Over the past 10 years, I’ve noticed that the best ideas always seem to come from fellow parents. So, I asked friends to share their tried-and-true tips for raising kids, and here’s what they said…
I’m always desperate to do arts and crafts with my kids, but they are usually not very enthusiastic (to say the least!). A few weeks ago, I bought paint pens and we spent a long time painting faces, thunderbolts and patterns onto rocks. This ended up being a really fun project that kept the kids busy and involved minimal effort on my part. I think in business this is called a win-win-win.
Ada (12) is the opposite of a morning person and always wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. Instead of fighting with a grumpy kid, I started waking her up by reading a favorite book. She loves stories and would get into the book before she could remember to be in a bad mood. I started doing this when she was around two with favorite picture books and still wake her up this way today. (Recent books have included Rebecca, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry… I enjoy the books as much as she does!)
I carry a couple spare lollipops wherever I go like most people carry Band-Aids. They take up no space in your bag and can really save the day.
Our kids’ openness to eating different foods changed when we started serving our meals differently — rather than setting out their meal on individual plates, we put all the food in the middle of the table and allowed them to help themselves. (This is how I ate as a child, growing up in a Chinese family where ‘banquet’ style eating was the norm.) Once we did this, we found that they actually ate a lot more veg and were open to trying whatever was on the table. I guess they didn’t feel ‘pressured’ by what’s on their plate.
These TravelJohn portable urinals have saved us a few times during COVID when we didn’t feel safe using a bathroom.
Toy rotating! Every six weeks or so, when my kids are generally not playing with their toys, I take a few bins out of the closet and swap out the toys. I arrange a new set of old toys on a shelf and put the other toys away for a while. Less is more with toys when you do it this way.
When my kids say something surprising/shocking (“I hate my brother” or “my teacher is so mean”), instead of reacting right away I say “Tell me more” which gives me time to think and come up with a response.
When you have two kids, or are giving a gift to a family with multiple children, consider just giving multiples of the same gift. It cuts down on so much fighting. For example, we gave these colored pencils and pads of paper to some close friends with three kids before a long drive home.
John Lewis said, ‘Fury spends itself pretty quickly when there’s no fury facing it,’ and I’ve learned this the hard way. Whenever I begin to lock horns with my boys, we both immediately get more stubborn. In that moment with my anger rising, I visualize my kids as eight-month-old babies and count to ten. The fury passes, and we’re able to give each other space. Sometimes I do this when I’m in conflict with an adult, too!
Whenever anything related to sexuality/bodies comes up, I talk about it. Ever since they were little. Without any awkwardness. No matter where we are. This has led my kids to be super cool about all of this to the point that Ella once pointed out around 11-years-old: “Mom, you talk about all of this as if it wasn’t a big deal!” To which I responded,” It isn’t!” There is serious trust and comfort around all of this. I am proud of that. (I was raised by parents who NEVER talked about sexuality.)
If you’d like your kids to eat fruit, slice your nectarines, strawberries, apples, melons and place it all in their line of vision.
To help kids learn conversation skills: Encourage them to look their servers in the eyes and order their own food at restaurants.
When they’re ready, and with supervision, teach them how to use the sharp knife. It sounds counterintuitive, but a sharp knife is the safest knife.
As our kids grow and gain autonomy, I really want to support them in that. So, I always try to give a choice, even if it’s thinly veiled, like, ‘Do you want to take a bath before or after your snack?’ so they think they are making a decision but really I’m getting them to internally commit to a bath. One day I aim for ‘do you want to take a bath before or after you clean your room?’ Then I will have mastered parenting!
Parenting a child with special needs has come with new challenges at every phase, so I do my best to embrace our relationship and situation for how special and different it is. My advice is to have a sense of humor about as much as you can. Some of my most frustrating parenting moments have turned out to be my favorite stories to share. There was one Christmas where I stayed up cutting paper snowflakes until my fingers blistered so that I could decorate Piper’s bedroom in her facility like a wonderland for her to wake up to (a la the department store scene in the movie ‘Elf’). It turned out magically, and I was so excited to see her reaction. She woke up in a terrible mood, tore down the snowflakes and actually kicked a present out of my hand! She could not have been less interested if she tried. Luckily, I caught it all on video so that I could send it to my family, which I did, along with a punk rock Christmas song as the soundtrack. The video is a family favorite and is true to Piper’s unpredictability and mischief-making personality.
There have been so many big feelings and frustrations for the kids (and us) during quarantine. My only mantra has been to Give More Hugs. I’ve been learning that every outburst and crisis in our home is solved best with more tenderness.
Thank you so much, parents! What would you add?
P.S. More surprising parenting tips, and Toby and Anton in conversation.
(Photo by Anya Brewley Schultheiss/Stocksy.)