Some say parenting is the ultimate test in life. There is no easy formula for raising kids, and all parents make mistakes, no matter how many books they've read.
These parents figured out something important about how children operate, and how to inspire them to be more thoughtful, more honest, and more motivated people. Whether you have kids or not, these are some eye-opening stories!
[Source listed at the end of the article.]
Play Safe In The Hot Lava
“I walked into my daughter’s bedroom when she was 3. She was in her underwear and socks, standing on the edge of the bottom bunk and walking up and down the length of her bed while gripping the top bunk. I imagine she was doing the ‘floor-is-made-of-lava’ thing. We all know that game.
Anyway, I walked into the room and said, ‘What are you doing? Get down from there!’ Then I realized I sounded just like my dad. Not a bad thing, but I wanted to have my own spin on parenting and I promised myself I’d do things differently than my parents did. I immediately switched gears in my brain.
She got down and looked at me, expecting a scolding or something. I said, ‘Take off your socks! You need to grip with your toes so you don’t slip off!’ She gave me the sweetest smile and did so. I felt GREAT! I figured, she’s going to do stuff like that anyway, I just want her to be as safe as possible while doing it.
Choose Your Own Punishment
“My ex, Cameron, has amazing parents. I adore his parents. And he and his brother and sister are amazing people, too, and I think that’s due – at least in part – to his parents’ approach to discipline.
They did two things that I think really made their discipline effective:
They always offered the kids a choice of discipline/punishment. It wasn’t up to the kids to choose anything they wanted, but they always had two or three choices to pick from. Will (aka Dad) told me that they both firmly believed that kids need to feel like they have choices every bit as much as adults do, and by allowing the kids some freedom of choice in their punishments, it was easier to think of them less as punishment and more as natural consequences for actions. Also, the kids were less likely to resent whatever the punishment was when they were given some choice in picking it.
Among those choices, there was always one that was tailored to fit whatever the offense was, that would teach the kids why what they did was wrong. And because Will and Trish are sneaky people (which I respect; I’m sneaky too), the tailored choice usually looked like the better choice upfront, so the kids tended to pick it.
When Selena shoplifted from a local store, they offered her a choice: either a) be totally grounded for the whole two weeks of the Easter holidays, with no going out at all, AND pay for what she stole, or b) work for the shopkeeper from 9am – 5pm for the two weeks of holiday, but be allowed to go out in the evenings. Obviously, she chose option b, because she wanted to go out with her friends at night. With Trish aka Mom’s help (Trish was a financial consultant), the shopkeeper put her to work on the accounts and bookkeeping. In those two weeks, she learned exactly how much it costs to run a business, what the overheads are, how much they paid in taxes, how many hours of work it took to turn a profit and the damage that would ensue if x% of goods were stolen.
When Cam and Dominic were caught smoking, they were offered a similar choice: total grounding for a few weeks, or volunteer work during the daytime and then free nights. All the kids in that family are active and sociable, and I don’t think any of them ever chose the grounding option. For three weeks of their summer holiday, they volunteered at the local hospice, reading books to residents, making tea, and providing company for people who were terminal – several of whom were dying of lung cancer. Cam doesn’t talk much about it, but I know that one of his favorite patients died not long after the boys finished working there. Dom told me openly that for three weeks, he came home every day and cried. Neither of them ever smoked again.
Trish and Will were pretty laid-back about most things, and the kids had a lot of freedom, but they were adamant that kids need to learn about consequences from an early age. I tried to use their techniques when I had my foster son, and I’m proud to say he grew into a good man. A lot of that was his own character – he was a good kid most of the time – but I like to think that the parenting techniques I learned from Trish and Will had a little bit to do with it.”
See It Through The Child’s Eyes
“When my kids were younger, they hated shopping. Costco and the grocery store were like torture to them, and taking them along was no treat for me either, but sometimes I had no choice. Naturally they would start acting up, and I would become an angry mess muttering in the aisles… ‘You behave or we’re leaving!’ and ‘Please just stop. If you stop I’ll buy you __.’ It didn’t work, and I was always rolling out of the store furious with my bratty kids and treats in their mouths that they rarely earned.
Then one day I had an epiphany that changed my shopping-with-kids experience. As soon as they started acting up I would tell them that I LOVE Costco and that I was perfectly happy to shop all day long. And the more they complained, the longer we would stay there. Heck, I was willing to stay until they closed the store. Just look at this variety of books/socks/beans/frozen dinners/toilet paper to choose from!
It really worked. I realized that threatening to drop the cart and leave the store wasn’t punishing THEM, it was punishing ME. Now I tell them that if they are good and they help, we can be done sooner. As a family, we can get in & out of Costco with a week’s worth of groceries in under 30 min. I’d say that’s a parenting win.”
This Is How They Survived With Five Kids
“There are three strategies my parents used that I plan on using over the next decade, with my own kids.
‘Bedtime’ at 8:00
This was when my siblings and I were younger. At 8:00, we had to be in our rooms and quiet. Not hear-a-pin-drop silent, but no loud music, no ramming around, etc. Our actual bedtimes were up to us, but we were expected to be up in time for school the next morning, whether we conked out at 9 or stayed up past midnight. We all found our routines, and my parents got at least a solid hour to themselves in the evening.
Doing our own laundry
We were all taught how to do our own laundry. We weren’t necessarily expected to do our own, but the rule was simple: any laundry in the bin will get done the next day (with seven people in the house, laundry every day was a necessity). If we needed something particular and didn’t get it in the bin in time, we were on our own.
This may not seem all that clever, but when I got to college, I was amazed at how many people had no idea how to do their own laundry. Plus, every kid should know how to do laundry before they hit puberty, especially how to properly load a batch of sheets.
Kids in charge of meals
Starting when my youngest sister was three, my parents instituted a rule: once a month, each kid was in charge of one evening meal. The meal had to have a main dish (protein), and two different vegetable side dishes.
If it was your meal, you were in charge. It was entirely up to you what would be served. One notable dinner, picked by my 3-year-old sister, was corndogs, corn, and asparagus. You were responsible for making sure the proper ingredients were either in the kitchen or on the grocery list in time. The night of, you did as much of the preparation as possible. Mom would step in to help if need be (Dad didn’t get home from work until a few minutes before dinner), but it was your show.
We all learned so much from this. Every one of my siblings is comfortable in a kitchen. I’m not a fantastic cook, but I can feed myself or a group of people with good food. Along with the laundry and basic household chores, we learned just how much work goes into everyday household maintenance.”
Now That’s Thinking Ahead
“A friend of mine was going to take his kids on a driving trip of a few days, but he knew that the moment they would all load into the car there would be sibling fights.
So what he did was schedule the trip (booking hotels etc.) for, let’s say, Tuesday, but he loaded them into the car on Monday. Sure enough, 5 minutes in it was ‘Mommmmm he started, she started’ stuff. So he tells them: ‘If I hear another sound from you guys, I am turning the car around and we are going home.’ Sure enough, 2 minutes later, they start up again. And to the shock of his kids…He turns around and heads home.
The next morning, he sits them down and says…Now…let’s try this again. Do you think that we can get there without any fights?
You could have heard a pin drop in that car.”
A Penny For Your Thoughts
“Here’s my ‘clever parenting’ story. My daughter Tessa’s little friend Kaitlyn had spent the whole weekend with us. After little kids are around each other for more than 24 hours, they start to fight about everything.
We were riding in our van when they started arguing over whose turn it was to hold a stuffed animal. They got upset and refused to talk to each other.
Since both Tessa and Kaitlyn are headstrong, I knew neither would apologize to the other. They simply wouldn’t be able to bring themselves to utter the words, ‘I’m sorry.’
It occurred to me a nonverbal display of apology would be far more likely, so I parked the van and gave them an ultimatum.
I said, ‘Girls, I’m going to put a penny in front of each of you. Tessa, if you are sorry and you don’t want to be mad at Kaitlyn anymore, just reach out and grab her penny.
Kaitlyn, same thing for you. If you are sorry and you don’t want to be mad at Tessa anymore, reach out and grab Tessa’s penny.
I’m going to get out of the van for a minute, and you girls decide what you want to do. If both of the pennies are still there when I get back, I’ll take that to mean you don’t want to keep playing together, so we’ll take Kaitlyn home.’
I placed one penny on the back of each front seat where the girls could easily reach them, and then I stepped out of the van to run a quick errand.
When I got back less than five minutes later, both pennies were gone and the girls were happy, giggling and playing again.
My wife who was in the car told me they both grabbed the pennies within seconds of me leaving. Then, they told each other they were sorry. They both refused the stuffed animal they’d been fighting over because they wanted the other to have it. Finally, they agreed to give it to our little boy Tyler, who was sitting in the back.
This worked because it gave them a nonverbal way to break the ice and swallow their pride. Once they crossed that barrier by grabbing the other’s penny, it was easier to apologize.
They played together the rest of the day without incident.
And no, I don’t think the pennies taught them they don’t have to say they’re sorry. First of all, they ultimately apologized anyway. And second, both of these girls are raised by good parents, so they already know the importance of a sincere apology.
They are both little kids with strong emotions they can’t yet completely control. The penny gimmick was an easy, non-emotional way for them to initiate the process of apologizing.”
How To Make Mistakes
“My math student is 11 years old. She plays piano, guitar, writes poetry, reads a lot and does so many other things. She is a very studious, creative, bubbly, hyperactive person and it always amazes me how she is so mature for her age.
A few months back, she got her results and we spent that class discussing her paper. We marked all the mistakes and calculated the marks lost for careless mistakes and tough questions separately.
After the class was over, I was explaining the mistakes to her mother, while her daughter was running around and playing in the hall.
Mother: Stop running and come here. He is talking about you only, right? Why don’t you listen?
Student: He already discussed those mistakes with me.
Mother: Doesn’t matter. You can listen again.
Student: They were just some silly mistakes…
Mother: First, come here.
The student came up to her mom.
Mother: When you told me you got a low mark on your test, did I say anything? No. Did I scold you? No. Because marks are not everything. What is important is that, when you make some mistake, you know how to correct it. So listen properly when he is discussing your mistakes and learn from it. This attitude will help you when you commit any mistake in your life.
This was one of best things I have ever heard a parent say to a child.
In my earlier classes, I have seen parents scold their children, and use sentences like these: ‘I really don’t know what is wrong with my boy… I’m ashamed to bring him to my relatives,’ or ‘His friends are getting good marks… their parents don’t even sit with them to help,’ etc. One of them didn’t even have the patience to listen to her child explain why he is not able to write properly during exams due to nervousness.
Amidst such things, this conversation felt like an inspiring one. It was not just about marks. It was more about helping the child to understand life better. Then I understood where this student had got her maturity from. Upbringing makes all the difference.”
Father Of The Year
“My husband is by far the best parent I know. Here’s how he’s raising our first son (who is not his biological son) and our second son:
Since our first son turned around 10 or 11, he taught him to wash dishes. It took many months and many broken dishes and kitchen appliances, a flooded kitchen, and half-washed plates with food stuck on them. I begged to wash the dishes myself, but he was very firm and now our son does it better than I do.
When we lived in Bodrum, Turkey, our home was on top of a very steep hill. Down below, about a 30-minute walk away was a small bread shop. My husband sent our teenage son down there to buy the bread. It seems trivial, but I was worried sick and sat on top of the hill the entire time until he came back. Our son now is very comfortable exploring unknown territories, usually on his bike. Occasionally, he would get lost and my husband would go and retrieve him.
Whenever kids misbehave, my husband never yells at them. Instead, he removes their electronic-device privileges, for anywhere from one day to months. It seems to work very well and the kids really do what they’re supposed to.
He has taught our first son to love books by constantly taking him to Barnes and Noble where the boy was bored and forced to explore books. He’s a voracious reader now. But it took 5 (!) years.
Our first son has a timid personality and my husband is a daredevil, but he refuses to label our first son and instead takes him with him for his adventures. They have now piloted a small plane together, ridden a ginormous rollercoaster, and started a small power-washing business (which didn’t make it, but that’s another story).
Our teenager is not athletic and is basically like me in that regard. However, due to my husband’s influence, he’s been swimming and became excellent at it. He rides his bike all the time. And now he goes to the gym and lifts weights. One time recently I saw him walk across the room in the pool area and thought: ‘What a handsome young man!’ before realizing it was my geeky and timid son.
Our first son has the speed of a sloth (taking after his turtle mother). He used to be always late – when people would come to pick him up or drive him somewhere. So, whenever my husband takes him somewhere, he makes sure they leave the house at the scheduled time, on the dot. After much cursing and frustration for about 2 or 3 times, our son became very timely and actually moves much faster.
My husband insisted we let our youngest one dress himself. Because of that, sometimes he’s wearing long sleeve shirts with athletic shorts and colorful socks. Or a Batman cape, rubber sandals, and an oversized Pokemon shirt. Many times his clothes will be inside out. But both of our kids are not afraid to express themselves and make choices.
He’s engaged in their learning process. Yesterday, we discovered our youngest has learned how to count to 15 in Japanese, so to push him further my husband made him guess how to say 20, 30, 70, and 80. He guessed correctly! He also listens carefully when our oldest son tells us something he read about, say, the Spanish-American war, even though my brain starts to shut down and drift away.
He has taught them both to play chess. But he also plays games with them of their choosing. Currently, they play some kind of war game which I don’t approve of, but they seem to love it. They take it seriously. Yesterday our youngest grabbed his dad’s phone and wanted to play in his account, but was told not to get a particular armor because… I don’t remember, that’s when my mind drifted away.”
No Big Deal
“My father used to give me and my brother a month each, every year, to run the household. And whatever money we saved for the family that month would be ours.
This all started when I (at age 13) begged my father to buy me a costly dress for no reason on his payday. He told me he would get it for my birthday in two months, but that I was too adamant. He kept telling me that he had some extra unseen expenses this month so he couldn’t buy now, but I didn’t give up and started arguing with him that I saw his salary envelope (this was back in the day when being paid in cash was normal) and how big it was.
He got fed up with me, and all of a sudden gave me that salary envelope and told me to run the household for a month. Then I could buy that dress for myself. I thought it would be no big deal and I agreed.
The next day, my mom made small packets to keep cash in for our expenses ( e.g. groceries, milk, housekeeping, school fees, etc.). I learned so much in that month that is of use today. At the end of the month, I hadn’t saved enough for my dress, as the expenses I paid for were all necessary, and we never used to indulge in any luxury thing. Looking at all the expenses, I didn’t ask for my dress, nor did anybody mention it for a month.
But then, as promised, my dad bought me that dress on my birthday without asking for it.
Since I had learned so many things from running the household, I asked my daughter to do the same. Today, even though she earns a good living, I’m proud to say she spends very responsibly and saves a lot for rainy days!”
Keep His Eyes On The Prize
“I was in a supermarket when I passed a mother with a child. The child was young enough to sit in the trolley, I’d guess he was maybe 3 years old.
The kid started to act up, crying.
The mum spoke to him very gently: ‘Remember that lollipop I was gonna get you if you were good?’
He quieted down a bit, and then mumbled: ‘Yeah?’
‘What color would you like it to be?’
And that seemed to be that. He was distracted, so I guess he was thinking about the lollipop and what he’d have to do in order to get it.”
These comments have been edited for clarity.