As a mom I always feel like I should be doing more. More teaching at home. More disciplining. More one-on-one play time with my kids. More attention.
Reading recent parenting articles and thinking about all the things I “should” be doing has made me think I should actually be doing less in the areas where I’ve trying to do more.
Let me show you what I mean.
Less drilling of the ABCs.
Right now I’m reading Erika Christakis’ new release, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really need from Grownups. I recommend it to every parent with littles ones under kindergarten age. The main premise of Erika’s book is that preschool is too rigorous and isn’t built to really teach young children. Children of preschool age actually learn best through creative play, in-depth conversations, and being asked open-ended questions. Erika says “We are smothering young children with attention and resources and yet, somehow, we’re not giving them what they really need.” You can read more about Erika’s research and the premise of her book in this article published by The Atlantic.
Less play time with mom.
Just the other day a friend asked me, “How much do you really play with your kids?” She felt guilty for not sitting and playing with her kids more. Moms, guilt yourself no MORE. Research shows that independent play helps kids develop, well … independence. It helps them develop critical thinking and creativity while exploring their surroundings. I’m seeing this at home with my own 4-and-a-half-year-old. He seems to want to play with me constantly. But slowly by encouraging him to play independently, he’s learning new skills and flexing his independence muscles. It’s a win-win for everyone in our house.
I’m starting to think the best thing we can do for our kids is to step aside. Let them figure it out on their own. Let them struggle a bit. Let them have a chance to develop a thoughtful question before jumping in with an answer. And I’m not the only one. Jennifer Zosh, a professor at Penn State, did some research about this and concluded, “People tend to think that parents must directly instruct their children by telling them the labels of the objects that surround them, but this research tells us that children are even better word learners when we ask them to figure things out for themselves,”
I can’t say I’m totally on board with this recent study. It showed that the most effective way to alter your kids’ behavior was not through disciplining, but instead by praising them for positive behavior. Like I said—I’m not exactly buying this one. I know positive reinforcement is a key, but it can’t really be the entire map to the treasure chest too … or can it? This article goes so far as to say, “Punishment might make you feel better, but it won’t change the kid’s behavior.”
*Skeptical faces all around.*
I feel like one of my jobs as a parent is to show my kids that there are natural consequences to their actions. If you hit your sister, you will go to time-out. If you flunk a class you will repeat it. If you miss a deadline at work, that will not go unnoticed. I think the takeaway from this study should be about the importance and utility of positive reinforcement. A lot of parents neglect the power of praise and it’s functionality in shaping behavior.
I have a suspicion we’ve been over-complicating this parenting business.
What if it’s true and the best things we can for our kids don’t involve exhausting hyper-parenting? In some ways, it may be harder for Type A, go-getter parents like myself to take the backseat, to encourage independent play, to NOT jump in and fix every problem. And maybe the things I’ve been guilting myself about don’t matter that much anyway.
Yep, that sounds about right.