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Being a parent is the most exciting, draining, loving, terrifying and every other emotion under the sun experience ever.  There are starts, false starts and closed chapters, most without notice.

Parenting is also one of the most freely commented on topics.  Just google “parenting” and it responds with “About 193,000,000 results”.  More than enough to make even the most avid of readers heads spin.  Then you have the “well meaners”, the “informers”, the “helpers” and the “judges” who will only be more than happy to set you straight on your parenting journey.

So what do parents want to hear and what don’t they want to hear?  Here are some easy Do’s and Don’ts:

Do:  Compliment a child on a quality you admire in them, in front of their parents.  Their happy smile, their cute little outfit, how polite they are, how athletic they are, inquisitive, adventerous….  Pointing out their positive attributes will not only make them beam with pride, it will also give their parents the much appreciated (and sometimes needed) “attaboy” confirmation that they’re on the right track.

Don’t: Comment on a negative attribute.  Parents are fully aware of when their children are running amok, having a meltdown or are in need of a nap.  They live with these little people.  Your need to “point it out” is YOUR need, not the need of the parent.  Parents choose their battles and it’s quite possible that this is a battle that they’ve chosen not to wage, in favour of something else.

Do:  Offer positive suggestions when a parent asks you for your opinion or thoughts.  Maybe reference an article they may want to read or offer to find some for them.  Relay positive stories from your own experiences.  Supportive and understanding comments will be carefully regarded and considered.

Don’t:  Give unsolicited advice.  If the parents haven’t asked for help, they don’t feel they need it and probably won’t be open to it.  They need to be in the state of mind to hear advice, so wait until they ask.

Do:  Allow the child to come to you.  In today’s day and age, children shouldn’t just fly into the arms of people they don’t see every day.  If you wait for them to come to you, the interaction will be genuine.

Don’t:  Grab children, get in their face or pick them up if they don’t want to.  It often overwhelms children and sets up an adversarial situation for the parent who now has to rescue the child when they really shouldn’t have to.  They are little people.  If you wouldn’t want to be picked up and carried around by someone who just swept into the door, don’t expect children to want to either.

Do:  Comment on a recent accomplishment or milestone the child has reached.  Commenting on their report card, recent trophy, the fact that they just grew another tooth….  Children love to tell their stories and parents will be more than happy to share as well.

Don’t:  Make this statement “Isn’t he/she doing _______ yet?”  It’s negative and makes a parent feel as though they’re being accused of some wrong doing or lacking in parenting.  The ranges of when children accomplish certain things are large.  Just as some do things early, an equal number do them late, it’s still normal.

Sometimes all a parent needs or wants is a sympathetic nod.  Sometimes they just need to vent.  They don’t want you to fix it, they just need to get it off their chest and gain some perspective before they go back in.  Allow them to catch their breath.

Give parents the benefit of the doubt.  If you’ve carefully considered your approach, chances are that they carefully considered theirs too.  You may not agree, but it isn’t your decision to make for their children.

Lastly, try not to comment negatively on things that parents cannot (or may not want to) change.

  • Their quantity of children.  i.e.  “Only ____ ?” or “Wow, _____ kids is a lot”
  • The gender of their children.  i.e.  “Only _____ huh?” or “Are you going to try for a ____?”
  • The age spacing of their children.  i.e.  “_____ apart is too ______.”
  • That a particular age range is going to be difficult.  i.e.  “Just wait until they hit ______!”
  • Suggest that you know the motives behind why they made a decision.  Remember that old saying about Ass-U-Me.

Parents love their kids.  If you say that to yourself before you speak, you’ll probably find that somethings simply don’t require a comment.

*Please feel free to tell us what you do or don’t want to hear or your personal experiences with parenting advice.  We know there’s more out there!