I have been lucky enough to be involved in many great projects, and have been on several amazing teams in my life. From board member at a small perinatal and parenting nonprofit (Birth Roots), to director at a community-based organization (The Center for Parenting and Play), in these roles, I have been on the receiving end of some pretty awesome strategic facilitation. Man, people with strategic planning skills just floor me! My brain is all big ideas rolling around in circles—no sense of order whatsoever up in there. None.mrbn-logo

So, I consider it an honor and a privilege to currently serve on the leadership team for the Maine Resilience Building Network, and we just had a strategic planning retreat in which our fine-minded facilitator named three things that we all (as leaders and members) needed to have:

Skill, will. and attitude.


Whoa. Total light bulb moment.

THIS is what we (myself included) are missing from our home lives—STRATEGY! “Why can’t we bring more strategic planning to parenting?” I wondered. Well, we can. And I would argue that before the crucial components of skill, will, and attitude, we must first have understanding of good information.

After the brain-swirling slows down, here’s what my mind map for strategic parenting looks like:

  1. Information/knowledge: We know, now more than ever before, the specifics about how humans develop and how brains function. Peruse the websites of ZERO TO THREE (disclaimer, I work there), the American Academy of Pediatrics, or (if you want to get really nerdy) the National Institute of Health for up-to-date science and research. Many parent educators, such as myself, are touting the current research in books and on blogs worldwide. (Dan Siegel, Tina Payne Bryson, Laura Markham, and Patty Wipfler to name a few)
  1. Skill: It’s great to know that kids respond best to connected guidance and consistent modeling, but how the heck do I DO that? This part really is a skill-building process. And just like you wouldn’t jump up from your couch to run a marathon, you can’t jump into a new way of being without practice. When your kid yells at you, and you, a) stop an old way of being, like yelling back, b) pause long enough to think about what the new action might be, and c) put that action into practice by getting low, making eye-contact, and stating calmly that you’d like to be spoken to kindly, you are LITERALLY changing your brain wiring (and being an awesome model for your kid).
  1. Will: Even armed with information and skills, we will not be successful unless we are motivated to take action—to put one foot in front of the other—to try. Motivation is tricky. After decades (centuries) of the deep-seated belief in the “carrot or stick” version of behaviorism, many of us feel that when push comes to shove we are only motivated by rewards and punishment. Well, I’m not buying it, and neither should you. Check out this great TED talk for a fresh perspective. Feel like you don’t have the will to make change happen? Shift your view and take any first step; energy and action follow thought.
  1. Attitude: I have no idea who said, “Attitude is everything,” but it was, and they are right. The best way I know to change my attitude when I’m in the dumps is to write down things I’m grateful for. Seriously. The more upset, anxious, or negative I feel, the longer my gratitude list needs to be. When I’m having a really awful day, I aim for 100. Making even a short list each day will change your life for the better. I promise.

Really quick; some additional family life strategy for you right here. A few more things to consider:

What is your family’s mission, vision, and values? Honestly, taking a small chunk of time to contemplate the foundational values you want to build your family culture upon is so dang important. You would not run a business, or pour time into any endeavor without doing this significant work. It’s never too late!10,000 foot perspective

What are your family’s short- AND long-term goals? Being able to zoom in to the micro (how to solve the sleep, toileting or whatever current issue you’re facing) and out to the 10,000-foot macro view of what we are trying to do
here is raise kind, compassionate, thriving global citizens,
imperative. Knowing what your longer term goals are, will guide you in how you handle the day-to-day stuff.

How do we “hold center” instead of exerting control? This was an actual question from the strategic facilitator in our recent meeting. Can you even think of a more important question to apply to parenting? Modeling “holding center” and being a strong leader is far preferable to the old way: big, powerful people trying to control smaller, less powerful ones. A new parenting paradigm is emerging; one where the creation of connected relationships, families, and communities is a high priority. Jump in!

Try it out.


Be intentional, mindful, and strategic. Gain some skills. Change your attitude. Tee yourself up for success by attending to your knowledge, skill, will, and attitude in this more personal realm. Has anyone else used strategic planning or other typically business-type thoughts in their parenting or home life? Please share in the comments.

Sarah MacLaughlin is a compassion coach, child behavior decoder, and warrior for kindness. She is also a licensed social worker and parent educator with over 20 years of experience working with children and families. Sarah is author of the award-winning book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children. She is also Mom to an eight-year-old, who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice.