The internet is rife with less-than-nostalgic reflections on old-school parenting that would get parents into a heap of trouble today. Do any of these things sound familiar? Riding bikes without helmets, pushing kids out the door after breakfast and telling them not to come home until sundown, and taking a passive approach when they’re fighting it out with siblings? The winner was whoever wasn’t lying useless on the floor or crying in their room.
But that doesn’t mean modern parenting is necessarily any better. In the case of helicopter parenting, the studies look bleak. According to the research on parenting from Psychology Today, anxiety-driven parenting compromises children’s autonomy, mastery, and personal growth. We’re raising children to be overly-dependent adults who still need us to tell them what to do, and when to do it.
So maybe our old-school parenting counterparts weren’t all bad. There are many old-fashioned techniques that still work today, and would put our modern helicopter style to shame. Here are eight techniques to consider the next time your child announces they can do whatever they want after demanding you deliver the world to their feet.
1. Don’t Play with Your Kids
Our parents and grandparents weren’t sitting on floors playing tea party and monster truck rally. Instead, they were usually on the floor cleaning up bits of Play-Doh permanently mashed into the carpet. If pressed to play, they would have told us to beat it and that playtime was not for adults. You can make a case for playing with kids once in awhile if it’s something you both enjoy, or if your interaction can help them learn a valuable skill – like how to build a 4-foot tower out of Duplo blocks.
However, Psychology Today recommends that parent-child play be lead primarily by the child. After all, children learn through repetitive playing, which is usually not how parents want to play. Parents are more apt to grow bored after the 18th game of blocks, and want to stare at a white wall in silence instead. There is an exception: if your child has turned you into a human prop with a strict script to follow, then you’re doing them a big disservice. After all, no self-respecting kid would sit around waiting to be fed lines in between games of fairies and superheroes.
2. Slow Down and Under-Schedule
Past generations weren’t stressed out over chauffeuring their kids from school to soccer to playdates and birthday parties. Their lives were not controlled by the whims of parents, school and extracurricular activities. Kids were expected to entertain themselves, and were perhaps on one or two sport teams.
Slow down and take a step back from the hamster wheel. Why are your kids involved in so many activities? Are you afraid they’ll be left behind? Or are you just succumbing to the peer pressure of the rat race society seems to be advocating? Talk to your children about which activities they like best, then consider which ones foster their learning and development. Our advice is to ditch the rest.
3. Be the Parent, Not the Friend
The persistent trend in today’s parenting dictates embracing friendship with the kids instead of taking traditional authority roles. But your child probably has enough friends to choose from, and if he doesn’t, you can push him out the door and tell him to go play at the neighbor’s house instead.
The problem with parents and kids being best buds is that your little ones no longer take your advice and guidance with the respect it deserves. They also have no rock to lean on that is unwavering in its boundaries and direction. Kids need firm boundaries to navigate life with confidence, and they need a solid support system to do it. That’s probably not going to come from the person they see as a friend that they can listen to one day, and shrug off the next when they’re not allowed to eat an ice cream sundae with seven fruit snacks on top for dessert.
4. Encourage Mistakes
All the advancements in education and technology may have turned your children into little prodigies in comparison to their 1950s counterparts, but kids are behind emotionally. They need to fail and absorb life lessons in order to grow and pull themselves back up to do it again.
Stepping in to shield kids from failure and mistakes renders them powerless to take control of their lives, and can damage their long-term well-being and self-esteem. Kids need to experience the art of failing and then succeeding to grow confidence. Not to mention, you could end up raising a child who can’t make mistakes as an adult without falling to pieces or calling you ten times a day. Where will you be when your kids are still calling, asking you to give them the final answer on everything from which job to take, to what kind of coffee they should order?
The ultimate goal in raising kids is to make them independent enough to live happy and healthy lives. Sure, they need firm boundaries so they don’t jump off a cliff and turn their siblings into indentured servants at their whim. But kids also need room to grow and set their own goals.
Encourage kids to play by themselves, make their own decisions, and support them when they stumble. Talk through decisions they’re making, or feelings they’re having to give them the tools to deal with similar situations down the road. Remind them that they’re making choices that have consequences, whether that’s painting the dog’s nails sparkling purple, or lying about an altercation at school.
6. Follow Through Like a Pro
Children rely on boundaries to test the world around them and feel safe and secure. And in case you somehow didn’t notice, kids will push boundaries as far as you will possibly let them before completely losing your temper. But know that setting firm boundaries actually fosters confidence and stability in your family life.
Lay a foundation for what everyone in your family should expect in terms of behavior, consequences, and any punishments. Offer a warning in advance and tell your children exactly what will happen. Then back that up by following through the exact same way every time. Over time, it will actually make it easier to parent your kids, who already know what to expect instead of turning everything into a negotiation.
7. Lighten Up
Past generations weren’t sitting around wringing their hands over the latest advancements in baby swings and car seat attachments, whether or not to play with their kids or let them roam free, or scrutinizing whether their kids were too sensitive or not sensitive enough. At some point we all need to lighten up as parents and remember we’re doing the best we can.
Focus on being practical and reasonable, as opposed to super-parents vying for the trophy as Best Mom and Dad Ever. You will end up resenting that trophy if you set aside your entire well-being for that honor. Employ your common sense, ask for help when you need it, and relax once in awhile. Raising kids isn’t for the faint of heart.
8. Shift the Center of Your Universe
Kids may be the best thing that ever happened to you, but they don’t need to be the shining center of your universe. That means letting them mope when their favorite white slice isn’t mandated as the only type of pizza to grace your kitchen table. It also means continuing to foster your own life and interests beyond your children.
Studies also show that mothers are more depressed when they make their children the center of their universe. Moms who pressure themselves to be the best are literally sacrificing their mental health to embrace their children’s emotional outcomes. Ultimately this backfires as the entire family becomes depressed and off-balance.
And we get it. We all think our children are the most wonderful creatures to grace the planet (unless they’re having a meltdown). But that doesn’t mean you can’t have your own life, too.
There’s a time and place for old-school parenting techniques that never age. We think they work best when incorporated with your family’s own unique needs and dynamic to give them a modern twist. But at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to make our kids happy and not give them too much to talk about in therapy one day. So let’s give them a big hug, listen intently as they tell us how their day was, then push them out the door to discover their own fun.
What about you? What are some of your old-school parenting techniques that still work? And which old-school parenting methods were you lucky to survive when you were a kid? Let us know by leaving a comment below: