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Similarities Not Differences

The world today seems focused on differences. Differences between nations, peoples, religions, beliefs, ideologies.

Yet isn’t it obvious that we are one people on a fragile planet and we must learn to work together for the survival of our species and our planet? Doesn’t every human being want the same things: survival, dignity, peace, and love?

Connections come first, long before differences do. Babies are born with the ability to make parents pay attention to them. First comes the persistent cry, later that amazing eye contact, still later the beguiling smile. Nature insures that newborns are ready to connect with any human regardless of color or religion in order to survive.

Connections are inborn; children have to be taught about differences. Differences divide us. Yet the focus today is on the differences between us… differences that are taught and continuously reinforced, differences that can lead to divisions in our daily lives, intense or even irrational partisanship, incessant wars, and endless religious conflicts.

What does this have to do with parenting? When struggling with a two-year-old or a teenager, parents may not realize it but they do have the power to influence their children. The comments parents make to each other does effect how their children think. What if parents everywhere focused on teaching their children by instruction and example the importance of connecting with others instead of stressing the differences between us and them?

My fantasy is that parents everywhere teach their children how to have an open mind and an open heart.

Having a closed mind means not thinking through an issue. You let yourself be swayed by media or demagogues. You are overly certain you are right, and those who don’t agree with you are wrong which not only makes dialogue difficult but also reinforces differences between people instead of our commonalties.

If, on the other hand, you have an open mind you can teach your children how to look at every hot-button issue from both sides. Ask yourself why do others support their side? How do they reach their certainty? How do I reach my certainty? Can we find commonalities? Can we reach resolution?

Having an open heart means we treat others kindly with compassion, understanding and generosity. We have empathy for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. And, most important, we teach our children by word and deed how to have open hearts and show them ways to help the needy.

Sadly, another inborn trait is to prefer our own kind. Despite the occasional holiday family feud, we feel comfortable and safe with our kin. Nature has hard-wired us to prefer those who are most like ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we cannot think open-mindedly and open our hearts to others. And we can bring up our children to open their minds and hearts.

Children are the future, everybody’s future. All parents on this planet want to keep their children safe and healthy, they want their children to get a good education, and have opportunities for a good life. These commonalities should unite parents all over the world. My utopian vision is that one day parents everywhere actually unite to make this world a better place for all.

Happy Parenting!

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