I can’t be the only one who blinked hard at the calendar in July, wondering where the hell the first half of 2021 had gone. After spending the better part of 2020 wanting the whole year to vanish off the space-time continuum, it’s a little surreal to watch time speed up again as life around us normalizes. Even so, we’ve done a lot of parenting already this year, and as we turn toward the back end of 2021, it’s worth reflecting on some of the best tips we’ve learn up until this point.
Join me on a journey through our best parenting advice of 2021 — so far.
Re-evaluate your parenting rules this year
I suggested this at the beginning of the year, and halfway through is another good time to rethink any household rules that have outlived their usefulness:
Changing rules we’ve had for years doesn’t always occur to us, though. Sometimes a rule has outlived its usefulness, but we’re still enforcing it simply because we’ve always enforced it. That’s why I propose, in this fresh new year full of promise, that we reboot our parenting rules. We should take a moment to ask ourselves if this year is the year we can ditch the “no snacks on the couch” rule because, actually, the kids don’t leave crumbs all over creation every time they eat anymore.
Let them do chores — no matter their age
Starting even as young as age two or three, kids can being pitching in around the home. The little ways they “help” as toddlers and preschoolers can lay a foundation for them to build upon as they get older and learn to, eventually, become self-sufficient adults. Here’s an age-by-age guide to kids’ chores.
Every child is different. Some kids are going to be chopping veggies by the time they’re seven years old; others can’t be trusted with a sharp knife until they’re old enough to drive. This guide is an attempt to build on skills from one general age range to the next, but it’s also ok — and encouraged — to play to your child’s strengths and preferences when it comes to chores.
Better understand your child’s temperament
When non-parents confidently declare how they would parent in XYZ situation (a toddler throwing a tantrum in Target, a child who refuses to eat anything other than chicken nuggets, a teenager who is perpetually glued to their cell phone), they often don’t realise that the parent they’re smugly judging from afar is parenting not All Children Who Ever Lived, but their one unique, specific child. And that child has their own personality, needs, and temperament.
Understanding your child’s temperament — which they are largely born with — is more than half the battle.
You can already start to see indications of a child’s innate temperament even in infancy. Some babies will cry when they’re hungry; some will scream. Some will be all smiles nearly all the time; others are more serious. Your toddler might be trying to climb every structure of the playground practically before they can even walk; mine was the one who stood on the sidelines for the first half hour, trying to decide whether or not that shit was safe.
Although we can’t change our child’s temperament, per se, understanding it can help us adjust our own expectations and improve our interactions with them.
Spend your parenting time more “wisely”
You may want to do it all with your kids (in theory), but you can’t do it all. What you can do, though, is get a little smarter and more intentional about the time you do spend with them to get more out of each moment.
You know which activities you love doing with your kids, but maybe you’ve been spending just as much time doing the things you don’t love because you felt like you should do them. And maybe you’ve been doing those things because you think it’s super important to your kid — but maybe it actually isn’t.
The types of tasks and time our kids value and the support they need changes drastically throughout a childhood. When they’re little, they may want us to be there at every school drop-off and pick-up so they can relish those few extra minutes of having a captive audience — until they get a little older and would prefer to ride the bus or walk with their friends. You may be able to tell which activities they value the most, but if you’re not sure, ask them.
Get better at dealing with tantrums
I didn’t say get excellent at dealing with tantrums. I didn’t even say get good at dealing with tantrums. If someone had figured out a fool-proof way to quash every tantrum, hopefully they’d have shared it by now. But, depending on your child and the reason for the (majority of the) tantrums they have, there are some tricks you can try to resolve them more quickly — or avoid them completely.
What works for one parent and child almost inevitably won’t work for the next parent and child when it comes to many aspects of parenthood, but especially tantrums. So here is where we will share for you everything we have learned so far about the fits our kids throw — starting with why they get so damn mad in the first place.
Be louder about your parenting at work
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but if you’re someone who parents and works outside the home (or works inside the home for a job that originates outside of the home), it’s hard to balance this shit. The pandemic made it even harder with our kids being both seen and heard on a regular basis. That’s why now is our golden opportunity to normalize the fact that, yes, we have small children at home — and no, that doesn’t make us any less professional or competent.
Our kids are not evaporating from existence just because they’re no longer interrupting our meetings. They still impact our daily schedules, and we are still growing because of them.
Managers and workplace leaders who are parents, in particular, need to parent even louder, because a boss who talks about their kids or who announces they’re heading out early to catch the spring concert sets the tone for everyone else to feel comfortable doing the same. And those who aren’t parents can encourage people on their teams to parent louder by checking in with them from time to time to ask about their children.
Detox your kids from their screens
I have no idea why any of us would need to detox our kids from their screens right now, but in case you do, we’ve got a four-part plan for you that goes like this:
1. Forgive yourself. (We were in a pandemic, and you did the best you could.)
2. Remember that the dopamine is making them want more. (It’s a physiological response!)
3. Assess how much they’re actually using. (OK, probably a lot.)
4. Create a family media plan. (We’ll help you with this part.)
Teach kids the difference between secrets, privacy, and surprises
We know the difference between a secret, some privacy, and a surprise, but for kids, the difference is so subtle that it can be confusing.
These concepts can blur and overlap — and unfortunately, that is a fact child predators take advantage of. That’s why it’s important to help define what each concept is and when it’s ok — or not ok — for them to keep certain information to themselves.
Follow this age-by-age discipline guide
Every time you think you’ve finally gotten a handle on how to manage your child’s misbehavior, disrespectful language, or general rule-breaking, they get a little older and come up with new ways to test your resolve. That’s why we created this age-by-age guide to disciplining your child.
Kids do eventually learn, for the most part, to not throw the All The Fits, to follow the rules, and to speak to others respectfully. They do this not simply because we insist upon it from Day One, but because of the way we discipline them when they make mistakes and break rules along the way.
But how you handle misbehavior — or promote the behaviours you do want to see — will change depending on their age and developmental stage.
Raise a gracious loser
If given the chance between winning and losing, I think it’s fair to say most of us would like to dominate. It sucks to lose a game! On the other hand, losing is a big part of life, and we want to raise our kids to be adults who can handle losing gracefully — we could use more of those folks, after all. Here’s how to do that:
1. Start them young with “cooperative games.”
2. Teach them to play the “long game.”
3. Be a gracious loser (and winner) yourself.
4. Put the damn game away if you need to.
Read more on each of those suggestions here to raise a child who is slightly less aggrieved when they lose a round of Sorry.
Teach your white kid about their privilege
We need to have on-going conversations with our kids about race and the prevalence of racism in the United States (and around the world) — but one issue that parents of white children, specifically, need to address is their inherent privilege.
Too many white parents take on a “colorblind” ideology. That is, if we don’t talk to our kids about race, the kids won’t notice differences in race, and therefore they will grow up to be unbiased adults. The problem with this is that children do notice race from an early age and they’re making their own inferences about race based on what they see around them.
And families of other races are having these conversations, even if white families aren’t.
Is it their fault they have privilege? No. But does that privilege exist, regardless, and is it something they should be aware of so they can grow up to be actively anti-racist? Yes. Here’s how to start that conversation.
Be a better “audience” for your older kid’s interests
When our kids are little, we almost have no choice but to be immersed in what they become obsessed with, be it dinosaurs, trains, ponies, or garbage trucks. They rely on us to help them learn every last fact and read every last book we can get our hands on their favourite topic. But as they get older and start reading their own books and pursuing their own interests without us, we can forget to show them that we still care about what they care about.
I don’t think parents need to physically start playing every sport their kids ever play, but learning about their interests — whether it’s the saxophone, gymnastics, Dungeons & Dragons, breakdancing, horror films, or whatever — helps remind older kids that you care about what they care about. If it’s something they like to play, learn the rules and ask to play it with them. If it’s something they like to watch, curl up on the couch next to them. If it’s a certain type of music, listen to it. If it’s a sport or activity they enjoy participating in, snag a front seat.
Take the “long view” of parenting
It can be hard to see the parenting forest for the trees. Every day is full of challenges both big and small, so it’s easy to feel like you’re failing at every turn. We may find ourselves so hyper-focused on the daily obstacles that we forget to take a step back and look at the bigger picture:
Whatever behaviour or situation your child is currently struggling with, pretend they are actually your kid’s friend, or your best friend’s child, or the kid next door. Imagine their parent confiding in you, venting about how they keep missing curfew or got their third detention or never turn their homework in on time — what would you say to them? We can sometimes more easily see the “long view” from an emotional distance, so try simulating that distance for yourself.
Meddle more “mindfully”
Particularly if you’re a natural meddler, you may be inclined to jump in and “fix” every last problem or challenge your child encounters. But there is a time and a place to get involved — as long as you’re mindful about it.
On one end of the parenting-style spectrum are the “helicopter parents” who hover in an ever-vigilant attempt to protect their children from basically everything. On the opposite end, we have the “free range parents” who let their kids roam — just like we all did in the good ol’ days, back when we only came home for the occasional sandwich or when the street lights came on at dusk. But there is a middle ground to be found between these two extremes, and as one pediatric neuropsychologist describes it, it’s the parents who mindfully meddle.
Make sure your parenting isn’t toxic
If you’re reading this, it’s doubtful you would intentionally be toxic in your parenting. But our own negative life experiences can seep into our interactions with anyone, including our kids, and we may find ourselves subconsciously repeating phrases or behaviours that we have been on the receiving end of.
Even if we’re perfect, which is an impossible standard, success (however you would define it) is not guaranteed. But there are ways to stack the deck in our favour — starting by ridding any toxicity that has seeped into the way we parent. If you see yourself if any of these, you’re not alone. We’ve all done some of this to some degree at some point. We’ve all had bad days. Kids are both resilient and forgiving, and there’s always time to course-correct. The first step is recognising the areas that need a reset.
Remember that your parenting style is subject to change
Parenting is a journey, not a destination, and like any journey worth taking, it’ll have twists, turns, obstacles, and surprises along the way. We don’t have to dig in and stay the original course if the detour suddenly makes more sense. We might, generally speaking, identify as a particular type of parent. But that doesn’t mean our parenting style isn’t subject to change from time to time.
As long as you’re pretty consistent overall, there might be moments that call for laying down the law, and moments when looking the other way isn’t going to kill anyone. If the past year-plus has taught us anything, it’s that our parenting style can — and should — be fluid. Just because we’ve always parented a certain way doesn’t mean we always have to parent that way.
We can learn and adapt as we go, just like our kids do.