Friday, February 10, 2012

I don't know much, but what I know works

The longer I am a parent, the less I claim to know about raising children. But I have figured out a few things:

1. Wear them out. We talk frequently about the importance of exercising and "getting our energy out." Most days we go on at least one walk. When it's too icky to be outside, we go upstairs into our attic. It has a huge playroom with a swing, rope ladder, gymnastic rings, poor man's trampoline (twin mattress on the floor), old couch, foosball table, pool table, and all of the kids' toys. The kids are encouraged to jump on the bed and couch. They sometimes run laps for minutes at a time around the pool table.

2. Send them outside. Besides tiring their little bodies out, playing outside is marvelous because I hardly have to do any parenting. They play with rocks, sticks, dirt, and bugs and are occupied for hours. Once we fence in our yard--hopefully this summer--I can send everyone outside without having to be out there every second supervising.

3. Let them "help." Nothing is as fun for kids as mopping the floor or washing windows or scrubbing toilets. It will probably take you longer, but your kids will be happy and will learn valuable skills. (I have met teenagers who have never cleaned a toilet! Seriously, what is wrong with their parents??)

4. Give them responsibilities early on. My 5-year-old now plans and cooks dinner once a week. I tell her what to do next and help with tricky tasks such as splitting large vegetables or turning on the gas burners. Otherwise she does everything from start to finish: peeling, chopping, measuring, stirring, sauteeing. She is so proud of herself.

5. Don't expect a 2-year-old to act like an adult. Little children's brains are wired differently than adults'. And a 2-year-old's brain functions much differently than a 6-year-old's. Tantrums, meltdowns, and other big emotions are a normal part of childhood. I love the book The Science of Parenting for explaining age-appropriate responses to children's behavior.

6. Turn off the TV. We're working on this one. I sometimes use movies to keep the kids occupied during the "witching hour" of 4 pm until dinnertime. Eric likes to turn on a movie in the mornings when I'm teaching and he wants extra sleep. As a result, our screen time has been creeping up and up. I'm resolved to bring it back down, though, after watching this pediatrician's TEDx talk about media exposure. It is definitely worth viewing.

7. Set boundaries and stick to them. Children crave structure and consistent boundaries. I'll refer you to this excellent post by a mother of five and former elementary school teacher: Don't ask, tell. Don't follow, lead (Au lieu de demander, dire. Au lieu de suivre, mener). Her post arose after she read this Wall Street Journal essay about French parenting styles.

8. Help them get enough sleep. This seems like a no-brainer, but many North American children are sleep-deprived. If you want to know why, for example, Dutch children sleep 1-2 hours more per day than their American counterparts, read Sleepless in America

9. Give them constructive outlets for their emotions. We practice making mad, sad, and happy faces. We show them how to hit pillows instead of each other when they're mad. (it doesn't always work, but we keep trying!) We draw how we feel. We teach our children that it's okay--even good--to feel emotions, but they can't hurt other people in the process.

10. Love, touch, cuddle, and kiss your children. No further commentary needed!
Eric and 1-day-old Zari

Please share your best parenting techniques!


  1. Loved this post. My first child is only 11 months old, but I totally agree with your #1 and #2. Her favorite part of the day is our walk (sometimes twice a day). In the summer we'd take her out and rock with her on on a seat hammock with a spring attachment (best $30 I ever spent). The outdoor breeze immediately calmed her. Now that she's older, she still enjoys being outside, and the activity wears her out and helps her nap and sleep better too!

  2. My best parenting technique is to nurse the baby! Seriously, best, easiest, fastest way to calm everybody down and soothe all sorts of boo-boos and hurt feelings. Now that she's weaned, I'm having to come up with new strategies -- and I'm really feeling the pinch of being inside so much for cold weather :)

  3. I'm a big believer in teaching children how to be quiet at appropriate times (and noisy at noisy appropriate times too). I love that my kids recognize the need to be quiet at times, they still play and communicate but they do it in hushed tones. Now my 2 yr old only has one volume, but he does try his best... And that's all that matters.


  4. Help them find a voice...

    That might sound kinda cheesy and mystical, but it's really quite practical. From teaching them sign language at an early age all the way up to helping them learn to articulate the emotions that so confuse and trouble them as older children and young adults.

    And along with that goes "Listen to them" A child that knows his/her adults are listening to what s/he has to say is a much calmer, more secure child.

  5. One of the things I've really discovered with preschool-aged kids is to give them language to express their feelings, especially if they are easily frustrated, intense, or prone to tantrums. Robin has sometimes been a very difficult child, but the more I provide her with phrasing to express her feelings (e.g., "You're feeling really frustrated. You want that to work, but it isn't working.), the more she talks and the less she screams. I think communication at this age establishes a foundation of trust and interaction for the future. At least, that's what I'm banking on!

  6. I ascribe to all of these. In addition we have no TV at all. It means we don't watch except for the occasional video on you tube (there are some great math videos they like as well as cooking shows.) We also occasionally show Signing Time dvds as we use ASL in the home.

    Daily time outside even when it rains in our house as well ! Kids don't melt. =)

  7. In winter, I try to ensure that the kids spend more time outside than they spend watching TV (and never TV with advertisements but DVDs I've chosen for them). Occasionally (such as during the bout of gastric flu which all four of us had) that ratio will go out of whack, but usually we do spend more time running about in the fresh air (or the rain, or the snow) than we spend staring at a screen.

    I remember the advice of a Brit mum of three boys I met once: she said 'They're like setter puppies, you must walk them outside every day or they will destroy your house.' It's absolutely true.

  8. I think that video was GREAT! I discourage TV watching with my kids and it's the first privilege I take away! They maybe get 1-2 1/2 hrs a WEEK! Which is about 1 movie or video mostly when Daddy is watching them. But we NEVER let them watch network TV, even the commercials are bad! When they whine about not getting to watch TV I say " OK let's throw out all the toys and only watch movies all day every day. Then my house will be clean and you will be quiet." Then they cry about me wanting to throw out the toys and I say run along and play.

    I agree about letting them clean. While they whine about doing dishes, they will spot scrub the kitchen floor, take laundry downstairs, empty trash bins, dump the scrap bucket into the composter, and sweep anything with the broom relatively whine free. They don't always do a great job at least they are helping and busy. I like to use the dreaded chores as punishments ie: clean each others room, pull weeds, put away laundry, and the hated DISHES!
    Hehehe it keeps the house clean and I don't have to do it! Win win!
    And no doubt the sleep is very important! My older children get noless than 12 hrs a night,sometimes they have naps too. And my little one gets about 14-16hrs depending on the days activities and how hard she plays.

  9. Great post, Rixa! Your attic sounds like such a fun place. I'd agree with everything you said, and I think all that I would add is make sure the kids (and the parents) aren't hungry. I am a monster when I'm hungry, and two of my children share that trait with me. We usually have a morning snack and an afternoon snack. I'm also a big believer in letting kids help with meal planning and preparation. Mine eat more and are willing to try a wider variety of foods when they have participated.

  10. I love that all children are different, so all parents must decide the best way to 'parent' their own individual children. I don't agree with all of the comments, but I love hearing about others experiences and stories. One thing that I feel is very important in childrens lives is the exposure to other children and cultures. Rixa, I love that you take your entire family to France and your children are bi-lingual. My son LOVES to meet 'new friends' and I loved watching him interact with older children and learn from them when he started walking, talking, etc. Of course this has its own drawbacks, but I try as best I can to make sure any 'negative habits' he may observe don't become his habits. He is somewhat of a tattletale little boy who recognizes when other kids do things he isn't allowed to do, and then we talk about it with him.

  11. Awesome post! LOVED the video thanks for sharing!

  12. We teach all of these great principles at the Parent Link Centre in Raymond. Love your comments. I would just add, "Wait until everyone is calm before discussing/disciplining." When our brains are in alarm/rage/fear, the thinking part (prefrontal cortex) shuts down and no one learns anything! It never hurts to cuddle them until they calm down. If a child is acting out to get our attention, guess what? They NEED our attention! Thanks for all your good ideas!


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