There is so much pressure on being a parent and so many things parents rarely do but should. Our kids don’t come with instruction manuals, nor does a “natural” instinct always kick in when raising them. So, we search for parenting strategies and lists of “what to do” and “what not to do” in hopes of getting it right. However, with all the well-meaning advice from loved ones, and the sheer volume of information about parenting and child development on the internet, you can feel overloaded. It can be hard to figure out what suits you and your family.
We’re sharing a list of things parents rarely do but should and why they can be helpful. Not to add to the volume of things on your parenting checklist, but to simplify things a little, take off the pressure, or enhance what is already happening in your family.
8 Things Parents Rarely Do But Should
Here are eight things that parents rarely do but should consider trying:
1. Have Screen-Free Time
There should be times during the day when the kids (and you) have time away from screens – TV, iPad, gaming consoles, mobile phones. Yes, technology is here to stay, and it’s not that technology is bad. But there is research about kids having limited access to screens as it can influence their physical and mental well-being. But it’s not just about the health implications. When you tune out screens, you can tune in to one another. It allows you to be more present and engaged with one another, which hugely impacts your child’s well-being.1
2. Get Messy
There are many benefits for kids when they can get messy, and it takes the pressure off you to have things “just so” or clean all the time. Being outside for even 20 minutes can positively impact stress levels and general well-being. In addition, getting messy also allows our kids to move their bodies in different ways, explore textures, and practice their fine and gross motor skills as they navigate new things.2,3,4
3. Let Them Make Mistakes
Letting kids make mistakes is something parents rarely do but should. But this one can be tough as we often step in and fix things to stop our kids from feeling pain or distress. However, when we do this, we accidentally send the message to our kids that we don’t trust them or don’t think they can do things for themselves. We can also make them dependent on us to rush in and make things okay, as they don’t learn how to do it themselves. However, by doing less, you are doing more for your child. They will experience higher self-esteem and confidence, learn about their capabilities, develop resilience, and enhance their well-being when they can make mistakes and learn from them. It doesn’t mean you aren’t there to support them, but it can take the pressure off you to rush in and fix everything.5
4. Be Kind to Yourself
Most parents speak kindly and compassionately to their children but can forget to talk kindly to themselves. Our little people pick up everything. They see when you don’t cut yourself enough slack, have super-high expectations, don’t engage in self-care, or continually put others before you. So, show them it’s okay to be kind, compassionate, and respectful toward themselves, prioritize their needs, and look after themselves.6
5. Let Them Feel Good and Bad Feelings
It’s hard when your child feels sad or upset, but experiencing uncomfortable feelings isn’t something we can avoid. Our kids need opportunities to learn how to deal with these feelings and process them. That means “sitting with” and experiencing the emotion. If we rush in to fix things too quickly, we can accidentally tell them that:7
- We don’t think they can cope with this big feeling;
- That the feeling is something scary, terrible, or something to be avoided and;
- Their feelings aren’t valid if we tell them it’s not so bad or to move past the feeling too quickly.
I’m not saying don’t support them, but I am saying that it’s okay for them to have big feelings. Parents rarely but should sit with the feelings alongside their child and say something like, “I can see you feel upset right now that your friend said mean things about you. It’s normal to feel sad when something like that happens. I’m here if you need me for a cuddle or to help in some other way.”7
6. Encourage Them to Praise Themselves
It’s easy to get into the habit of saying “good boy” or “good girl” when our kids do something positive. We want to encourage or get them to repeat some “goal” behavior. However, all our kids learn is to do things to earn acceptance from others or that good feelings can only come from other people rather than themselves. Instead of automatically praising them, ask them how they feel about something they have achieved or ask them how they achieved something.8
Then, if you want to back it up with praise, ensure you praise their efforts rather than the outcome so they feel good about trying rather than always getting the end goal. For example, say, “Oh, you want to show me your painting. How do you feel after finishing it?” If they affirm that they feel good or positive in some way, support that by saying, “Yes, I can see why you would feel so proud; I can see how long it took you and how careful you were. Awesome effort!” 8
7. Have Regular Family Time
We are all so scheduled. It’s almost part of that hustle culture that “free time” is “wasted time.” But it’s not; we genuinely connect in those quiet moments when we aren’t distracted. Something parents rarely do but should is to try to catch moments of downtime and make sure you try and connect with your kid(s).9
It could be on the car drive to soccer practice or dance lessons, it could be in the few moments while you help tie their shoes, or maybe you could schedule a regular Friday night family movie night or family game night. If you feel stuck on how to connect or how to open conversation, you could try asking everyone in the family a question around the dinner table and see how similar or different you are. The older the child, the more sophisticated the question. You could ask what animal they would be if they could be anything, what job they would love to do when they grow up, why, and what their favorite color is. It’s not about the question; it’s about you showing interest in their answer.9
8. Let Them Make Decisions
I know this sounds simple; your child is making decisions. But really reflect on this one. How much do you assume about your child, or how much of your needs/wishes come into your parenting decisions? So, your child picks their outfit daily, but who buys them? Yes, your child can decide if they want to do an extra-curricular sport, but do they want to do a sport, or are they an art or drama kid?10
Sometimes our subconscious biases and interests shape what we offer our kids, so we shape their choices before they even decide. Parents rarely but should examine areas of their family life that might be their choice rather than their child’s. See if these are areas where you could get their input rather than you guiding all the options. We want our little people to feel confident in who they are, not who we are shaping them to be. This is not about whether they want to go to school or are being unsafe or hurting others. We don’t need to stop having boundaries, but we can tap into our kids’ uniqueness and support their self-identity development in different ways.10
Remember that you don’t need to be a perfect parent; not all these ideas will apply to you and your family. If you feel something fits or sounds positive, give it a go! If it sounds a bit too much or unsuited to your family, don’t force a “square peg in a round hole.” You are the expert on your family, but try some of the strategies and see if they result in any interesting conversations or changes to your family dynamics.