Parenting With AWE (part 1 of 5)

This is part 1 of a 5-part series

On my desk I have a yellowed post it note simply with the letters AWE. “AWE” stands for affection, warmth and encouragement. I think that by putting these three words into action with your children can change the trajectory of your relationship with them.

Of course, this is easier said than done when we are in the midst of the battle and feel that we’re losing ground. It is amazingly easy to revert to the old ways of shame-based parenting since many of its results are immediately evident, while the results of parenting with AWE often only come after a long period of investment.

Many parenting experts talk about a child’s “emotional bank account.” Using this analogy, shame-based parenting makes many more withdrawals than deposits. Although this may sound like an oversimplification, shame-based parenting focuses on making withdrawals, while AWE-based parenting concentrates on placing deposits into the emotional bank account.

We can also make deposits into and withdrawals from the emotional bank account of our spouse. Joe White, president of Kanakuk Kamps and an all-around great guy, did something that I’ll never forget at a Promise Keepers event. He threw a bag of red beans and a bag of white beans into the arena and challenged the men to try an experiment for a month: Every time they took a withdrawal from their wife’s emotional bank account, they should put a red bean in a jar; and every time they made a deposit, they should place a white bean in another jar. After a month, they were to look at the jars and measure how they had done.

Shame-based parenting uses words and actions that cause kids to think they aren’t loved or valuable. Shame-based parenting is performance-oriented and approval-focused. Kids from shame-based homes say that nothing was ever good enough for Dad or that Mom used to say things like “Can’t you do anything right?” and “Just let me do it, so it gets done on time.” Those words win the battle but lose the war.

AWE-based parenting, on the other hand, makes our children feel loved and accepted even in the midst of discipline. I have a plaque hanging on the wall in my office, and I love what it says: “Every child needs someone who is irrationally positive about them.” Kids who live in an environment of affection, warmth and encouragement feel listened to and appreciated. These kids have the confidence to go out and take on life because they know their parents believe in them, value them and enjoy them.

Cathy and I need a lot of reminders to drop the old style and pick up the right way to parent. Here’s our AWE reminder list:


  • Saying “I’m sorry” to my children when I blow it
  • Praising often
  • Believing the best of them
  • Forgiving them
  • Hugging often
  • Saying “I love you” every day
  • Writing thank-you notes and love notes
  • Praying for them
  • Speaking with a tender tone of voice
  • Bragging about them
  • Playing together
  • Listening to them (listening is the language of love)
  • Spending time together
  • Going out on special dates


  • Nagging
  • Belittling them
  • Being sarcastic
  • Making negative put-downs
  • Criticizing
  • Screaming
  • Never saying “I’m sorry”
  • Fighting constantly with my spouse
  • Talking about them negatively to others
  • Showing favoritism
  • Being silent
  • Heaping guilt on them
  • Being rude and irritable

Parenting with AWE means parenting with affection, warmth and encouragement. It doesn’t mean we stop disciplining, but it does mean we try our best to stop shaming our children into making the right decisions. If we would only work as hard at creating a warm, loving environment of affection and affirmation in our family as we do at working in our vocation, we would have a better family atmosphere.

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Jim Burns

Jim Burns is the president of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 20 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord, which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage, Closer, and Doing Life with Your Adult Children. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi; three sons-in-law, Steve and Matt, and Andy; and three grandchildren, James, Charlotte and Huxley.

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