4. Let them see when you fail: This one falls in the category of avoiding the “do what I say, not what I do” syndrome. I haven’t been a kid in about 25 years, and I still feel pissed off about the times when my parents ordered me forcefully to do something well that they failed at on a daily basis. There’s just no hiding during the pandemic, though, not for me. Every mistake is clearly visible, especially in an open floor plan… Every burp or nose picking is instantly common knowledge, particularly with little mini-paparazzi busy-bodying all over the place. Unfortunately, this can go a bit overboard. My children seem to, at times, view me more as their peer than their authority figure, perhaps due to all these visible flaws (or perhaps just because I’m a softy).
5. Reduce the Amount of toys: This might seem a little unlikely, but the spare lifestyle certainly has its merits. Being overwhelmed with 50,000 toys 24 hours a day can be overwhelming for children and parents. It also seems to reduce attention span. I put together an awesome sandbox for my kids with a canopy and folding benches and they played in it for a couple of hours and were done with it. It took me longer to put together! It’s a “what’s next” kind of attitude that doesn’t make for good imagination development. It also has to be a bloody fortune if I sat down to think of all the resources we’ve poured into it. Some of the best times I can remember my kids having are with cardboard boxes that came free with a delivery of paper towels. But my wife and I have said it a dozen times, we’re going to get rid of half of this stuff and rotate only a few things in and out….
In Practice (Merrill Household, Tuesday Mid-afternoon):
Toddler Child A(at shockingly high decibel): Alligator!!!
Parent 1 (startled): Alligator? Oh yeah, I think I saw that. You have to wade through the legos in Bodhi’s room and hope over the train set. Take a left at the dinosaurs, try not to knock over the hungry hippos, and then dig through the costume bin. It’s in the superhero section, I think.
Toddler Child A(looks confused and stunned… a pause): Alligator!!!
Parent 1 (sighs and goes back to shopping for another stroller):…
Toddler Child (In a rage throws all play food items and dishware on the floor in a splash and begins emptying the bookshelf of all books): Alllllligator!!!!!
Parent 2 (Enters and sees the mayhem): Is it bedtime ye-
Parent 1 (not looking up): No.
Prognosis: Be cruel, be vicious, be impractical. If in doubt, throw it out!! Be damned nostalgia, conservatism, and guilt.
6. Limit their Screen Time: We will die on the screen time battle lines. While we certainly understand the merits of other approaches, we have fought the good fight to keep our kids largely screen free, thus far (my daughter is only 9, so…. a ways to go). They probably log about 3 hours per week of total screen time each. It’s impossible to avoid the influence of text messaging (my daughter loves sending emojis), or suppress the knowledge that the next cute photo will be going up on instagram with a caption about the moment for the world to see. She’s already started clamoring for a cell phone, and using the classic line, “But Friend A has had a cell phone since she was in the womb!” But we will die fighting in that war, particularly given the increasing research that has linked screen time to cognitive delays, including the most recent studies. Certainly not going to judge. We’ve made our lives hell in sixteen ways by eschewing screen time distractions, but that’s where we are.
7. Stay Close, But Not Too Close: The risk of helicopter parenting is real. I knew average, otherwise capable high school kids whose parents still got them dressed in the morning. The book by a former dean of Stanford How to Raise an Adult covers the risks of not allowing your teen or young adult to fail. However, a survey of other studies suggest that you should never, ever leave a child alone in a moment of crisis. As the author to the parent article suggests, these are conflicting conclusions. With all things parenting, the key is find balance in an inherently unbalanceable situation. Best of luck, folks!