To me, February is heart month. I think of valentines, cinnamon hearts and chocolate! It is also the month when the Heart and Stroke Foundation roll out their major fundraising campaign for heart health – a cause close to my heart as I was a volunteer for many years. February is also the perfect time to think about parenting with heart.


Empathy is key to parenting with heart and is essential to discipline, mutual respect and encouragement, the basic tenets of a positive parenting philosophy. Empathy is, what the great grandfather of parent education, Alfred Adler described as, “to see with the eyes of another, to hear with ears of another, to feel with the heart of another”. It is the basic feeling in the Golden Rule (“treat others the way you want to be treated”) To remember what it is like to be a kid and have realistic expectations at each developmental stage. In other words, when we put ourselves in our children’s shoes we are less likely to be judgmental or critical and approach our parenting in a compassionate and heartfelt way.


When we parent with heart we offer of children encouragement not praise. Encouragement is a process. It emphasizes participation, effort and improvement. It accentuates the positive in our children, catching them being good, rather than reprimanding them for being bad. We encourage our children by taking an interest in what interests them, curious but not intrusive. We spend special time with each child to show that they are special to us, that we enjoy their company.   Praise, on the other hand, is results oriented, it judges and evaluates – “that’s good”; “you’re a good girl (or boy)”. Encouragement uses words that notice and appreciate. “You seem to like reading” (you’re a good reader) or “thank you – that helped me a lot”.   Praise teaches children to be other focused, that what others think is most important, while encouragement teaches children to believe in themselves.


Discipline means to teach not punish and the goal is teaching our children self-discipline. We allow our children to make mistakes (didn’t we!) and experience the consequences of their own actions. We want our children to know intrinsically what is the right thing to do not because we are running along behind them, shouting orders and telling them what to do. We discipline by keeping expectations of our children realistic, providing routine and structure at home, not over programming children, offering choices, using natural and logical consequences, setting limits as well as limiting “no’s and don’ts” – we control the situation not the child.  


When offering choices, both choices must be acceptable to the parent “Would you like to do your homework before dinner or after dinner?” The child does not have a choice about the homework, it needs to be done, but they get to choose the time.


Natural consequences teach children, without parental interference, what happens when you go against the laws of nature. If you don’t eat, or forget your lunch, you will be hungry or you learn to negotiate with your classmates.   If you don’t wear a jacket, you may get cold. Logical consequences are set up by the parent but may have input from the child. Logical consequences must be reasonable, respectful and related to the behaviour. It is not the severity of the consequence that is important but the certainty. Through discipline, we teach our children how to think not what to think (Barbara Coloroso). How does a child learn to have an opinion if they are never allowed to have one?


We model the behaviour we expect from our children and treat them the way we would like to be treated. This is mutual respect. If we want them to tell the truth, we need to model and value telling the truth. If we want our children to be polite, we are polite to them, saying, “please” and “thank you” and “pardon me?” rather than “What?”. What we do is far more powerful than what we say. Respect means recognizing the importance of our children’s wishes but it doesn’t mean we accommodate them all. It is respectful to involve children in decision making when appropriate, family outings, movies, choice of restaurant. They want to be heard and have their opinions valued. Parenting with heart recognizes that our children are separate from us. They are entitled to have relationships with others, their siblings, the other parent, their friends, their teachers, grandparents free from our judgment, interference and control. The only time we intervene is if the situation concerns a health, safety or moral issue.


February is heart month. Practice parenting with heart.


If you would like to learn more about how to parent with heart , please contact me.


Mimi Hudson, M.A., R.C.C.