When I was in Seattle over Thanksgiving, my mom and I talked about whether we should provide my cousin’s daughter, who is newly pregnant, with our top parenting tips.
Whether we do or not, I decided to write my top five tips for early-childhood parenting. If nothing else, perhaps Sydney will use them in 30 years! Readers, if you have other tips that are in your top five, please share!
- Talk To Your Child: One of my two favorite parenting books, Brain Rules for Baby, cites a study that says babies who have caregivers who consistently talk to them have an IQ 1.5 times higher by age three than those whose caregivers did not talk to them much. It seems obvious. Kids’s brains are just forming and they are learning a new language pretty much from the moment they are born. This is such easy advice to follow and yet so many parents do not do it, I sometimes think our entire country would be better off if all new parents were given this as a parenting guideline.
- Be Patient: This one is obvious too and yet is probably the most difficult one to practice. Kids are simply not on the same schedule as adults. They really don’t care that much about being on time to anything and would much rather engage in whatever interests them in the moment. My personal strategy is to get ready 5-10 minutes before I need to do so whenever Sydney and I have to go somewhere, including bedtime.
- Have Fun: Sure, it makes sense to have fun as a parent. But kids really really want to have fun and respond well to situations that are fun. I provided a detailed example below.
- Give Choices: This advice is straight from my other favorite parenting book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, the new 2017 version just for young kids. Luckily, the older version also had this advice and Devon and I have been using it since Sydney could understand us. The advice is simple: give your child options, two things that are both acceptable outcomes, rather than telling them what to do. Kids (like adults) want a say in their own lives. So instead of “Please put your shoes on so we can go” I will say “Which shoes would you like to wear?” It is a magical way to eliminate arguments.
- Acknowledge Feelings: This is also a difficult one for many people. The key is to remember that a child’s world is hugely important to them. So if Sydney is sad because her pencil broke or mad because we have to leave the park, it is important to recognize these are real feelings of huge importance to Sydney at that moment. Instead of doing the typical guy thing of trying to make it better (“We can come back to the park tomorrow”), which is not really going to help, all I have to do is say “I understand – it is not nice to have to leave the park when we are having so much fun, is it?” Equally important is acknowledging and expressing my own feelings, which helps model this for Sydney. When I say something like “Sydney, it really makes me unhappy when you throw your hairbrush on the floor”, which happened the other day when her tangles were causing her discomfort, Sydney will invariably look me right in the eyes and say “I’m sorry, Daddy.”
Here is an example of the power of having fun. This morning Sydney woke up complaining of a sore neck, then a sore ankle, then another sore ankle. She probably did have a sore neck from sleeping on it funny, I probably didn’t acknowledge it enough, and she probably made up the sore ankles to get attention. I accommodated by carrying her downstairs on my shoulders but when it was time to eat breakfast and Sydney told me she couldn’t walk six feet from the couch to the dining room table, my first instinct was to tell her she would have to walk if she wanted breakfast.
That is a classic no-win statement in which I am “teaching her a lesson” that really doesn’t need to be taught. Do I want Sydney to go to preschool without breakfast? No. Was she happy to hear that ultimatum? No. Just as tears started welling, I switched tactics and said “I have a game.” Sydney perked up. “Pretend you are a famous pirate and you were bitten on the ankles by an alligator. We’ll pretend this chair is the alligator. You now have to get safely to Pirate’s Island, which is the table, before the alligator catches you.”
Sydney of course streaked off around the living room, behind the couch, and to the table (where breakfast was ready) while I chased her with the chair. Sore ankles forgotten. The power of having fun.