Rolling on with our #40TipsForParents as we head into the second half:

40 Tips for Parents: Tip #16

Be mindful about the pictures you show of your children.

There are many levels to this one, but the most real and scary relates to predators and the sickness of the world we live in.

It may be completely innocent for you to show a picture of your naked three year old running around the garden, but that same picture might become something else for someone else who is sick. So perhaps there are some pictures worth keeping to yourselves [although with phone and computer hacking these days, i guess it is worth asking whether there are some pictures which maybe shouldn’t be taken at all]

On a different level though, i may not be qualified as a parent to speak into these things, but as a pastor’s kid, i certainly am able to speak into this one. Your children may not appreciate you showing certain pics of them. They may not appreciate them now OR they may not appreciate them later when they are older and looking back at Facebook memories from ten years ago which flash upon your screen.

Pastor’s wives and children often know this too well from being paraded in well-meaning sermon illustrations [which are sometimes totally fine and sometimes totally not – hint: if you’re a pastor/speaker try asking if you’re going to use someone’s story or embarrassing event] and this feels like a similar thing. For some people it will be fun and they will be in on the joke and for others it could cause alienation or resentment and therapy sessions you don’t want to invest that money in.

So be mindful of the pictures you display on your social media. Be aware of your motivation but also of what it might mean to your child now and in ten years later if you show this particular pic. When in doubt, don’t. There will never be a moment in the future when you look back and are sad you didn’t show a particular photo, but there may be a time when you regret that you did.

A Bonus side tip on this one – for everyone, not just parents – is ask for permission. As a parent there may be a time when your child doesn’t want to be in a picture when actually it’s an eat-your-vegetable moment and they just need to suck it up. But for the most part if you want a picture of your child and they don’t want one, you should consider honouring and respecting their feelings. When it comes to other people’s children [especially if you’re from a foreign country and in selfie-triggering mode] then ask the parent for permission to have their child in your picture. Or if there is an event like a braai or birthday party and you catch someone else’s child in a picture that you want to post, check with the parent first and see if it’s okay. Never ever take pictures of people you don’t know without first asking for permission.

With my nieces and nephews, i love being in pics with them, but i need to check with their parents what their feeling is before posting something on Instagram or Facebook. With new babies you get to hold and pics that everyone is going to adore, the same applies. “Are you okay with me posting this pic on Instagram?” And if the answer is no, then simply don’t.

Photos of people can mean a whole lot to us and i hope that we can continue to take them and share them [i particularly love watching families have fun together] but let’s be thinking about all of the pictures we post. Some pics are best shared in a family Whatsapp group, some in a social media account with more private settings, others can go anywhere and perhaps some of the moments we enjoy and would love a photo of, we should simply just lean into as a moment and not even take a picture. Memories are powerful things.

Let’s be a little more mindful about the photos we take and those we share.


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40 Tips for Parents: Tip #17

Lean towards saying “Yes!” to the things that don’t matter.

‘Hey Brett. Loving the parenting tips you are putting out. One thing we are finding very helpful with the teenager at the moment is always saying “Yes!” to the things that don’t matter, E.g ‘Can my bestie and I walk to Shell and buy ice creams?’. Otherwise she starts feeling like we are on her case and restricting her independence the whole time and the conflict feels continuous.

We save the saying no for when it really matters, E.g. ‘Can I go to this unsupervised party?’ This has reduced the conflict a lot and she is much more accepting when we do say “No!”

So she’s 13 and with all the stuff happening to women in the country it’s tough to decide how much freedom to give her. We’ll let her and her friends wander around the mall by themselves or go to a movie when we are there doing shopping etc. They can also go to the park a couple of blocks from our house.

With regards to that, we have 3 rules. 1. Stay where we have agreed you can be (don’t go off somewhere else) 2. Arrive back at the time we have agreed on and 3. Only be with the people we have agreed you can hang with. if new people get added to any situation she must let us know. She has broken these before and loses freedom for a while. It’s worked really well.’

This feels like one which might be helpful for parents of younger children as well. i can recall hanging out in a watching or babysitting scenario and just catching myself saying “No!” or “Stoppit!” the whole time and for the little person on the receiving end that must quickly start to feel restrictive.

i would add the suggestion [this is my improv training shining through!] of adding an enthusiastic alternative “Yes!” to a moment where you feel like you need to give a “No!” So instead of a blanket “No!” following it up with an alternative which is a “Yes!” that may help soften the “No!” Obviously not all the time, because this will become exhausting, but looking for opportunities to step in and let your child know that you are still their biggest fan!

Lean towards saying “Yes!” to the things that don’t matter.
And adding a postive, “But how about…” alternative when you need to give a “No!”


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40 Tips for Parents: Tip #18

Read to/with your children.

This can be held alongside tip #12 about limiting screen time, cos if you are wondering what to do in its place, this is a perfect suggestion.

If we had children, this is one thing i think i would love to cultivate. Family reading time. Val and i do it already. But the idea [and i remember seeing a pic of a whole family doing this earlier this year] sitting together in the lounge on a weekday evening all reading their books. Yoh, that feels like a win!

When your children are young, read to them. There are so many amazing stories for children and hearing the words is super helpful on a journey to learning the words. But also, in our context, there are more and more amazing African stories being written for children [Here are just a few from a list i compiled a while back –] so get them started on reading stories that relate to the spaces you are in, and that contain a diversity of characters and voices.

When your children are a little older, read with them. Take turns reading a book with them or get them to read it to you. Or grab your book and read alongside them. One thing Val and i did once [which we are planning on doing soon again] was to grab camping chairs and head up to Newlands forest and sit in/alongside the river with some friends and have a reading party where no-one spoke and we just all read our books. How about trying this as a family day out?

One bonus of reading is that you’re not watching tv or stuck to another screen. Another one is that you are learning words and phrases and stories. A third is that you are slowing down [unless you’re a crazy speed reader] – life can rush by and so choosing to stop and grab a book and dive into it and read can be a health-and-sanity-inducing activity. It can also be a great tool for engaging your imagination.

Then perhaps you can make time around a meal to catch up with everyone on what everyone is reading. Who is a character you really enjoy? What is happening in the story at the moment? Where would you take the adventure next? Have you learnt anything that is helpful for life? Really great opportunity for greater connection and intimacy around a meal.

Parents, read to/with your children


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40 Tips for Parents: Tip #19

Don’t hit your kids!

This feels like an easy one [and we touched on it in the discipline tip that was Tip #7 so head back there if you’re needing some creative ideas], but given the recent ConCourt ruling which seems to have many parents across South Africa up in arms, it might not be.

Surely if there is a way to do discipline well that didn’t involve hitting your children that would be first prize for everyone? Surely? But it seems like many people think not.

One of the first arguments people go to [which i have both thought of and said in my uninformed past!] seems to be “I got hit and I turned out fine!” to which Tom Eaton has brilliantly responded:

“To those angry South Africans saying, “My parents spanked me and I turned out fine!” – are you sure? Because to me it looks an awful lot like you’re an adult getting genuinely upset that you can no longer hit a child.” [Tom Eaton]

The other big one people go to is the Biblical “Spare the rod and spoil the child!” whereas i saw a comment my friend Jacqui made the other day on an alternative understanding of the rod which linked it to the shepherd’s rod from Psalm 23. So i did a little more research.

This is a super helpful article that gives some more ideas on that particular translation:

‘The use of the shepherd’s rod actually represented much MORE responsibility of the rod-bearer. ‘

For those open to thinking through this a little more deeply, this old blog post has some really helpful points in it that you really should at least hear out: Spank you very much: Hitting your kids and stuff.

And then i compiled a list of stories from parents i know who shared some ideas on alternatives to spanking their kids that they have tried and have proved successful: The Discipline of Parenting

Discipline must be one of the hardest things about raising a child [even from an onlookers point of view that is obvious] and not something we should have to feel like we need to figure out ourselves. Lean on your community, ask your friends what alternatives they used with their children and try a few things [some of them may fail so try a few more].

No child of yours is ever going to come to you one day and say, “I really wish you had hit me more as a kid!” But by choosing violent means [no matter how small or inconsequential you may think it is] you may be driving a wedge between yourself and your future adult child which may be tough to get over.

Let’s stop hitting our kids, and not just because it is the law, but it IS the law, so just stop it! You can do [and be] better!

Bronwyn Duffield Witthoft: I think also, if they’re only responding to receiving pain from their safe people then maybe there’s other things to explore in the background? I wonder if children who only respond to that ever had loving discipline in different forms right from when they were very young? Or if they only know how to react to being hit because that was the default setting from the start?

Natalie Simmons: When my first kid was about 2 or 3 l would occasionally smack him on the hand (great talk by SA psychologist Derek… says under 4 kids are very tactile). It worked very effectively. Then one day he was extremely defiant standing on the couch arms so l smacked. He got up again. I smacked his hand harder. He got up again. I realised then this wasn’t going to end well as my violence would have to keep escalating. Read up stories of abuse and the perpetrators will often say, but if the kid had just done what l said, l would have stopped. So l decided there and then l wasn’t going that route.

So my advice for smaller kids is you remove the thing from the kid or the kid from the thing.

And come to think of it pretty much the same for teens.

Bronwyn Duffield Witthoft: This was us as well, it didn’t happen very often but when she touched things that were dangerous to her and we had said no to it before then we’d smack her hand. It was probably 5 or 6 times in a period of a year. We stopped for two reasons.
1. Our doctor told us how fragile the bones in their little hands actually are.
2. One day the smack didn’t have any response at all so we smacked again a bit harder and in an instant realized if this was the way we were choosing, how would we know when was right to stop. We haven’t smacked since and she’s still turned into an incredibly decent kid!

Kerri Smith: As a parent of a son who doesn’t respond to positive reinforcement, distraction, time outs, removal of toys, reasoning, verbal reprimands etc etc (you name the method, we’ve tried it), I can also say he doesn’t respond to smacking… So having it ‘in the bag’ as a ‘last resort’ form if discipline for difficult kids doesn’t work.

We are still on a journey. But are trying to learn to predict the bad behaviour and remove the triggers or prepare him for them so he doesn’t respond as drastically. Behaviour is communication – we are trying to understand the cause of the behaviour and treat that instead of treating the behaviour.

Michelle Edwards: I agree with the ban on spanking but parents need practical help on what to replace it with. No one is saying spanking doesn’t “work”. It changes the behaviour short term but the negative consequences emotionally, relationally etc are not great. In fact in my field (Psychology) there is a move away from behaviourism in treating problems and towards a relational approach.

Also for some parents, they won the genetic lottery and their kids are naturally more compliant and mellow so a gentle chat here and there is all their kid needs in terms of guidance. Bless them. But if you have a feisty kid like me (currently 4) you have to face the tricky question of how to raise them well every day. I feel like this topic is too big to get through on a fb thread, I’d really be happy to thrash this out with you over what’s app and give my perspective if you’re interested. I strongly feel there is a better way to raise children that does not involve force, spanking, punishment or shaming.

My fav authors and thought leaders on this are Laura Markham, Dan Siegel, Janet Lansbury, Maggie Dent to name a few.


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40 Tips for Parents: Tip #20

Be aware of your children’s online activity.

This feels like it might be a tricky one, especially as your child gets older. So teaching your children how to make wise decisions when it comes to social media and other online spaces feels like it will be a lot more successful than just being the Local Internet Police [LIP].

i remember when i was a youth leader and some well-meaning parents of youth in my group basically banned them from watching any television because of fear of all the bad things on television. Which meant the kids just watched television at their friends houses or that one day when they were old enough and out-of-the-house enough to have access to television, that they really hadn’t developed any healthy skills to help them navigate that space.

Same thing with internet. Although when your child is young i imagine there is space for some complete internet policing, but as they get older it will probably be more helpful and effective for you to figure out rules and boundaries with your child and to be able to talk through some of the scary or dangerous things they might face online [porn, hackers, viruses, paid games, stalkers, dick pics, cyber bullying, Trump supporters]. If you teach them to make good decisions early on, then hopefully that will stick with them as they grow.

There is a ‘what you watch’ piece and a ‘how long you watch’ piece [we explored in tip #12] and a ‘spending money online’ piece [a lot of mobile games have in-app purchases and it can be so easy to get addicted quite quickly to the shiny things] as well as a safety piece. Finding a way to speak to your children about aspects of bullying and stalking as early as possible feels like a good plan, because there are some very scary and ruthless people out there.

i came across this Infographic which might be helpful both in terms of awareness but also with some tips of things you can do to make things and safe as possible: so take a look.

As with all these tips there is no one size fits all and so i would love to hear from parents who have done some navigating in the online spaces what things you have tried or put in place and even perhaps some mistakes you have made.

The more you invite your child into the process of setting safe and comfortable boundaries, the more they are likely to buy into the process which i think is so valuable with this stuff. Otherwise you police and have strict boundaries at home and they go out and find other less safe places to go and do what they want. Building trust and transparency is essential.

Be aware of your children’s online activity.

Caren Falconer: This has been such a difficult one for us for many reasons especially when the teen years came along and high school happened. Access to the internet is part of school life and life in general. The ideal is to be aware and check up but in reality with busy lives and busy kids it hardly ever happens. Kids Whatsapp group message can be 100 long. So the very best checking up ,for us has been being aware changes in behaviour and keeping an open and honest relationship. If kids want to hide a Whatsapp feud or an addiction online , they will. They are smart. Our other tricky thing that kind of snuck up on us was Netflix and the like. Previously we watched a movie together but because Netflix can be watched on different devices and we don’t all want to watch the same thing, we need to fight for that space. The key problem we all face is that technology changes and it’s influence just is . We have found we had to keep reassessing the outworkings of it all on our family. This post is an important one.

Brett Fish Andersoni wonder if something like a family check-in would work Caren where the responsibility or maturity is assumed on behalf of the teenager and it becomes an accountability space more than a policing space and works parent to child as well – i realise this would totally depend on the family dynamic and busyness and so on but maybe one meal a week that everyone eats together and there is a space for people to check in with struggles – so won’t necessarily catch everything but if teenagers feel adults are being open, honest and vulnerable with them as well might be more inclined to offer up. Or just a personal one on one check-in time every week but would really have to feel like a safe space and checking in rather than checking on… i’m here if you need to talk… also totally would depend on the kind of closeness and intimacy you have with each child…

Caren Falconer: Brett Fish Anderson, I love this idea. Business on everyone’s parts is an enemy of relationship. One thing that worked for us is actually an odd thing. We used to be part of a lift club which was great. I love teens and it gave a space to chat about stuff but actually not being in one has been precious because there is a 20 minute safe space for sharing. From songs they are enjoying (because there is another area that technological changes has shaped) , to whatever. I have been so challenged by the notion of sharing MY struggles with our teens. I have expected them to share theirs but if I am never vulnerable then ? And then your point about closeness and intimacy is do spot on because each child is so different and this area is an organic growing .changing place. So much to think about. Thanks . The odd thing is I suspect I’ll get to the end of parenting and not have many solutions or answers and perhaps more questions.


[For the next five tips, click here]

[To return to the start of the series and catch up on some tips you may have missed, click here]