From Exhausted to Excited: Flip Your Parenting Mindset
1 Love ’em every chance you get.
Before you know it, they will be grown and starting their own lives. Grab that hug at every opportunity. Try not to leave the house without an embrace, kiss, or “I love you.” You won’t regret this effort, no matter how pressed you are for time. You will always be your child’s parent, but your time together really does go fast.
2 Replace chores with contributions.
To make chores seem like not such a…well, chore, stop calling them that. Instead, they become “family contributions.” Teach your 2-year-old to collect dirty clothes into a basket. Have your 7-year-old water the plants. Give older kids first picks from a list of family needs. Explain that you’re all on the same team working for household success. Be a cheerleader rather than a drill sergeant. When kids pitch in, families grow closer, and it’s inoculation against entitlement.
3 Say yes with joy.
If you know you’re ultimately going to let your daughter have a three-person sleepover or allow your son an extra brownie after dinner, just go straight to a happy “Yes!” When you offer up an awesome gesture as if you were doing your kids a big favor, it takes the fun out of it. It’s so easy to add joy to your delivery with “Sure!” or “I’d be happy to!” or “Let’s do that!” Your enthusiasm will make your child—and you—feel even better.
4 Schedule alone time with each child.
There’s no substitute for one-on-one time. Positive, focused attention helps build and maintain an emotional connection. If you can swing 10 to 15 minutes every day, great. Schedule it whenever possible. To make the most of this time, do whatever your child wants. That might be building a tower or playing make-believe. Ask older kids to show you their favorite video game or app.
5 Ask kids what they think.
Be an active listener. Rather than launching into your own opinions about a situation at school or a problem your child is having with a friend, ask probing questions to find out where your child stands on the issue. Everyone likes to know that their opinion is valued and needed.
6 Play board games together.
Board games aren’t just fun—they’re opportunities to shake up family roles. Games like Chutes and Ladders require luck, not skill, so the littlest family members can win fair and square. Some kids will rule at games like Pictionary, Apples to Apples, and Taboo, where being able to anticipate how another player thinks gives you a big advantage. So mix up the repertoire, and may the best player win.
7 Spend time only with people you like.
Stop hanging out with people who don’t make you feel good about yourself or your parenting. You’re not obligated to be friends with anyone, even if they’re the parents of your children’s friends. Showing your kids that there’s no place in your life for people who bring you down will help them learn to navigate their own friendships.
8 Respect your team.
Teachers, coaches, instructors—they’re all part of your parenting team. Your child may have been benched or struggled in online classes with a teacher who was technologically impaired. Of course you’re frustrated, but don’t yell at or blame someone else. Your child needs to see you treat other authority figures with respect. Ask privately and politely if there’s something your child could do to thrive more. A lot can get accomplished through teamwork. Little gets done through finger-pointing.
9 Practice random acts of kindness together.
Help someone cross the street, hold open a door, say something nice to a stranger. Without making it a big deal, discuss what it felt like to do something nice and unexpected. Talk about what the other person may have felt like. And if someone holds open a door for you, take a moment to mention how it made you feel. “I love when that happens!” sends a clear message.
10 Don’t worry about college until high school.
Your child will probably get into college even if they haven’t become the best violin player in your time zone by second grade. Parents may try to convince you otherwise, but only because someone already convinced them. Childhood and adolescence are times to try different things and discover what you like. Many kids who are groomed for college through an activity end up hating it by the time they apply. College is just another period in your child’s life; it’s not the end game.
11 Model patience.
Children are not born patient. They learn to be patient—by watching you. So when you’re in a slow line or heavy traffic, take a deep breath before you start your rant. Show your child that it’s OK to be frustrated by something and still have a sense of humor about it.
12 Teach OHIO—only handle it once.
Dirty plates skip the sink and go right into the dishwasher. Coats come off, bypass the living room chair, and go straight onto a hook or hanger. Boxes are emptied and go into recycling. A fun phrase that reminds your child of a life skill sounds less like nagging and more like a secret code. Plus, don’t be surprised if they repeatedly yell “OHIO!” at messy roommates later in life. Win!
13 Smile big and often.
Smiling is more than a result of happiness; some research suggests it may also be the cause. When you smile, you’re apt to be less stressed and probably more likely to be heard by your child. Your tone changes when you’re smiling. Your child can hear the difference, and it sets the mood for your home. Smiling is easy, free, and infectious. Go ahead: Make your day!
14 Keep cookies around.
Kids like to be in places where there are good snacks. Having something fun to nibble on makes your kids’ friends feel welcome. If your family doesn’t typically do cookies or treats, keep a guest stash of snacking options that won’t make eyes roll. Not everyone wants to chow down on quinoa squares.
15 Call your childhood self to mind.
What were you like as a child or teen? Be honest. Were you the super-organized person you are today? Did you do everything you were told? Chances are, the answer is no. It takes a long time (25 years!) for the rational, nonimpulsive part of our brains to develop fully. Children are evolving into grown-ups—just as you did.
This story originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Real Simple.