4 Ways to Be a Cool Parent

The best thing you can do for your kids is to focus on yourself. Hear me out.

Think of the time spent running kids to and from one event to the next. Days are filled with events geared solely for the kids. American family life has moved from “Children should be seen and not heard” to “No adult conversation possible.”

Who’s in charge? Who gets their way? What is the organizing force in typical American family life: the life of the adults or the kids?

I think it’s absolutely possible to focus too much on our kids. And it’s this over-focus that’s harmful to them, to the family, and to you.  Research shows that the people who function best in life—in relationships, in education, in careers—were the ones who were most free (in a healthy way, of course) of child focus during their childhood.

Child focus can be negative: the scapegoated kid who can do nothing right. Sometimes it’s positive: the golden child who can do no wrong. The results of either kind of child focus are a lifetime of struggle. The kid left to find his or her own way (again—in a healthy way) is the one best prepared to deal directly with life.

I was walking down the aisle of Target with my 3-year-old, and something caught her eye. I don’t remember what it was, but it was probably pink and princessey. She made sure I saw it as well, and then the negotiations commenced:

“Honey, put that back, we’re not going to buy that toy.”

“But I need this daddy!”

“No honey, you don’t.”

And we’re off. You know where this is heading. The tears soon follow, and the tantrum pressure cooker is warming up. I’m feeling trapped. I’m a licensed family therapist, and my skills are now on display for all of Target to see.

What kids need at a moment like this is a parent who can keep his cool. A parent who can calm himself down allows a young child to explore his or her full range of emotions without spiraling out of control.

Many blow-ups between a parent and child is the result of parents who lose their cool, as though we’re the child. It’s easy to forget how to be a grownup in a tense situation.

So… the 101s of being the parent in the relationship?

1. Focus more on yourself. This is not at the cost of your children, it’s for your children. When you’re at your best, you’re able to give the best of yourself to others.

2. In tense situations, do what you need to calm down without taking it out on the kids. Take several deep breaths. Get a drink of water. Walk a short distance away your child, or to another room and calm down.

(Not every situation needs to be addressed immediately. In fact, one of the great tools for misbehavior is the delayed consequence. This gives you time to calm down and think things through, and your child can think about what’s to come while the weight of the bad choice increases. This works especially well with older kids and teens.)

3. Let the child handle more of their own problems. Part of growing up is dealing with struggle. The more a parent clears the path for their child, the more that child is unprepared for the real world. It’s important to be alongside them through their struggle, but as a support, not a snowplow.

4. Let natural consequences teach the lessons. Give up being liked by your kids—parenting is not a popularity contest. Let the consequences do the screaming. They didn’t do their homework, so let the low score teach the lesson. Be the understanding and empathetic ear for them to talk to.

You can say no to constant busyness.

To lead your family with peace, you need to know your NOs and YESes. But what are they?

Like Your Life can help you figure them out.

51 Comments

  1. Dominique

    I too subscribe to “COOL” parenting. It is of no use to be flustered and angry when kids act up as it increases the tendency of you doing something which you may regret later. Also unkind words/actions that were met out to the child may leave negative effects on their self esteem and emotional growth.

    Dominique´s last blog post…Educating Your Child- IQ Boosting Activities

  2. Tabitha - From Single to Married

    We’re trying to start our family so we have no children yet, but I love this article. I agree that too many people bend to the needs of their kids which can cause problems. I realize that’s easy for me to say since I haven’t had to test my parenting skills yet, but I will definitely keep this philosophy in mind when the time comes for me to use it.

    Tabitha – From Single to Married´s last blog post…Washington DC – Jefferson Memorial

  3. Nicki at Domestic Cents

    This is such an insightful post. My emotions escalate easily but I have seen firsthand the miracle of keeping myself under control when my almost-3-year-old loses it. If I can speak quietly and remain calm it does wonders for the situation. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Nicki at Domestic Cents´s last blog post…Anybody Want An Apron?

  4. Nicole

    We have two kids close together and with the first, I’ve tried to do most things for her. But, with the second, I simply haven’t been able to–because my hands were so full with the first. I’ve already seen a difference in the second’s confidence and character. He pushes on and doesn’t make such a fuss, even when he’s hurt.

    Thanks for the reminders. It’s especially difficult to do #4, I think I desire to protect the little ones from consequences. But, that’s not healthy. My husband is so much better at this than I am.

    So, here’s to a recommitment to be ‘cool.’

    I’m blogging today about a new kind of to do list–called the ‘to be’ list. Check it out here: http://burningbushes.org/

    Nicole´s last blog post…To Do List…Redeemed

  5. Lisa @ WellGrounded Life

    Great reminder! When I make my own health and wellness a priority I model for my children how important that is. When I cultivate my own hobbies and dreams, I show them how to live a life that is full of passion and purpose. When I keep growing and learning about my interests I communicate what joy there is in a life full of inquiry, curiosity and ongoing education.
    And, when I am healthy and well in all parts of me, I can be the COOL, attentive, loving and balanced parent I want to be. Thanks for this post!

    Lisa @ WellGrounded Life´s last blog post…Rekindling Parts Of Yourself

  6. Sherri (Serene Journey)

    Nicely put Corey. My eldest is now 19 months and he’s finding it very tough to deal with all of his emotions. He screams and cries (i.e. has tantrums) at times when he doesn’t get what he wants which I’m guessing is normal as he can’t communicate any other way as of yet (am I right?). I find this very difficult but being “cool” in reacting to it is certainly best for everyone involved. I find putting distance between me and the situation for even a short time helps a bunch!

    I agree that having an entirely child centric household where the parents do everything for them (snowplow) is unhealthy for the kids, as you say. It’s won’t teach them how to think critically or problem solve, which are important life skills. I also think it’s what’s added a bit to the sense of entitlement that I’m seeing in many more kids lately. I don’t want to come across as too harsh on parents, as I’m a firm believer that we all do the best with what we have/know at the time, especially when our kids are involved.

    Sherri (Serene Journey)´s last blog post…Spring Cleaning Food: Use Up The Old, Make Way For The Fresh

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      You are correct Sherri, there is a developmental issue with all of us. When a child is not yet to a point of breakthrough developmentally (i.e. talking, walking, school, driving, etc.) it can be very frustrating for all involved. The cooler you are in your reactions, the better the child is in the long run. It’s tough, I know, but necessary.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…Are You Making These Marriage Mistakes?

  7. prasti

    thank you for the post! great reminder that we don’t need to be child-centric in everything we do as parents.

    i wish that #3 and #4 worked for our 11 y.o. son. he’s seen the consequences of not studying for a test or getting all his work done, and it doesn’t seem to change his behavior. instead he ends up failing the class. however, those approaches are working quite well w/ our 2.5 y.o. daughter. she thrives on the ability to do things on her own and catches on very quickly about acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

    prasti´s last blog post…get your game on

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      @Prasti- This may sound a bit harsh regarding your 11 year old, but the good thing about teaching this lesson to most school age kids is each grade level usually will allow a child as many years as they need in order to pass. Tough to watch as a parent, but it may be the only way to teach the lesson.

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…Are You Making These Marriage Mistakes?

  8. Kendra

    Great article, and just what I was thinking and writing about this morning! I consider myself a very sensitive, attentive parent, BUT that doesn’t mean I can’t set limits! I think there’s a misunderstanding out there that “attachment” parenting means that we never allow our children to be upset. Wow… what a recipe for disaster! As you said, learning natural consequences is the way kids learn to handle life and be more independent.
    As a middle school teacher (now a SAHM), I was often frustrated and befuddled by “helicopter” parents that hovered over their children and didn’t allow them to make their own mistakes. Things did not go well for those kids.
    Now, if only I could learn to apply good limit setting to my 17 month old and her constant nightwaking! Thanks for the post!

    Kendra´s last blog post…Sleep Deprivation and Nightweaning

  9. Amanda

    I totally agree with all these points. However, I have a 5 year old and a 1 1/2 year old and find that I constantly have to remind myself often to remain cool. This is very difficult especially with my 5 year old son.

    I have actually had people tell me he is the most strong-willed child they have ever seen. He is getting better, thank goodness, and I am learning that consistency is the key. The changes don’t just happen over night.

    Parenting definitely is a lifelong commitment to teaching our kids to be responsible and productive individuals. Although it’s a lot of hard work, I am loving the journey.

    Amanda´s last blog post…Grocery Shopping: Get In and Get Out Fast!

  10. Nancy

    Excellent post. My husband and I are a firm believer in allowing our children to suffer the natural consequences of their actions. We refer to it as “practicing tough love.” Many times it’s hard not to bail out our kids.

    Nancy´s last blog post…Dressing for Prom

  11. Taylor at Household Management 101

    Thanks for this helpful information. Parenting can be difficult sometimes, and it is helpful to get advice from the experts. I found this article recently in Slate Magazine, and it also was very helpful to me: “What to do when your kid provokes you into an inhuman rage.” The title attempts to stir the pot so that you will click and read it, but I found the advice in the article itself not quite so provocative, but really very practical. It gives the pros and cons of various strategies parents employ with their kids in situations like mentioned in this blog post, which was helpful to me. Hope it helps some of you too!
    http://www.slate.com/id/2210616/pagenum/all/#p2

    Taylor at Household Management 101´s last blog post…Mar 11, First Aid Kit Checklist For Families With Children

  12. Aimee

    All excellent points. This is what parents need to hear, thanks for bringing it up!

    Aimee´s last blog post…Blood Orange Cheesecake

  13. momstheword

    I find it interesting how some parents believed in holding the line for a young child, and letting them know that they aren’t in charge and cannot have their way all the time, and yet when the child becomes a teen these particular parents will no longer hold that line.

    Some parents tend to step back from their behavior expectations when kids become teenagers, believing that rebellion is to be expected and that it can’t be helped. They don’t like it but they allow it believing that the child is supposed to act like that, so they give into the behavior and the child gets their way (not all the time, but many, many times).

    We felt that our children should continued to be responsible for their actions and their behavior, and do not accept “but I’m a teenager I’m supposed to act this way” as an excuse for poor behavior. Sure, they are learning to separate themselves from their parents but it’s a time we can allow them to spread their wings without being completely disrespectful about it.

    I think that the teenager needs the “cool” parent too. Your suggestions will work for small children as well as older children.

    momstheword´s last blog post…WORKS-FOR-ME: ORGANIZING TOYS

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      So true. Being a cool parent works regardless how old your child is. It’s a great model for them as they grow older and have more and more decisions to make in their life. If you’re cool, they will come to you more for help and guidance because you’re less likely to over-react.

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…Are You Making These Marriage Mistakes?

  14. Steph

    Love this post – I see so many parents around me who put the main focus if their lives on their children. Certainly my children are of the upmost importance to me, but for that reason they will learn limits, frugality, the art of patience, and so on…and they deserve my patience just as much when they are acting up as when they are being their usual sweet and endearing selves. That said, there are days when I do much better at keeping my cool, but I try my best every day, look to learn from my mistakes and luckily my children are very forgiving and loving souls! 🙂

    Steph´s last blog post…Reducing the marker mess – tie dyed diaper wipes

  15. Amy

    I totally agree with your article. It does seem as though we are focusing more and more on our kids these days. Being a parent seems to be a harder job than ever. Your tips on handling our children were sound and easy to follow. Thank you!

  16. Jess

    I needed somebody to say this. I feel torn between constant guilt that I’m not giving enough- though I am a stay at home mom and am with my kids 24/7- and growing resentment that it shouldn’t have to be this way. I have known that I need to continue to live a full life myself, and not give everything to my kids, but apparently I haven’t followed this because my girls seem to require my attention every minute. Maybe now I will have the courage to change, knowing that they will be just fine and, if anything, I am hurting them when I give too much.

  17. mommyknows

    I so hear you! I need to print this out for 95% of my friends.

    My nine year old called from school this morning. She forgot her math and her teacher wanted me to bring it in! As if! Not to mention it is -40 degrees outside and I have a toddler to winterize before leaving the house. She didn’t sound at all surprised when I told her “NO”! I hope the teacher gets it!

    mommyknows´s last blog post…Happy Book Day to You ~ the Series – (THE QUEEN’S FOOL)

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      If the teacher disagrees or asks why you didn’t bring the schoolwork in, tell her you are working to raise a responsible child and part of that involves dealing with consequences – go ahead and count her off for her missing homework. You’d rather have her face the consequences now while they’re relatively inexpensive.

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…Are You Making These Marriage Mistakes?

  18. Jennifer Muth

    One of the best lessons I learned from watching my brother in law parent was the idea that I could get excited about a cool toy, too, and make a big deal about it, spend time looking at it in the store with my child, and we could both walk away with an appreciation but not a “need.” It works (almost) every time.

    Jennifer Muth´s last blog post…p-new-moan-ya

    • Alisa

      I’ve used this approach as well with a lot of success. Instead of a negative remark rejecting the child’s sentiments, I say, “Oh that looks like fun, huh!” or, “That looks yummy, doesn’t it.” If she still expresses wanting it, I explain that right now we don’t have the money or don’t want to spend our money on that toy/treat/potential impulse buy.
      .-= Alisa´s last blog ..Every Moment is a Second Chance =-.

  19. Delish

    This is a GREAT post! As a teacher, I see so many child-centered families where the whole family revolves around the children and their schedules. It is really unhealthy – for the children and the parents!

    Delish´s last blog post…Giada’s Salmon Al Cartoccio, or, Salmon Baked in Foil

  20. angie

    thank you for this post!! i’ve been reading about this “theory” in lots of books lately (real love in parenting by greg baer & the parenting breakthrough by merrilee brown) and i completely agree with this strategy. our goal as parents is to teach our kids to be self-sufficient, healthy (emotionally & physically), independent adults. LOVE this post!

    angie´s last blog post…15 months

  21. AutumH

    This is definitely an article I can appreciate. Thank you for posting this it’s something that I’m sure I will be reading over and over to help and to just let the information soak in.

    AutumH´s last blog post…SlimPerfect Review & Giveaway

  22. Mindful Mimi

    HI there,
    3. and 4. definitely. My secret has been that I am TALKING to my kinds. I explain everything I do or plan to do. I chatter away at them and they love it. Before we even go to the supermarket I explain to them where we are going, why, how long we’re going to stay there, what we’re getting and what now. And above all: these are the rules. And if we don’t stick to them we go home straight away. It is amazing, but I have never had any negotiation or tantrum in a shop with my almost 3 year old boy.
    The are smarter than we think and understand a hell of a lot. And if we treat them that way, they appreciate it. I am not saying he is an angel all the time. But I can reason with him. And when they get that all the time, after a while it’s normal. It takes a lot of effort and patience. But it’s well worth it.

    Mindful Mimi´s last blog post…Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat

  23. Kate

    Thank you so much for your insight! I do not have children yet, but my husband and I are contemplating it. This is definately an idea that we will continue to think about as we move into having a family.

    Kate´s last blog post…Hand Printing

  24. MommyAmy

    I had to learn really quick that I need to put myself (and my marriage) ahead of my twin daughters. Because there’s 2 of them, it was super easy to just constantly hyperfocus on their care and let myself fall to the wayside. This quickly deteriorated our home until I started asking for help from others in order to make time for ME. I cannot be the best mother possible until I make sure that I get enough sleep, get out of the house on a regular basis, and socialize with others on a daily basis (even if that’s only online or over the phone). Even better if I can eat healthy and get regular exercise. That sounds so basic, but it’s amazing how quickly basic needs get shoved to the back burner when you have 2 little needy people to care for.

    MommyAmy´s last blog post…Way Back When-endsday: This Morning A Year Ago

  25. Kirwin

    It’s funny because I often reflect on life in terms of “Before Kids…” and “After Kids…” Before kids, I would have been very judgemental of your situation in Target. It would have been very easy for me to assume that there was a huge lack of discipline in your household. And now, now that I know…my heart would have gone out to you. I would have been laughing along side you, cheering you on. I would have been thinking, “That was just me, yesterday.”

    Another point, separate from above, relates to the # of children in a classroom. Here in CA, they made it a rule to only have 20 students per classroom for grades K-3. This was wonderful in terms of learning, but do you know what one of the side effects was?…Students became more dependant on their teachers, because it was easier to get one-on-one attention. I thought that was pretty interesting.

    Thanks for the fantastic post!

    So, bravo

    Kirwin´s last blog post…The soundtrack of my life

  26. Laurie

    @Mommyknows- The teacher wanted you to bring it in? Are you sure about that? I’m a teacher and I don’t know any that would want a parent to bring in the work. As a matter of fact, I have been fussed at from a parent when I wouldn’t allow a child to call mom for a rescue.

    Corey, I get it with the Target thing and you being a family therapist and all. Being a teacher, I had a ton of eyes watching me whenever I was out. I would tell my boys, “We’re being watched!” It’s no fun thinking you have to live a perfect life or maybe you aren’t the professional you are supposed to be.

    My biggest challenge both as a teacher and a mom was working with a kid (or my kid) when he just didn’t care. How do you make a kid care? I don’t think you can. Just make them not want the consequence more than not caring.

  27. Amanda

    I have an 11 year old and a almost 2 year old. Admittedly, I am not the best at keeping my emotions in check, especially with my 11 year old. However, I am very good at holding the line and expecting only good behavior and letting him handle his own problems. But my son is always telling me that I’m grumpy or that I don’t like him. It makes me feel like a horrible mom even though I try so hard. Does anyone think this is just natural reaction to being “tough” with him or is it a sign I lose my temper too much? I’m working very hard on that right now.

    Amanda´s last blog post…Beautiful Day!

  28. Laura

    Great post! I especially love #3: I think it *seems* easier to jump in and help a child (whether it’s with putting on a coat or doing an assignment) but in the long run, it only makes Mama grumpy and the child dependent. Also love your points on taking care of yourself so you can be a good parent, and doing whatever you need to do to calm down without taking it out on the kids – this is vital!

    Thanks again!

    Laura´s last blog post…100th Post Giveaway!!!

  29. Christina

    This is a fabulous article and couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for my husband and I. We are parents to 6 boys with our oldest turning 12 at the end of this month. We have realized that we need to do some re-evaluating of our parenting skills. I think this is a great start!

  30. Diane

    #2 – Keeping cool and delayed consequences – It took me awhile, but I learned this lesson on delayed consequences with my 2nd son, now 17. Rather than get upset over a behavior issue at school (or whatever the current problem), lose my cool & issue a consequence I would not want to enforce later, I learned to calmly say “That behavior is not acceptable. I will think this over and we will discuss the consequences later.”

    I think this would work with any school-age child. Give them time to think it over and take your time to think before blowing up and issuing consequences. It is so much easier to be rational on both sides after the initial upset is past.

    Another thing I learned with the 2nd son was to tell him he could have a small item in the store IF he wanted to use his money to pay for it. This depends on the child… my older one would readily spend his money on trinkets, the 2nd would think it over, ask again how much the item cost, then decide not to buy it (started this around age 5). 3 year olds are not generally ready for this.

  31. Kika

    Let’s not forget that children really ARE DEPENDANT on us … that is why they are not living on their own yet. I absolutely agree with setting healthy boundaries, natural consequences and expecting more responsibility out of our kids as they mature… but often what we see (my husband is a coach, ref and middle-school teacher) are parents who aren’t stepping up to the plate to even teach organizational & life skills, for instance. When teachers make students call home re: missing homework, I don’t think it is because they really want you to drive it to school but they are trying to make the parent aware of the situation so it can be dealt with appropriately at home. First we have to commit to “training up” our kids and then we gradually let them have more choice, freedom to make their own mistakes, etc. But the honest truth is they cannot rise to maturity without parents dedicating huge amounts of time and energy to see this happen.

  32. Will Blog For Shoes

    I have a 2 year-old and a 7 month-old. I lose my cool multiple times a day. This post really helped me see that often my reaction to tantrums, etc. is a reflection of what’s going on inside ME, not my children. I think putting myself first every once in a while will surely help me keep my cool when it matters!

    Thanks so much for this post!

  33. Mitzi

    I’m curious as to how you handled the situation at Target? Did she get the toy she wanted? Did you say no and walk away? What did you say to her – what were the words you used? I hope you can share that with us. I usually say something like “No means No” and move along. Thanks.

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      I simply told her “honey, we’re not buying that, put it back please” and I continued down the aisle a ways and waited for her to join me. She’s usually pretty good at following along after a moment of her expressing herself and her feelings on the subject. I think I only had to wait about a minute before she caught up with me. I told her “thank you honey” when she joined me and we continued on with our shopping.

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…20 Must Read Blogs For Married People

  34. Suzanne

    I wanna be cool again! LOL. This used to be me. Then too much life got in the way. Bit-by-bit, I began allowing myself to freak out and lose emotional control when the husband or kids did. Now I’m far from being the person I want to be and I’ve been working on coming back to my old self.

    This was a great read for me. #2 was speaking right to me. This is what I’ll be hearing in my mind now, “Let the consequences do the screaming.”

    Suzanne´s last blog post…Day 365

  35. Dawn

    Great article! As an elementary teacher, I will agree with Delish that a family life focuses on the children and only the children is unhealthy for the entire family. I’ll also say, it’s unhealthy for the teacher! 20 kids in one room, who are all accustomed to having the adult’s undivided attention, and only one of me… 🙂

    Dawn´s last blog post…18 Kids and Homeschooling!

  36. emily@ChattingAtTheSky

    This was a great post. It has come to mind several times since I first read it so I had to come back and comment. Thanks for making a difference!

    emily@ChattingAtTheSky´s last blog post…stuff

  37. Darcy

    This is a great post. It is such a good reminder that kids are the focus but, they’re not, and to continue to try to have a good balance so they know how important they are and have good self-esteem but don’t think the world revolves around them.
    I work part-time in a doctor’s office and just this week we had a child (who was the patient, probably 11) come in and as they were leaving the mom was asking the nurse some questions and the son kept interrupting and saying he was “done with this”, they mom finally said “well I guess I’ll ask more next time since he’s ready to go.” One of the other patients that was there said if he had acted like that as a child, well of course he wouldn’t have he said, but he would have gotten “the look” and “the finger” pointed at him.
    Again, some balance is needed between seen and not heard and no adult conversation…
    Thanks for the suggestions.

    Darcy´s last blog post…Owen at Two

  38. Liz

    I think the whole notion that Americans focus too much on their kids is overdone. Yes, we *overschedule* our kids. We have too many organized activities for our kids, but it’s been my experience that the parents choose this lifestyle for their own convenience, not because of some over-focus on the kids. I have a seven-year-old second grader and I can’t tell you how often I hear, “Well, I *have* to have him in karate-and-soccer-and-piano-and-art-class because he CAN’T be home. I just don’t know what to DO with him!” In other words, “I find things for my kid to do so *I* don’t have to deal with him.” Sorry, but this is *all* about the parents, not the kids. Perhaps if we spent more time actually parenting and honing our stay-cool skills we’d not be so frazzled when Junior has a hissy at Target.

  39. Roshni

    I’m really late seeing this post but it so resonates with me that I had to comment! I just love the whole viewpoint and would love to say that I completely agree with it…in theory I do. But practically, I often don’t seem to be able to apply it. I guess its the whole letting go part. My elder son is so much like me when I was young and I was such a DORK….I feel I wasted so much of my precious childhood days being inhibited or sullen or just wanting to be out of it and left alone. He’s much much better than me…he has more confidence, but every time I see a bit of my previous self in him, I tend to get tensed. I KNOW I should let it go, but some how I have this concept that if I could only drill it into him not to be like me ……okay, I know I sound crazy now!

  40. Anna

    Hmmm.
    I agree, and yet, I think that this generation of ‘child focused parenting’ comes from kids who were parented by ‘parent focused parents’. From about 6th grade on we were’ on our own’ at my house and I can say that I don’t think that is the solution either. Is there a balance?

  41. Sabrina@salt lake city family portraits

    How insightful! 🙂

    I totally agree with “What to do … #1”. But then, it is easier said than done! 🙁 I have been trying so hard to get more “me time,” but I find myself, more often than not, giving up my scheduled “me times” for my daughter.

    I better toughen up a bit, huh? 😉

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