9 Parenting Words To Live By

When you think of parenting, what words and images come to mind?

For me it’s ‘love’, then ‘hugs’, ‘pride’, ‘joy’ and one more word that unfortunately comes with the territory: ‘worry’. (I admit I’m one of the deluded who believes that if I worry about something hard enough it won’t happen, but heck, it works!)

While I never need reminders to love, snuggle or worry about my kids, I make a point of remembering these less intuitive, but equally invaluable parenting words:


Our children are born thinkers, whole people at birth, and the good news is that once we’ve recognized this, we won’t need to remind ourselves that they deserve our respect — they’ll do that for us. Once we’ve opened our eyes, we can’t help but notice how aware our babies are of everything we do and say, along with every other detail of their world. They don’t miss a trick.

We’ll be astonished by our children’s natural abilities to communicate, explore and learn, and by how quickly they understand. What’s not to respect?

And now, thanks to researchers like Alison Gopnik, Elizabeth Spelke and Paul Bloom, there is overwhelming scientific proof that infants are competent, sentient people. I like to think that society will embrace this evidence (sooner than later) and that respect for babies may someday be a given, rather than a conscious choice to remember.


Trust is probably the word I use most on my blog and with the parents I advise, because I consider it the most vital parenting tool for raising healthy, self-confident, successful children from birth to adulthood. Two experiences I had this past week were vivid reminders of the value of trust:

While observing the toddlers in one of my weekly parent-toddler classes, I took particular notice of C, a bright, active 19 month old boy with a delightful sense of humor. C has only recently taken his first steps at home, but still chooses crawling as his preferred mode of transportation.

The realization I had observing C was that there was clearly something that crawling still had to offer him, whether that entailed muscle development, flexibility, cross lateral integration or who knows what, and he wasn’t going to stop crawling until he had gained all he needed to gain from it.

I see this as true for all young children in just about everything they do. Babies don’t roll to their tummies and stay there until they’ve completed the developmental work they need by moving freely on their backs. They don’t push up to their knees and crawl until they’ve learned all they need to learn from scooting on their tummies. Motor milestones aren’t only about new things babies are able to do – they are reflective of children finishing with what they were doing previously. And since the child is the only one who knows the perfect time for him or her to move on, all that’s left for us to do is respect that and trust.

Another recent reminder about trust came during my 11 year old son’s soccer tournament. I noticed that the standout players in my son’s highly competitive club were the ones whose parents generally keep their mouths shut during games, unless they have something encouraging to say. All these boys are exceptionally skilled, train hard each week and know what they’re doing. So their performance at game time is largely determined by their mental state, especially their level of self-confidence and focus, which are both hindered when parents direct or criticize them from the sidelines. These parents don’t seem to realize how much they are weakening their children’s performances by not trusting them to play their game.


Acknowledge’ is right up there with trust as one of the most invaluable parenting practices, vital to building healthy relationships with people of all ages. It’s relationship-affirming because it meets the other person exactly where they are, but it’s a difficult one to remember in the heat of the moment when the urge to calm or correct children can be overpowering.

While acknowledging is somewhat similar to empathizing, they are not the same. Empathy is often far too big a leap for us when, for example, our child is having a meltdown because another child bumped him slightly from behind. Acknowledging, “you didn’t like that”, can be our bridge to empathy, and it’s more rational and less emotional, so we are less inclined to overdo it (“oh, poor baby!”), projecting weakness and adding to the distress.


Less stimulation (kids are sensitive to it), less needless intervention (because we respect our children’s innate abilities), and less scheduled activities and busyness will usually add up to more learning, more self-confidence, more peace for parents and kids. Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne is an inspiring resource.


Want to learn everything you’ll ever need to know about your children? It’s simple: observe, observe, observe, and you will see what your kids are working on, which skills they are developing, their imaginations at work, their needs, passions, when and how to intervene rather than interrupt, and much, much more. When we observe we notice that a great many of our thoughts and feelings about our children have little to do with them and are actually all about us. Observing children play is enlightening, fascinating, surprising and immensely enjoyable. And how gratifying it must be for our kids to be appreciated and enjoyed.


Wait’ was infant specialist Magda Gerber’s magic word, because waiting is the secret to giving children precious opportunities to make their needs clear, demonstrate competence, and develop in their own way and time. It never ceases to amaze me when I discover that children really do understand my direction for them because I’ve waited an extra moment for the coin to drop. (I share many more details about the magic of waiting in The Parenting Magic Word.)


Like ‘wait’ and ‘less’, ‘slowly’ is crucial for connecting with our young children, because their pace is distinctly slower than ours. Slowing down our pace, our speech and our lives are the way we will let our children in, include and empower them.


Magda Gerber emphasized a similar term, “pay attention”.  The primal need we all have, especially our children, to be “regarded” is eloquently illustrated in this post by Lisa A. McCrohan: Regard.


Have I saved the most unpleasant for last? No, because I don’t perceive boundaries negatively, and one of my primary goals is to convince parents not to do this either. Boundaries are commonly thought of as this icky thing we have to do with children when they aren’t behaving properly, which is exactly the reason parents struggle with them.

Children are extraordinarily perceptive. They know that it’s easier for us to say, “okay, whatever, hang out with your friend even longer while I stand here pleading and the car’s running,” than it is to insist “come on, it’s time to go now” and take her hand. But at what cost?

As Magda Gerber explains in Your Self-Confident Baby, “Sometimes you may give in to your child’s requests. At others your needs may take precedence. When you are clear about what you want, do communicate your wishes to your child in a clear way. You may avoid feeling anger stemming from self-sacrifice.”

When parents perceive boundaries positively and then learn to provide them with confidence and ease, they notice that their children seldom react negatively, and when they do it’s not for more than a moment or two. Often, to our surprise, we can even sense our child’s appreciation beneath the grumbling. When our children’s reactions are strong and last longer, it’s usually because they have unconsciously (and brilliantly, in my view) created the opportunity to release some intense feelings they’ve been storing, or they’re overtired, or overly hungry, or didn’t really want to do whatever it was anyway and are seeking an “out”.

Our boundaries are the gifts that help children feel protected, cared for, empowered. They create peace and nurture our parent-child bond, because they help to prevent us from yelling at or resenting our kids. Boundaries keep the air clear, so everyone in the family can breathe more deeply. They are essential for our children to feel free, genuinely happy. Kids with boundaries are trusted and always welcome guests and companions. If that’s not positive, I don’t know what is.

“A positive goal to strive for when disciplining would be to raise children we not only love, but in whose company we love being.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect


I share many more of the parenting words and ideas I’ve lived by in

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting




Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I always tell my daycare kids what I expect of them before we leave the house. By setting the boundaries before going out gives them the confidence to know what is expected of them. I get many comments how well behaved the kids are.

    1. Exactly, Betty: “By setting the boundaries before going out gives them the confidence to know what is expected of them.” Sounds like you have a wonderful center.

  2. Another excellent resource (a parent’s bible!) is “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher” by Rahima Baldwin Dancy

  3. Janet, this is absolutely a “go to” for my clients who are parents – both in psychotherapy and in mindful coaching. Thank you for including me in this article. I’m sharing this with a client today and on the Barefoot Barn’s Facebook page. Janet, what you bring to light, again, are the qualities or “postures” that often get pushed aside — often just because we are busy and trying to just get out the door for school. But what you illustrate here are ways we can incorporate these vital and valuable and NOURISHING practices into our everyday life. A good reminder for me personally, too!

    Lisa A. McCrohan

    1. One of the great benefits of blogging is that while I’m writing or consulting, I’m reminding myself to follow my own advice! It’s made me a more mindful parent, wife, friend and teacher. Thanks so much for sharing this post, Lisa. I will never forget yours. It truly is one of the most beautiful and important pieces I’ve read. xx

  4. I only have 2 words: Respect and Trust. The rest can either be derived from those two words or are superfluous in my opinion. I like to keep things simple and if I could boil it down to one word, I would, but I can’t find a single word to replace those two. I’m someone who believes in universal truths. I’m a cheerleader for scientists who are looking for one unifying theory of the world.

    So, for example, I think acknowledge can be derived from respect. Boundaries can be derived from self-respect and respect for third parties.

    1. And just think, I could have written an under 500 word post for the first time ever! Seriously, Viola, I sort of agree. In fact, just one word: ‘respect’ or ‘trust’ would probably be enough because those practices are interconnected, too. We trust because we respect our capable child, etc.

      Personally, it helps me to be able to remind myself of some of the specific ways to respect or trust kids, for example, to slow down my adult speediness. I even notice when I am serving snack to the 12-month-old babies in one of my classes that my “slow” is still a bit too fast.

  5. As usual, Janet, some wonderfully important advice and tips. I

    My dad, who works in child advocacy and with organizations whose mission is to support healthy youth development, talks about 5 words (or phrases) that every parent should know and use (especially when faced with potential conflict with their kids): “No, Yes, Oh really?, Wow, and Whatever.” Although geared, perhaps, toward older children, using these words can help de-escalate any situation:

    Kid: Mom, can I stay out until 11:00 with my friends at the movies?
    Mom: No. That is past your curfew.
    Kid: You can’t be serious?
    Mom: Yes. I am serious. That is past curfew and we have rules about curfew.
    Kid: Every one else’s parent is letting them stay out past curfew.
    Mom: Oh really?
    Kid: Yes. I can’t believe you won’t let me. You are the worst.
    Mom: Wow. You must feel very strongly about this.
    Kid: I do. Which is why I’m going to do it anyway.
    Mom: No. That is past curfew and we have rules about curfew.
    …and so on…

    I create an extreme situation for illustritve purposes, and suspect that a child raised in an environment where your 9 words are used liberally would not necessarily react the way “kid” did in that scenario, but parents can never have too many tools in their toolbox!

    As always, thank you for what you do and who you are!

  6. Thank you so much for this – beautifully said.

  7. Thank you for this Janet. I am an adult educator at a massage therapy school. For many years I have been studying under our wonderful co-director whose initial training was as a montessori educator. So many of these principles are at the heart of our program, my teaching, and my life’s work. As a new firtst time mom it makes me so happy, and relieved, to know that I can be a good parent and raise a healthy, happy child by utilizing what I already know.

  8. Love this piece, Janet. It says it all. I would suggest that one word encompasses it all, “respect.” Trust comes from respect. This word is at the foundation of all relationships and forms the bedrock of our Montessori classrooms as well. Repetition is important for all learning too. Thanks for giving your message to us in such a variety of ways. It helps to keep us centered on what is really important…meeting the needs of our children.

  9. this is beautiful, janet. these are the words i want to have written on my heart as i parent Sisi. thank you for another great post!

  10. Lovely as usual. You are such a gifted writer. I needed to read about slowing down. Thanks.

  11. Janet, I really appreciate that you took the time and define and elaborate all of these words. I agree with Viola that this could be boiled down into one or two words…but what those words mean to each of may differ. But this post so eloquently brings a richer meaning so that the potential for living into “respect” and “trust” can mean so much more.

  12. Thanks for the reminders! Great article.

  13. Hi
    A wonderful article thank you so much for taking time to write in detail all those words which we otherwise do not think or make a consious effort to follow.
    I have a question on ‘less’. What do you mean by less stimulation and scheduled activities? I have read in many places of importance of schedule and the importance of stimulating babies towards thinking or exploring
    I have a toddler of 16 month and I try to keep a good day schedule. He eats well sleeps well and is a no problem child so far. I was assuming a part of the reason for it is his schedule.
    Would really appreciate if you could elaborate a bit on that word

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