So, I’m just going to put it out there; I read a lot of parenting books. I never thought I’d be that kind of parent. I really believed I’d be an easy-going-go-with-the-flow mom with perfectly behaved kids. But one morning around 4am, when my first son was a few days old, that all changed. My husband and I had been trying to get him to sleep for what seemed like hours without success. It’s then I remembered a “parenting” books someone had given me during my pregnancy. Hidden somewhere on our bookshelf we feverishly looked for it. We couldn’t read fast enough. The book gave us a step-by-step protocol on how to soothe and help our baby fall asleep*. We did exactly as we were told. And lo and behold, our child was sleeping. I was a convert. Despite it not working the next night, I still believed. And spent hower much was necessary on Amazon parenting books to find the next solution.
Fast forward six years, and I still turn to books, internet searches, friends and mommy groups for answers. From the most mundane (how do you get Crayola off the walls?) to more serious concerns (non-surgical alternatives to pediatric sleep apnea anyone?). As most parents know, there is a plethora of information. But there are things you learn on your own along the way too. Things that perhaps no one ever thought to mention. Maybe because they’re obvious to everyone else or maybe because it just never came up. But they’re game-changers. At least they have been for me. So, parents, I give you: my list of ten parenting hacks. Ten things you wouldn’t even know what to Google for because of their randomness. Ten things that are never on the same list. There’s a list for boosting your child’s confidence, for making the best Halloween crafts, for literally everything. But not for this; because in the words of Seinfeld, this list is about ‘nothing’. But it’s kinda helpful.
1. It’s ok to ignore your kid. Let’s just put this one out there right away. I don’t mean ignoring in a mean way, but when they’re whining or being grumpy. Psychologists have an actual name for it. It’s called active ignoring. I mean of course this doesn’t apply to babies or very young toddlers but 5 year old is being a Debbie Downer? Just say nothing! Yes, yes, of course you recognize her feelings and tell her you understand. But if she keeps going, you can ‘actively’ ignore it and it works! Actively ignoring basically means you’re still present and available to her but that you don’t respond to every whiny plea. I really wish someone had told me this sooner. I always thought I had to ALWAYS engage with my kids and help them find solutions. But you know what? They just want to me a little bit miserable and the more you feed into it, the longer (and usually worst) it gets. If you ignore the problem, it goes away. Ok, not always. But they do understand that you’re not playing their game. And eventually, the whining diminishes. Of course you have to give them positive attention when they’re not whining to make up for the active ignoring when they’re being little brats. So there’s more to it but the headline is: it’s ok not to respond to ‘it’s not fair’ 412 times a day. If you’re intrigued, read up on it so you’re doing it right. I don’t want your kid blaming me in therapy sessions in 20 years.
2. Everything is washable. I don’t want to judge, but I’m judging. You can literally wash every kid thing. Strollers, backpacks, winter coats, everything. The number of times I have seen a seemingly well-provided-for child with a dirty backpack – ugh! Believe you me, I am not an obsessive cleaner. I actually believe a moderately germy house is good for kids. But there is no reason for your baby to be in a dirty sling or for your kid’s teddy bear to look like it actually belongs to the dog. To be fair, this I actually did learn from my mom. She’s been telling me ‘you can wash this sometimes’ even before I had my own germy little guys to care for.
3. It’s ok to spend more on you. I know there are lots of articles about taking care of yourself. Like this one, and this one, and this one. But I’m talking beyond just taking time for yourself, working out and eating well. My four year-old who is obsessed with clothes, gets mad when I get new threads in the mail. (Hey, as Co-Founder of Allette, it’s part of my job to research fashion!). But honestly, I feel no guilt spending more on me. They look cute pretty much all the time. I’m older and need more maintenance. Well-fitted clothes, hair, makeup. Just to name a few. If I think I look good, then I feel good. And if I feel good, I’m happier. So they benefit too. Really that Nordstrom Fall shopping spree is as though I’m investing in their well-being.
4. Hiding veggies in your kid’s food is not a sign of failure. Maybe it’s because I’m French, but I actually believed it was. I used to say “I don’t want to have to hide anything, my kids will just eat what I give them”. I believe I said this when my first born was 10 months old and a champion puree eater. Kid got older. Things got real. I bought the Jessica Seinfeld book. Let me save you $11.59; the trick is basically just to add vegetable purees to everything. Which I totally do. Of course I still always have other “real looking” veggies too. I expose them to new foods. And they have been better at trying new things. But that’s because their brains are well-developed because I hide a lot of kale in their smoothies. My trick on that one, btw, is that I tell them banana become a bit green when it’s blended. They never questioned it. It’s time like these you think about all the things you could have lied to them about.
5. Never assume your child’s reaction to something new. Yes, you need to always be prepared, but when you go into a situation with a preconceived idea on how your son will react, guess what? That’s how he reacts. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kids sense our anxiety and without wanting to, we steer them toward our own beliefs. “Don’t be scared on your first day of school” or “Don’t be picky with food at Grandma’s house”. Positivity, folks. Give the kid a chance. Whether it’s trying new foods, making friends or learning a new skill, the more chilled out we are about, the better they tend to do.
6. If you suspect something’s not right, it probably isn’t. Look into it. If for no other reason, to appease your mind. This blanket statement applies to everything. Medical concerns being a major one, of course. I mean, don’t be like the overly-protective mom posting a photo of her kid’s mosquito bite on the mommy group asking whether she should take her kid to the ER, but also, trust your instincts. If your child tells you things about school that seem off. Investigate a little. Talk to teachers. One thing I’ve realized is that some teachers and caretakers don’t want to burden parents with what they may deem minor issues. Which I totally get and agree with. But as the parent, you know when something is a bigger deal. So find out. But guys, be cool. Nothing is unsolvable. You will figure this one out too.
7. Make dinner time a formal affair as soon as possible. But I didn’t do it until my kids were a little older and I wish I had started sooner. It’s a lot more work. Setting the table, using proper napkins, serving at the table, not in the kitchen. But it’s so worth it. I make my kids participate. Ok, I force my kids to participate. But honestly, it doesn’t take long before they get into a groove. Setting the plates. Waiting to be served. Discussing our day. Waiting for others to finish before getting dessert. Life skills, you know. I get that it’s harder with babies. Or a combination of babies and toddlers. And work schedules. And so on. But even if it’s a couple of times a week, it’s worth it. It teaches structure, manners, and helps them develop an appreciation for food and eating as a family. It’s a good habit to get into. Right now your kids love hanging out with you but we all know what’s waiting for us in a few years. I say, anything to prep for the dreaded teenage years now.
8. Sometimes, it’s ok to let them wear their Halloween costume to the park in April. Just don’t make a habit of it. This one is in a lot of parenting books but it’s worth reiterating. Letting them get a free pass sometimes, doesn’t mean you lose. Au contraire, friends, it means you rack up happy feelings for when they hate you for not letting them keep all those pretty (dirty) leaves they picked up on the way home from the playground. The key here is to let them know when they’re getting something ‘special’. In order for this to work though, you have to be willing to say no to about 136 other things. Being firm most of the time is what makes this work, some of the time. But they’ll be pleased with not only you, but themselves for being master negotiators.
9. Don’t shy away from rules – kids actually love them. They take a little time, and often, heartache, to implement, but rules are awesome. No TV on weekdays. No eating in the living room. No playing a new game without putting away the old game. No walking around with only underwear in the house. Just kidding. That last one is totally ok. They’re still at an age where it’s ridiculously cute. But rules are like their own little guidebook on to how to behave and do things. They get it. And they don’t really like it when you deviate too much. It’s confusing. So no bending except under realy special circumstances! You’ve got this.
10. Don’t assume they know. They don’t. Tell them when something’s not ok, when they did something great, why things are the way they are. As much as we like to believe our kids are wise beyond their years, they’re kinda not. Think about it; a few years ago they weren’t even on this Earth. How could they possibly understand why shoving Jimmy at the playground to get the swing first is not acceptable? I mean it is effective in getting the swing first. They need us to tell them what is right and wrong, we can’t just assume they know. Yes, they exaggerate, they play us, they observe everything, but they don’t always know what they’re seeing or doing. So help a kid out, they can be pretty cool when you do. On that, remember to tell your kid you think he’s a-ok regularly and to praise her efforts not her qualities. So much to remember not to mess them up, but these things really do go a long way in not raising a-holes.
That’s all for now. Maybe some or all of this is obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me. If you retain anything, it’s this: no child should ever be in a dirty stroller. #saynotodirtystrollers