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Do mothers have a sixth sense?

As parents, we’re always looking for legitimate devices to add to our child-rearing tool box.

While we spend hours pouring over the latest books and blogs, the most natural parenting tool available may be closer than you think. We hear a lot about “mother’s intuition,” but is there really something to listening to your gut?

At one point or another, you’ve probably been told to listen to your gut when it comes to parenting. If you shunned the idea in favor of a more concrete approach, you may want to reconsider the power of intuition.

Legit or hocus pocus?

Moms are familiar with that tug on the stomach that tells them something just isn’t right. We often discount that tug as hocus pocus, but sometimes we act on these feelings only to realize they were right on. “Psychologists often refer to two ‘ways of knowing,'” says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. “The rational way of knowing is based on logic. The emotional way is based on gut feelings.” Mother’s intuition is an example of “emotional knowing” – and it’s legit.

Read about intuition verses expert advice >> 

Types of intuition

British researchers Julie Gore and Eugene Sadler-Smith have identified four types of intuition: problem-solving, social, creative and moral. Each can be applied to parenting.


Problem solving

Given a mother’s unique understanding of her child, she has a certain baseline that nobody else can duplicate. “This kind of intuition is based on experience, learning and feedback that coalesces into an automatic sense of knowing what to do,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore.



Although it’s sometimes difficult to explain, moms tend to know when something just isn’t right. “This kind of intuition is what guides a lot of our emotionally-driven decisions in parenting,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. “You may justify the decision afterwards, based on logic or facts, but the initial response is a gut feeling.”



Moms have a keen eye on their children all the time, even when they aren’t in direct sight. Subsequently, they are able to read their kids better than anyone else. “This involves a non-conscious process of taking in verbal and nonverbal cues, plus combining it with our own emotional experience, to determine how someone else might be feeling or what they might be thinking,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. Kids don’t have to tell us that it’s time for a break or a nap. Moms just know.



When a change is needed in a parenting approach, moms are often able to follow a hunch in order to find a new path. “As parents, when we have a difficult situation with our children that happens again and again, and then, as we’re about to fall into the same pattern, we suddenly see how we could approach things differently, we’re using our creative intuition,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore.

Find out how to help kids manage their emotions >>

Use with caution

We often act on intuition but it’s not always accurate. Think of it as a tool to add to your arsenal. “Intuition is an efficient form of information processing,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. “We take in a lot of information and without conscious reflection, pull it together into a ‘feeling’ about what’s happening or what we need to do. We may miss important information or jump too quickly to assuming a new situation is just like our past experience when it’s not.” Intuition is most effective when combined with that other “way of knowing:” logic.

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