I’ve spent a lot of time reading, writing, and teaching about positive parenting. It’s not all selfless professionalism, of course. I’m a mom to four awesome boys. Four awesome boys who make my heart explode with happiness. And four awesome boys who sometimes make my head explode with craziness.
No one gets out of parenthood challenge-free. And so, I — and many other parents I know — spend a lot of time reading up on the latest advice and all the oldest tricks in the book. Anything to help us feel like we just might be getting the hang of this parenting gig.
I’ve read (and written) pages upon pages of well laid out and even complicated theories on development and parenting. I’ve picked up tool upon tool from hours of studying and training. I value every opportunity for learning and growth — even the ones that come in the form of challenges.
And yet, I find that some of the very best tools for parenting are some of the simplest. I don’t regret hours of hitting the books, attending conferences, or sitting in university classes, but intertwined with that learning shines the simplicity of truths I’ve learned from a variety of sources: professors and experts, yes, but also friends, family, and life itself.
Here are a few of the top pieces of parenting advice that just happen to be some of the simplest.
Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all.
My friend, Alissa of Creative with Kids, wrote a post about The Difference of 17 Seconds. She pointed out that often we jump in too soon and rescue, meddle, or otherwise interrupt our kids. Whether it’s a question, a struggle, or a whine-fest, sometimes the best reaction is simply to pause. 17 Seconds, she says.
I read the post. Moments later, I was picking up my boys from school when one began to complain about something. My first impulse was to reply with my own logic or rationalization. That would likely only have led to more back and forth. But instead, I started counting in my head. I kid you not, as if on cue, when I reached 17 my son solved the quandary for himself.
Note to self: You don’t have to fix everything. Just be there to cheer for them as they do it for themselves. As Magda Gerber taught (as quoted by Janet Lansbury in this great post on when/how to help effectively): ‘Rather than give the message, “When you are in trouble, you scream and I rescue you,” we would like to convey the feeling, “I think you can handle it, but if not, I am here.” ‘
There are moments for silence, and moments for talking. My mother-in-law swears by nightly bedtime chats with the kids. Simple stuff. “What did you do at school?” “What made you laugh today?” “I’m sorry…..(fill in the blank).”
When you hit a rough patch and kids seem to push all your buttons, she’ll ask if you’re having nightly chats. If you aren’t, try it. If you are, try doing it a little longer. It’s part communication and connection and part one-on-one attention. But it’s also for revisiting that tough stuff in a safer, more stable situation. And it’s not only the kids’ mistakes we revisit, but also our own. At its core, it’s all about building relationships. Read more about why a leading psychologist calls bedtime chats The Most Important 10 Minutes of Your Child’s Day.
Accept and validate all emotions. It’s really not about you.
Often, I just want to make things “right”. Rationalize that things are better than they seem. (Again with my “fixer complex”!) “Yes, but…” “But look at it this way.” “But that wouldn’t be fair.” “But that doesn’t make sense.” As though my kids will stop mid-tears and say, “You’re right, Mom. Thanks for helping me be more logical about this.”
Maybe there’s a time and a place for some of those sentiments, but in the midst of emotional turmoil, just accept it. All of it. And don’t take it personally. It’s about their feelings, not about you. Emotions are never right or wrong, they just are what they are. Janet Lansbury does a fantastic job of teaching this concept. Here is just one example.
When all else fails, just open your arms.
A friend of mine once gave this advice. No post. No book. Just this: when kids are melting down and all else fails, open your arms as an invitation. They might not take you up on it, and that’s OK (see the above point) but sometimes — and I’ve seen it — all the overflowing emotion of a tantrum just melts into the physical reassurance of a simple hug.
It’s simple. It’s empathy. It’s love. And as the saying goes, “Love can cover a multitude of sins.” We’ll mess up as parents, they’ll mess up as kids. Making mistakes is part of the process for both sides of this equation. The object of parenting isn’t to avoid the occurrence of all conflict, but to handle it in healthy ways. If we make it clear to our kids that we love them, not just when life is easy, but also when it’s a challenge. If we show that love in every way that we know how– whether they acknowledge that love to us or not– that love will make a world of difference in the long run.