3 - 5 min read

7 Parts Of The Parenting Pie

7 pieces to the "parenting pie" that shape your child’s formative years.

Parenting is an extremely complex thing, and yet we have tried for a long time to simplify it into discipline choices. We are told that if we discipline a certain way, our kids will learn good behavior and ultimately turn out just fine. We are duped into believing if we follow the right methods, we are magically guaranteed a positive outcome. So, parenting has been boiled down into soundbites. 

Do this, not that.

Say this, not that.

Follow this script, this method, this philosophy, and you will win!

But parenting is about so much more than how we discipline a child’s behavior. 

If we look at parenting as a whole pie, discipline is really such a small slice, yet the vast majority of our focus is going there.

At its core, parenting is about relationships, and in our search for the perfect discipline tricks, we've lost sight of that. We are trained to ask, "What do I do when my child __?” rather than "How can I help this little person whom I love so much?" We are fed study after study and opinion after opinion on the proper way to discipline children, so it's no wonder that it becomes our main focus.

Unfortunately, when discipline becomes our main focus, we neglect the bigger picture. Many of the other important aspects of parenting fall by the wayside as we mindfully, purposefully, and intentionally focus on disciplining “correctly.”

I think it's time we broaden our lens. Let's back up and look at parenting in a new way - a much bigger way. My book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, discusses all of these “pie pieces.” It’s the big picture parenting book that takes not only discipline into account, but all of these important factors that shape your child’s formative years. 

The 7 Parenting "Pie Pieces"

Let’s take a look at a few of the other factors.

Our Stories

Parenting is a mixing of stories. Mom's story, Dad's story, brother's story, and sister's story. Grandparents' stories and cultural stories. Media stories and unconscious stories.

And because you are holding the pen that writes the beginning of your little one's life story, it makes sense to take a pause and look at your story first. Look to see what is influencing the pen in your hand. 

What are your beliefs and where do they come from? Are your partner's beliefs about parenting in line with yours? What feeds your thoughts? What triggers your reactions? These things matter because they are at the heart of how you see and treat your children.

In that same vein, you have the power to own your story - to examine it and see what parts are no longer serving you and to heal the wounds that need to be healed. This is the important self-work of parenthood, and really is the foundational ingredient to the entire pie. 

Self-Discipline

Parents often want to know the best way to discipline their children, but learning to discipline ourselves first – that is to manage our own emotions and actions – is essential. Children are watching and imitating the example we set. No matter what discipline methods we decide upon, if we can’t discipline ourselves, it’s very difficult to effectively discipline our children.

We are much more effective when we are living the lessons we teach and being who we want our children to be. 

We hope, and often expect, that our children are in perfect control of their behavior. We want them to regulate their emotions basically out of the womb. 

How many of us can do these things with 100% success?

No one is perfect, and perfection is not even the goal. What we can do is learn and practice the skills needed for emotional regulation and behavior management and teach those to our kids. This may look like using the Calming Corner ourselves and modeling self-regulation. It’s creating a margin for self-care so that our children see what it is like to love yourself and prioritize your own well-being. And importantly, it’s apologizing and reconnecting when you slip up because we all do.

Marriages, Partnerships, and Co-Parenting

Chances are there is somebody else involved in raising your child. Someone whose story, beliefs, personality, ideas, and behavior are impacting and influencing your child. 

Differences in a relationship are often seen as something negative, but they actually can serve a great purpose. They can deepen our empathy, respect, communication skills, and our resolve.

At the same time, bringing two people with different stories and different families together to form a new family does not come without stumbling blocks. Couples rarely talk about these differences before having children because it simply doesn’t occur to them. So, when parenting styles begin to clash, problems often arise.

It stands to reason that to build a strong, connected family, couples take the initiative to reconcile their differences regarding parenting and family values. While discrepancies in parenting styles may well remain, to reconcile them means to come to a compromise on practices that both are comfortable with.

Of course, families look many different ways. Co-parenting, when divorced, has its own challenges. Single parenting has its own set as well. Regardless of your family dynamics, the goal is to look at the relationships you and your child have with those who are involved in their upbringing because those relationships matter a great deal in shaping a child.

Communication

Communication has a very deep impact on our children. Not only the way we communicate with them, both verbally and nonverbally, but also the way we communicate with others - partners, siblings, friends, etc. 

Respectful, positive communication sets an important precedent. Effective communication helps us understand one another, avoid conflict, and connect. It keeps us engaged in each other's lives, helping the other feel seen and validated. Poor communication leads to misunderstanding and even low self-esteem and self-worth if we are communicating criticism or fault-finding. 

Learning positive communication skills, therefore, plays an important part in how our children feel about themselves, us, and others. 

Trust

As I said, parenting is about relationships. A good parent-child relationship is built on a foundation of trust. How do we foster it and how do we keep it strong as our children grow through various stages?

It's important to note that you can foster trust and connect with a child of any age. While it is best to begin in infancy, it's never too late to start. It's also important to note that sometimes mistakes are made and trust gets damaged or broken, but that repair is possible.

Building trust with an infant obviously looks much different than building trust with a teen. When trust is broken, relationships suffer, and we may lose our influence. A child who does not trust their parent will not listen to them. 

While the way you build and foster trust may look different throughout the ages and stages of childhood, at the core it is always about seeking to understand your child’s perspective and feelings and helping them feel valued and seen. 

Family Culture

The atmosphere and family experience you provide is the world your child grows up in. It shapes her view of everything, including her self-worth. It influences her heart and mind every day, but many of us just allow our family culture to come together sort of haphazardly, without much intention or forethought, because our focus is elsewhere, usually on discipline! 

Give thought to your vision, goals, routines, and traditions. This is what childhoods are made of.

Positive Discipline

Yes, discipline is an important factor, and it's good to learn positive tools that teach your children good values and skills while keeping hold of their hearts. This free video is a good place to start if you are new to positive discipline. 

It helps to remember that discipline is teaching and instruction. The purpose of discipline is to teach the child how to govern his own behavior, which requires teaching him about emotions, cause and effect, and equipping him with the skills he needs to be successful at self-discipline. 

What does the child learn by sitting in a corner or being sent to his room? What does she learn by not being able to use a phone or visit friends? It certainly sends a clear message of what is not acceptable by the parent but comes at a steep price – resentment. This resentment puts the child’s focus on the behavior of the parent, not on her own behavior.

Punishment also fails to teach the child what to do. If a child is punished for hitting when angry but not taught appropriate ways to deal with anger, she is missing needed information and skills. Without learning what to do with her anger, the hitting will recur. 

When we use punishment, we are taking responsibility for fixing our children’s mistakes. Having now “paid his dues,” the child feels absolved. The parent took on the responsibility by punishing him, and once he has served his time in his room or this grounding is lifted, he is free from the responsibility of his actions. I feel it is much more important for him to learn how to handle himself and right his wrongs than to spend time without an iPhone. When there is no one there to take away his things or shame him, how will he govern himself? This is the core of discipline, in my opinion.

So what does positive discipline look like? It’s teaching emotional regulation, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills within the context of a positive and loving relationship. There are many tips on our blog about this. 

Children are shaped not only in moments of admonition and correction but by the hundreds of thousands of moments— smiles and tears, successes and failures, encouragement and discouragement, laughter and sorrow, acceptance and denial, disconnects and reconnects— that make up their childhood. It all matters, so let’s not focus all our attention on discipline alone and look at the bigger picture.

*Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother.

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The Time-In ToolKit® playfully teaches kids 2-9+ how to navigate big emotions through social-emotional skill-building games and activities. Created ...