“Never do for a child what he is capable of doing for himself.” E. Hainstock
It’s not because you don’t love them or you’re a jerk or an absent parent, but because it builds self-esteem for kids to complete age-appropriate tasks. And it helps divide the familial responsibilities. And yet, in our efforts to raise our children well, we often expect things that are – quite simply – not gonna happen.
We end up disappointed, overwhelmed, and worried. But not this year. This year we are going to be reasonable people. I am working on it, you can too.
Things you think your kids can do that they can’t
Have complete control over their emotions
Children are still learning how to manage their emotions. They are not able to stifle every tear, stuff down every angry feeling, or cover their mouth before every scream. They are little, they are learning, and they will have tantrums and meltdowns. If you expect your kids to behave like little prim children all day long, each day will make you feel like a failure.
Read: How to require a good attitude without stifling your children’s emotions
Sort out their own routine and habits
It’s a common refrain that babies or children will find their own flow, just let them. If you have one child and only need 4 hours of sleep a night, this might work for you. Otherwise, this is unwise. It’s a parent’s job to find a routine that works well for your children that includes all the necessary elements of survival (sleeping, eating, and cuddling). You might have 3 children choosing 3 separate bedtimes and mealtimes and the result will be utter chaos.
Read: Are routines for the parent or for the child?
Decide what’s best for them
Children, quite simply, do not know what’s best for them. They know what they want and what they’d like to do. But, because they are still developing and maturing, they are not yet able to think about long-term consequences. Brownies 3 times a day. No chores ever. 5 hours of TV at a time. Hoarding All the Toys, no sharing. Giving your children too much freedom to make choices they are not capable of making backfires with consequences both short and long term.
Read: The Collapse of Parenting
Read your mind
Children don’t intuitively know you can’t color with crayons on the floor. They don’t know slamming a door is dangerous. They can’t quite see why playing outside naked in 40-degree weather might be a bad idea. We have to be very communicative with our kids all the time about everything until we feel like we’re going to die from talking. This is how they learn, process information, and connect the dots across areas of life. We don’t expect them to “just know,” we talk about it.
Now, they will move quickly when they are running from you or playing duck duck goose. But if you need them to put on their clothes, shoes, jacket, then get in the car because you’re running late… they will not be fast. They will be excruciatingly slow. That’s because the concept of time isn’t fully developed in them yet. We can teach them to hurry, but we need to realize it is our own time management that is at work here.
Things you think your kids can’t do that they can
If your children rarely play on their own and can’t go for long periods without telling you they are bored, take heart. You can and should teach them how to entertain themselves. There is a difference between being entertained and playing and kids can learn to play on their own. Even my 2-year-old can play on his own with his toys for nearly an hour. This will be life changing for you, and you’ll see immediate benefits with your children as well.
Read: Why children should play on their own every day
Sleep a lot and well
Sleep is a touchy subject for some. Particularly those who do not get any. Rest assured, humans were born to sleep and your baby is no different. Though it may not seem so now, you can teach your baby to sleep so they take good naps and sleep all night. You can even get them all to take a nap at the same time. If you sort out your sleep props and sleep associations, you may find the household atmosphere is a lot more peaceful.
Read: Why moms are really so tired
Sit still and wait
Now, while your little ones cannot be expected to sit quietly for long periods of time all day, they are fully capable of being still. At least for a few minutes. I often ask them to sit quietly in chairs and read. We call this “relax time.” They may fidget, get antsy, and ask when they can get down every few minutes, but they can do it. And when we are in public and they are forced to wait, you can see the benefits.
Clean up after themselves
Please please please do not spend all of your precious time cleaning up your kids’ messes. If you put in place some basic routines to keep your home tidy, you’ll be amazed at the difference. Since children can make a mess in 45 seconds, it’s important they are given chores to complete they are capable of doing. I’ll do the evening sweep myself, but I try to involve my kids as much as possible and am always amazed at how helpful they actually are with proper instruction.
Read: Are you hoodwinked?
Do hard things
If you have a reluctant perfectionist or a calm + steady child who is difficult to motivate, this will be your mantra. Whether it’s tying shoelaces, carrying something from one end of the house to the other, or buckling themselves in their car seats, sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement. Don’t always sweep in. Try not to hover. Be an encouraging presence, but require effort. It’s effort that matters and when children know this, they try hard.
Your baby can’t put himself in his crib, but he can learn to sleep on his own.
Your 5-year-old can’t make a quiche from scratch, but they could do scrambled eggs.
Your 2-year-old can’t fold a huge blanket, but they can put their toys in their toy box.
Here’s to realistic expectations this year. Both for our children and ourselves.