August 3, 2021

Head Knowledge versus Heart Knowledge – Why we need both in parenting

This ‘Head Knowledge versus Heart Knowledge – Why we need both in parenting’ blog article was written by Emily Wong, Senior Child and Family Counsellor, Child Trauma Service Melbourne team at the Australian Childhood Foundation.


“All the same,’ said the Scarecrow, ‘I shall ask for brains instead of a heart; for a fool would not know what to do with a heart if he had one.’ ‘I shall take the heart,’ returned the Tin Woodman, ‘for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.” 
― L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz 


Head knowledge is the intellectual part of you.

It can be rational, logical and unemotional. It has a structured approach to tasks, likes step-by-step guides, strategies and solving problems. When we think about parenting it helps with the ‘doing’ aspects of parenting. Parenting, at times, is an intellectual exercise in executing and completing a series of tasks that scaffolds and unlocks different levels of your child’s development. It is about teaching and supporting your child to develop the skills they need to be successful, responsible, self-reliant, capable and confident adults. You can know lots of parenting ideas and strategies and know how to apply them. Head knowledge prioritises and promotes your child’s physical, emotional and social development. It offers consistency, predictability, stability, fair rules and boundaries that provide a sense of security for your child. 


Heart knowledge is the part of you that taps into empathy, compassion, love, kindness and connection.

Heart knowledge is about being curious. It is about seeking to understand your child’s inner world and connecting on an emotional level. It is about play, acceptance and deeply listening to all of your child. It is about savoring and feeling the moment with your child, with no agenda. Heart knowledge prioritises the relationship and connection with your child. It offers an attuned and emotionally safe relationship that conveys unconditional positive regard to them. It communicates to your child that they are seen, heard and that they matter. Heart knowledge needs us to be aware of our own inner world so that we can respond rather than react to our children’s behaviours and needs. 

Stress and the challenges that life brings can sometimes muddle the communication between head knowledge and heart knowledge. When you are stressed, it is easier to parent from head knowledge because it means you get the practical parenting tasks done. These can be measured, compared with dealing with emotions which are often intangible, confusing and more difficult to hold and understand at times. 

What affects the connection between the Head and Heart?  

  • Life events and challenges 
  • Our own feelings, expectations and experiences 
  • The shoulds, coulds, musts, have to’s, the expectations of others 
  • Shame 
  • Guilt 

What brings the Head and Heart together?  

  • Self-care 
  • Love 
  • Trust 
  • Vulnerability and courage 
  • Support and encouragement 
  • Self-awareness and reflection 


Why it matters?

Parenting requires both head knowledge and heart knowledge. The parent-child relationship will not thrive if parents used their head knowledge all the time. The same goes for heart knowledge. Head knowledge and heart knowledge work together and guide each other. Parenting is not just about knowing (head knowledge), it is also about feeling (heart knowledge).