The Secret to Raising Great Kids

by | Sep 2, 2020 | Parenting Teens, Parenting Young Kids | 16 comments

Is there a trick to raising great kids? Something that is almost guaranteed to work?

We’d all love that! And because we want to raise good kids, we’re often focused on how to prevent bad behavior. When we talk about parenting techniques, that’s usually what we’re talking about: How to you curb bad behaviour?

We’re focused on how to react when kids do something wrong. Our starting point is already the negative. And a few weeks ago I raised quite a ruckus on the blog and especially on Facebook (I didn’t realize it would be so controversial) when we talked about how spanking babies is abuse, and how spanking is not a good parenting technique. 

Now, I do believe we need good discipline techniques, and consistency is vitally important.

However, there’s something that’s even MORE important, and it’s this:

We need to interact with our kids and get to know them, because good behaviour flows out of relationship

I know a ton of parents who know how to give a good time out, or who spank consistently, who at the same time do not know how to actually play or interact with a child.

I think we have focused so much on discipline that we have neglected the happier parts of parenting–just how to interact.

Now, I have to confess that I absolutely HATED playing with my kids. I hated playing when I baby-sat, too. I’m not one of those sit-on-the-floor-and-play-Barbies moms. I never have been.

What I could do, though, was talk to my kids, read to my kids, and listen to my kids. And I found that the more I talked to them, especially outside the house, the more they would play when they were inside the house without demanding that I participate. So it was a win-win!

Raising Great Kids: Reading to Your Kids

We spent so much time reading to our kids! They got snuggle time, and then they’d play

I’m not saying, then, that a good parent is one who is always playing anything and everything with her kids.

Not at all. I know many of you, like me, struggle with stuff like that. But do discover how and when you are best at interacting.

I always found it easier to involve the kids into my life than I did to try to enter theirs. When I was cleaning the kitchen, for example, I’d give them a cloth and a spray bottle of water and they’d go to it with the bottom kitchen cabinets. We’d talk and laugh and they would be “helping Mommy”. They really liked cleaning time, because they got to spray water!

We also folded laundry well together. While I was folding, I’d throw sheets up in the air for them to run under, like a balloon. And then, when they were done that, they always got to fold the pillow cases and the facecloths into nice squares. They could do that even at 2, and they were quite good at it.

And even though they were entering into my sphere, they were “playing”. They were laughing, and having fun. And they felt as if they had my attention because I was laughing with them and talking with them. I figured I had to clean anyway, so if I could involve them, then I was playing and doing my own chores at the same time. Then later on, they might let me have some downtime!

The cleaning took 4 times as long as it would have had I done it without the kids, but it still got done, and everyone thought we were playing. And we were together.

The key that I have found is this:

If you want to raise great kids, then when you are with your kids, ENGAGE with your kids.

Think about the difference between sticking a kid in a grocery cart, ignoring them while you shop, and then getting upset when they start reaching for things or whining, and putting them in a grocery cart, and playing games and talking to them the whole time  you’re grocery shopping. What happens? They think it’s a treat!

Whenever I announced to my kids that we were going grocery shopping they were so excited, because we had games we played there–how many yellow things can you find? How many things that begin with a “B-B-B” sound? Let’s count to 6 for all the fruits and vegetables!

And the benefit is they were learning colours and numbers and letters, all the while.

When they were older, we played the, “how much is all of this going to cost?” game, or “which is a better bargain?” We looked for food groups. They learned, and they felt like they had my undivided attention. 

When you’re out with them walking in a stroller, talk to them, don’t look at your phone. Point out the puppies. Look at the birdies. Clap when something funny happens. Even sing songs with them!

When you’re in the car, and they’re able to see out the windows, look for colours and letters and animals. Engage with them, and they’re far less likely to whine or start fighting with siblings. And when you engage with them, you build relationship, so that they’re going to feel more securely attached. They know you enjoy talking with them. They know you’re safe. And they’re more likely to want to do what you say–but also, you pre-emptively prevent meltdowns because they’re not bored. 

Sometimes I think we demand too much of ourselves, thinking that raising great kids involves getting into the sandbox, or acting out Barbie’s wedding.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but that may not be who you are. But if you involve them where you can, where it’s more natural for you, as often as you can, then they won’t feel abandoned if you make them play by themselves at times.

A child feels secure when parents pay attention and talk and laugh with him or her. When parents talk to them and try to teach them things about the world, they learn, “I am important. I am loved. The world is an understandable place, where someone will always help me to figure it out. And my Mommy thinks that I can handle it.”

Isn’t that we want?

On the other hand, if your view of parenting is to raise a child who is completely compliant, and who does not make demands (because that means that they are “spoiled”), you’re setting yourself up for failure. Your child won’t feel secure, which means that they will become even more demanding (they’re searching for love and for affirmation). You’ll become more frustrated with them and more frustrated with your own parenting. And you set up a downward spiral.

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

I see so many parents who really don’t know how to interact with their kids; they go for the more appeasement model of parenting. Kids act up and whine, and they try to get the kids to stop by offering bribes, or trying to distract them, or feeding them. The only time they actually talk with the children, then, is when the children are whiny. When they’re not whining, then the parents leave them alone because now they can grab some time to themselves.

What I don’t think parents realized is that if they took some time when the kids are in a good mood and just talked to the kids–even if you do it while you’re already doing a chore that needs to be done, like cleaning, or making the bed, or dishes–then your kids would be less whiny at other times of day, and you could get those minutes to yourself.

But it needs to start with you putting a priority on interacting with your kids and engaging your kids in the world around them.

And that, I believe, is the secret to raising great kids.

What do you think? Let me know how you involve kids in the everyday things of life!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Tory

    I think this is such great advice and something that I personally need to do more often with my kids. For me, one of the challenges is parenting as an introvert — this much constant interaction just wears me out. Sheila, I know you’ve often said you’re an extrovert, so it may come more naturally to you. Also, you’ve raised two little girls. In my experience, girls tend to be more compliant and relational than boys. (Of course there are many exceptions!) I have a daughter and two sons; my sons are close in age and are glued at the hip, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. They are inseparable but they also fight a LOT. They are very physical and “wrestly” with each other, for lack of a better word. Their constant physical energy and ongoing bickering just wears me out! My daughter is totally different; she is more like the parenting experience that Sheila describes in the post. Likes to walk and talk with mommy in the grocery store, likes to sit and color, etc. But the overall advice in the article is very positive and I like the idea of drawing your child in and having them obey you because they love you and want to have a good relationship with you, not because they want to avoid punishment.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a great question, Tory! I hope others who are mothers of boys will chime in with some good ideas!

    • Jess

      Don’t forget crafts can involve a lot of destruction (ripping, crumpling) and then construction (glue, staples, duct tape.) my boys love doing crafts. I’m not creative at all, so I’ve based them all on our story bible. They have to listen first, then we make something about the story. Ripping up paper for the burning bush, a jail cell for peter and Paul to break out of with cardboard etc. Today we’re doing Moses receiving the 10 commandments (dark clouds, lightning bolts). I’m not a playing mom really, but we’ve turned laundry into a relay race, and putting away toys is a throw-and-aim sort of game. They love scooping ingredients and making their own lunch. It’s definitely a learning curve figuring out how to channel the energy and finding ways to empower them to do tasks on their own. They’re just starting to love wrestling so my new challenge is helping them determine the line between physical play and violence.

  2. Jane Eyre

    This is great! I’m definitely not a “reenact Barbie’s wedding” person – I didn’t even like doing that as a kid – so this advice is amazing.
    A note on raising compliant children: I am and am also friends with several people who were raised with a heavy hand. We were naturally inclined to be obedient, so our parents thought this was working and was a good way to raise daughters. To a person, none of us talk to our parents anymore.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s so sad, Jane, but not surprising!
      I hope more parents will read books like Discipline that Connects with a Child’s Heart or Rebecca’s book Why I Didn’t Rebel. Rebecca showed how stressing obedience without relationship is a recipe for disaster. It’s filled with great stories, and it’s a great read. But Christians need to understand that much of what we were taught about how to discipline children doesn’t really touch the heart.
      Without relationship, nothing matters. And that’s how God sees us, too!

      • Jane Eyre

        The problem is that a parent whose parenting skills are stuck on “iron fist” has no tools available when their adult child does something they don’t like.
        Adult children will make a lot of decisions that their parents don’t approve of. Iron fist parents are used to being in complete control, so channeling Elsa and singing “Let it go” isn’t happening. Their child was always “obedient” (more accurately, naturally well-behaved, but the parents think it’s obedience), so they are convinced that they can force more obedience.
        The only tool they have available is control. Parent cracks the whip. Grown adult son/daughter basically says – this isn’t your decision. Parent sees this as teenage rebellion (because parent demanded something and parent’s authority was challenged), so parent acts accordingly: comes down on the adult child and pulls out three decades of control techniques. These techniques are extremely heavy-handed and the parent has had decades to perfect them. Grown child looks at that and thinks, “you are completely unhinged; get away from me.”
        The kid has free will. You can force them to obey you when they are under your roof, but that ends when they walk out the door. Seems like it would be wise to spend 20 years developing relationship techniques, which can be used until the end of your life, not control techniques, which end when the kid has had enough of your nonsense.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          EXACTLY! And that’s a big point that Rebecca made in the first chapter to her book. We should not think of rebellion as going against your parents’ will. Rebellion means going against God’s will. We have known so many teens/young adults who went against their parents’ will because that was the right thing to do.
          I know one young man who started going to a (non-toxic) church, and the parents were convinced he was rebelling and was no longer a Christian because he left their church. But really, he was just trying to find Jesus, and he was very committed to Jesus. He just couldn’t stand the legalism and hypocrisy and often downright abuse at his parents’ church. By saying that he was rebellious, they just pushed him further away.
          Sometimes parents are wrong. To think that a child must obey everything a parent says leaves no room for the child actually listening to the Holy Spirit.

  3. Noel Lokaychuk

    Yes to this, and also- a lot of people just think they have to fight with their kids. If you expect the worst, you generally get it, especially in relationships. You don’t have to have problems- don’t go in waiting for them!
    One thing I’ve found with my most obstreperous child is that I have to ask her to look at me when I’m talking to her. If she looks at me, she recognizes that I am telling her something and she needs to listen. If she is not looking at me, we have not made that connection and she lets everything I am saying float past. It solves problems before they start if I say, “Look at me please,” and then state it clearly and simply. I think my husband would have been diagnosed ADD in another country/time, and I wonder if she has a little of that.

  4. Wild Honey

    It seems as though this post is addressed to women (and is definitely something moms benefit from hearing), but this is absolutely something dads need to hear. I’ve heard sermons that stress dad’s role as the firm disciplinarian that completely neglect the positive and relational aspects of being a father. And seen that dynamic played out in families of young children and it is SO OBVIOUSLY already not working. Dad is completely checked out except to discipline his kids, and wonders why they never listen. (Not saying this phenomenon is unique to men, just that it seems more common among dads I know than moms I know.)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is a GREAT point, Wild Honey! Completely agree. My husband had such a fun time with the girls when they were little. He really played with them and read to them, and honestly–he very rarely disciplined them, because we didn’t have to. We just focused on keeping them engaged. But he was always present with them when he was home.

  5. Anon

    My parents both had very busy lives when I was growing up, juggling family life with pastoral ministry. But I always felt they had time for me, and so much of that was because they involved me in their day to day lives, just as you mention in this article. I’d help my father in the garden, or my mother when she was cleaning and baking, and I’d also help set out hymn books for services, and I thought all of it was great fun. At the start, I think it probably took way longer with my ‘help’ than not, but as I grew older, I became more helpful in reality.
    The added advantage is that by the time I was in my mid teens, I could run a household, including budgeting, shopping, cooking and maintaining the garden – all without having been specifically ‘taught’ to do so – I just absorbed it through working alongside my parents. Having seen how friends struggled to cope when they left home for the first time, I’m so grateful that I learned these very practical lessons while ‘having fun’ at an early age!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! That’s so perfect. That really has so many win-win features when we involve kids in our lives.

  6. Eliza

    This is probably not a very noble thing to say, but I do find the fact that I enjoy some video games provides a great way to connect with my teenage sons. O:-)
    And games in general. My boys love games. Being willing to sit down and do a round of Catan or Magic: The Gathering means a ton to them.
    Mostly with kids it is like with adults–it’s not so much about how much or what exactly you do as that you are attuned to their bids for attention and their moments of need and respond then, even if it’s inconvenient for you. Being there for them for 5 minutes when they need you is worth more than hours of something *you* dreamed up when they already had other plans.

  7. Lori

    So true!! We are wired for connection!! So true for any and every age. Connection before any kind of redirection. We need to show interest in the things they like – FIRST. Sounds so easy and logical until you deal with a 3 year olds temper or a 13 year olds attitude. All still come down to that basic connection.


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