The Nuts and Bolts of Essential Parenting

The intentions of Essential Parenting are to support you in helping your children to:

  1. Live a happy, meaningful, and fulfilling life.
  2. Contribute to a restful, harmonious home by becoming respectful and responsible.
  3. Grow into their full potential and share their gifts with the world.

Children have a natural drive toward each of these goals—to thrive, engage in harmonious relationships, and to be authentic and become fully themselves. Our relationship with them is the single most important modifiable factor that either supports or thwarts them in developing into their full potential. With that in mind, this section is designed to provide you with the most basic insights, key skills, and practices you will need to support them in this endeavor.


“How much easier her life would be if we did not continually oblige [a child] to choose between our adult approval and her self-respect.” — John Holt



  1. Children have needs. Children are human beings who, like all living organisms, have certain needs. When their needs are met they feel better, they function better, and are more likely to follow our guidance.
  2. There are three main categories of needs. The three primary categories are physical needs, relational needs, and maturational needs.
  3. Children’s maturational drive can’t engage until their physical and relational needs are met. When we focus on bringing our children to a state of rest by meeting their physical and relational needs, they naturally will move towards becoming more autonomous, responsible, and mature.
  4. Children’s brains become alarmed by separation. Children are biologically wired to become alarmed when they feel separated from their caregivers.
  5. Children can attach is many ways as they grow and mature. Very young children do best when physically with someone to whom they are attached. But as they mature, children do not have to always be physically with their caregivers. Maturity increasingly supports them in becoming capable of “holding on” to us when we are away.
  6. Children feel more secure in a village of connection. The more loving adults in a child’s life, the more likely they will have somebody to lean on when they need connection.
  7. Children thrive with love and limits. Studies have consistently shown that kids grow into autonomous, respectful, and responsible adults when they are raised with unconditional love and healthy boundaries.
  8. True love is unconditional. When love is given only when a child performs or behaves well, it does not feel like real love. True love is an underlying, unwavering bond of connection that is unconditional and shared even, and especially, when it is “undeserved.”
  9. Healthy boundaries support responsibility and resilience. Because children are new to this earth, because they are still immature and relatively undeveloped, they need our loving guidance to become disciplined and grow into their full potential.
  10. Discipline is a long term project. Discipline is not simply achieving short-term compliance from our children, but is best thought of as a long-term process that results in our children becoming steadily more autonomous, responsible, and mature over time.


“A wise mother knows: it is her state of consciousness that matters. Her gentleness and clarity command respect. Her love creates security.” — Vimala McClure, The Tao of Motherhood


Key Skills

  1. Recognize crying and misbehavior as the expression of an unmet need. It is important to be able to shift out of the judgmental mind, to move beyond whether a behavior is right or wrong, good or bad. A more powerful skill is to “see deeper than behavior” into the unmet needs and underlying state that is likely driving the behavior. From this deeper understanding we can help our children “get it together” and move back towards harmony in the home.
  2. Meet your child’s needs before the meltdown begins. The capacity to anticipate our child’s needs and to meet them before the meltdown begins is essential to a smoothly running household.
  3. Keep your child’s connection fire stoked. Since connection is the pre-eminent need of children, it is important that we keep their connection fire stoked and create feelings of satiation and contentedness. This allows them to move out into the world in a more relaxed and confident way than pushing them towards independence will.
  4. Create a village of connection. By helping to connect your children to others in your attachment village—grandparents, friends, daycare providers, and teachers—you create a wider web of support for the whole family.
  5. Bridge what would divide.* Help your children feel safer during times of separation—bedtime, drop-offs at school, or extended trips—by focusing on the return and the reunion rather than emphasizing the separation.
  6. Relax, play, and enjoy your kids everyday. The more we as parents can stay in a relaxed and playful mode with our kids, the more easeful the entire household will run and the more enjoyable our family life will be.
  7. Connect before you direct.* Before you tell your child to do something, make sure that there is a working relationship in place. People tend to accept guidance more graciously within a context of connection.
  8. Be respectful and loving to your kids. When we treat our children with kindness and respect—allowing them room to have their own feelings, desires, and beliefs—then they will grow up to be kind and respectful in turn.
  9. Don’t be afraid of tears. Recognizing tears for what they are—simply a communication of an unmet need—you will be able to do what is necessary to help your child get, not necessarily what they want, but what they need.
  10. Practice Loving Discipline in place of punishments and rewards. The ability to guide your children toward becoming respectful and responsible within the context of a loving relationship is key to a harmonious and restful household.


“Do not doubt your own basic goodness. In spite of all confusion and fear, you are born with a heart that knows what is just, loving, and beautiful.” Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Loving Kindness, and Peace



Each week pick one of the practices below, do your best to cultivate this new way of being, and see how it affects your child, your relationship with them, and the entire family dynamic. More detailed explanations of these practices can be found in the practices section.

  1. Essential TimePractice setting aside one-on-one quality time with your child where the goal is simply to be together and enjoy each other. This “child-led time” is very nourishing for you and your child, and does wonders to deepen the intimacy between you.
  2. Provide more than is being pursued.* Practice being in the lead when it comes to providing relational nourishment. Instead of waiting until attention seeking behavior starts, provide ample love and attention to your child, satiating their nervous systems and allowing them to shift into exploration, learning, and other processes of maturation.
  3. Connect before you direct.* Practice taking time to connect with your child before giving them a directive. Express interest in what they are currently doing and share some smiles and laughs before you begin to guide them toward what is next.
  4. Mindfulness. As much as possible, practice being totally in the present moment while you do whatever you are doing. Stop worrying about the future. Let go of ruminating about the past. Simply wash the dishes or change your baby with an open, relaxed, and present-centered attention. This will help you become less reactive and stressed out, and will set the tone for a more nourishing and intimate household.

Read more about these practices.


* Phrases learned from the work of Dr. Gordon Neufeld.

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