in loving kindness with your child while they scream. Prevent harm, but do so while projecting love.

    When my 4th child was young, he’d often become very angry when he didn’t get his way. This could look like throwing things, smashing things, hitting or kicking people. I have scars from where he scratched me when he was really angry.

    If my intent was to make him stop or make him happy, then I could’ve given him what he wanted (in the long run this leads to increased volatility and distrust).

    If my intent was to make him stop his behaviour, then I could’ve punished him.

    Because my intent was to help him learn how to regulate his emotions while learning that those emotions are okay, I approached him with loving kindness.

    This means that even though I didn’t like the behaviour, I recognized that his behaviour wasn’t who he was and also wasn’t a reflection of who I was as a parent. I was calm, repeating over an dover that I love him.

    “I know this is hard. Those emotions are so big and so scary. I love you. I’m here.”

    This doesn’t mean letting him behave the way he wanted though. When he started scratching or hitting, then I’d hold him with love.

    “I know you’re angry and frustrated. These emotions are so big and hard to hold onto. I love you. I’m here. I won’t let you hurt me. I love you even when you’re angry.”

    It’s not always easy to hold onto loving kindness. When my children want something that I can’t actually give them, I want them to be happy despite not having what they want. It feels so personal when they remain disappointed.

    When I notice that I’m upset at their emotions, I acknowledge it. “I’m sorry. I’ve been rying to make you change your emotions so that I can feel more comfortable. I wish the situation wasn’t like this. That still doesn’t make it okay for me to try to control your emotions like this.”

  2. Trust that your child always has a positive intention. This can be tricky to see at first because as adults we think a positive intention must be related to other people. Our children are excellent at looking out for their own wellbeing – much better than adults often are.

    When acting up or out in some way our child is trying to meet a need they have.

    Their behaviour has a positive intention for themselves. But it’s also possible that they can have a positive intention for others as well – even if the result ends up not going according to plan.

    When my oldest, E, was about 3 and her younger sister, A, was about a year old, E pushed A down the stairs. A landed with a sickening thud onto the concrete at the bottom of the stairs.

    She was screaming and crying, and didn’t move for far longer than I thought my heart could handle. After I knew she was okay enough. I wanted nothing more than to scream at E. I wanted to hit her. I wanted to hurt her. I hated her in that moment.

    She was always hurting her younger sister. There was often bloodshed and so many tears. I wore A around the house to protect her from her older sister. I was in anguish.

    This moment changed my life. I had brief glimpse of what would happen if I spanked my preschooler. I wasn’t sure I’d stop. It terrified me.

    For the entire year after our second was born I struggled with parenting. I struggled with my emotions.

    This moment was when I first realized the advice I’d been reading could work. I looked at the situation from my daughter’s perspective. To her, her younger sister was always getting into her stuff. The baby got extra cuddles, the baby got extra attention, the baby took her toys, and in this case, the baby was following her into the basement which had been off limits before this.

    E tried to take herself to a space where she could calm down. But A followed. Suddenly E had no where safe from her sister. She was 3. She didn’t think. She didn’t understand the consequences of her actions. She just pushed.

    After A calmed down and was safe. I hugged E and we talked. I said, “It looks to me like you wanted space by yourself and didn’t know what to do when A followed you?”

    The look of surmise on her face will never leave me. She broke down sobbing, “You understand!?!”

    We hugged and I assured her I did. Then we talked about how she could get the space she wanted. And what to do next time her sister wasn’t giving her that space.

    One small moment where she knew that I didn’t think she was a bad person and her trust in me grew. She’s 16 now and hasn’t pushed anyone down the stairs intentionally in 13 years.

    Over the years she’s had many moments to test my ability to remain calm and open. Each time I trust her intentions her trust in me grows.

  3. Our children need to be the masters of their own fate. We need to be their navigators. So often parents try to force children to develop specific behaviours or interests because we have our own ideas and intentions. This leads to our children pushing back against us in order to maintain their own sense of self.

    Asking specific types of questions can help our children explore their thoughts, ideas, and behaviours so that they’re better able to move toward their own goals.

    When they believe we’re on their side, they’re more likely to work with us and do what we want as well (for instance washing the dirty dishes).

    Often we get hung up on performance in some way. We want our children to have better grades, to practice piano, to be part of a team, or any other goal that comes from us vs them. If we want our children to achieve a certain goal, then we need to help them understand why it matters to them.

    Future achievement related to our goals (university, ‘good’ job, etc are our goals not theirs) will not inspire them. Those feel like coercion instead.

    We can provide information that can help them make their own decisions, but we need to trust that their intentions are good. When we can give voice to their positive intentions, then they’re more likely to listen to us.

    Both my 14 and 16yr olds do their own laundry. They want their laundry done a certain way and at a certain time. I don’t go out of my way to do it that way though. With 6 humans and 6 animals in our home I don’t have time. They decided to start doing their laundry on their own. My 11 year old recently asked to start doing her own laundry as well. She discovered that if I don’t need rot do laundry for everyone, I’ll do my own laundry. This means she has fewer chores, but my load is also lighter. It’s a win for all of us, and zero force was necessary.

    This didn’t just happen though. It’s taken years of parenting to get to this place. If I tried to use force, then I’d have to continue to use force in order to get them to do the chores.

  4. Agree with our children. Our children want to know we love them and support them. There is always something we can agree with them about. We can agree that it really sucks that their sibling took their toy, that doesn’t mean we agree with hitting. We can agree that the homework assigned is pointless and doesn’t increase learning, that doesn’t mean we agree with not doing it.

    “You’re right. That assignment is ridiculous. It’s not like writing this paragraph helps you develop a better understanding of the material, and it doesn’t even help you develop as a writer. It is a pointless assignment. And I’ll support you with whatever you decide, but I’d like to know why you decide to take the action you take.”

    They may decide not to do the assignment because it is pointless. Our job isn’t to force them to do the assignment. Our job as parents is to help hem see the repercussions of that decision and possibly help them communicate that decision to their teacher.

    The younger they are when they make decisions like this, the easier it is for them to see the results without it impacting their grades when it matters.

    This allows them to be the one responsible for their own decisions, but we provide a safety net.

  5. Participate as fully as you expect your child to participate. This means you need to be engaged with the moment not looking in from the outside. If you’re in a different room, and hear your children fighting, then you need to approach the situation very differently than if you’re in the room interacting with them when things go sideways.

    Telling our children what to do, when we’re not even impacted by the decision at best feels disingenuous, at worst feels like manipulation, control, and distrust.

    Expect our children to be only as engaged and present as we are. If we tell them what to do from arms length, then they will disengage and also treat others in the same manner.

    The more I sit at my computer or use my phone, the less engaged my children are. They want us to participate in their lives, and they want to be part of our life. The more often we look at them and really see them – especially when we see them with joy, the more likely they look t us, see us, and experience joy.

  6. Seek and accept feedback about your parenting from your children. Seriously. This doesn’t mean you have to change the way your children tell you to, but they will give honest information that let’s you see their pain. A child that’s struggling will only have harsh negative feedback if they’re willing to share any at all.

    Respond with nothing more than, “Thank you for telling me. I want to think about this so I can understand your perspective.”

    Then really look at how your children’s perspectives are right. We can justify our behaviour all we want, but is it worth it if our children feel like we’re not on their team?

    There have been times in life where I know I’m not doing a good job as a parent. In my head I think I’m failing at everything. When I ask my children, they respond with only a couple small things. Usually, “You’re yelling a lot right now. I wish you’d be gentler.”

    Whenever I seek feedback from my children I discover they think much higher of me and my parenting than I think of myself or my parenting. It’s very humbling.

  7. Improve your parenting skills and support your children to improve the skills that matter to them. We enjoy life the most when we are challenged a little, but not too much. The same goes for our children.

    When people feel overwhelmed, then everything is harder and it’s harder to experience our emotions. There are specific areas of parenting that may be especially difficult. What skill might you need to improve to make that area a tiny bit easier?

    When we know we’re capable of improving, then our load feels lighter, even if the specific change has only been very small. The changes after that produce even bigger results.

    The same goes for our children. If they’re stressed about stuff at home or school, then all areas of life will be harder. Decreasing the stress in 1 small way makes all other areas exponentially easier to deal with.

    The aim is to bring yours and your Childs skills into balance with the level of challenge each of you face. If you’re facing big challenges in one area of life, drop as much as possible in other areas in order to focus on improving the skills necessary to face that level of challenge – or maybe drop the level of challenge in some way.

It’s unfair to expect a 10 yr old to behave the way you’d expect a 16 yr old to behave. 

Our goal as parents over all is to help our children grow up to be whole, functioning, adults. But that isn’t actually what we should focus on until our children are about 16/17. Instead we focus on smaller goals before that. Goals more appropriate to the age. It’s unfair to expect a 10 yr old to behave the way you’d expect a 16 yr old to behave. 

A toddler that’s allowed to run round at dinner doesn’t lead to a 10 yr old or adult that runs round at dinner. They’re so many steps in between that build on the skills so that the running toddler can become a child that sits calmly.

This is a small excerpt from a much larger topic. Feel free to ask questions and we can dig in. Your questions may lead to more posts or they may be answered in the comments.


Cohen, L. J. (2002). Playful parenting. Ballantine Books. 

The Bowen Center for the study of the family. The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2022, from 

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). The systems model of creativity: The collected works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Springer Science + Business Media.

Addiction expert, speaker and best-selling author dr. Gabor Maté. Dr. Gabor Maté. (2021, August 18). Retrieved October 22, 2022, from 

Sarah Langner

Sarah Langner

Sarah Langner helps invisible people become visible and works to build bridges between people, ideas, and ideologies. The sweetest part of my life is my family, my friends, desserts, and, of course, Disney World!

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