When we raise our children, we want to get it right. It is up to us to make sure the little people who depend on us grow into dependable, healthy, happy adults. So how do we do that? How do we build better adults?
We try to be perfect parents. We try to do or never do the stuff our parents did to us. We read the labels before we feed them. We try to ask the right questions and say the right things. We try to be their parents and their friends. But no matter what we do, we can never be sure how our children will turn out.
Here’s one thing that may help all of us rest easier at night. Evidence supports that not being a perfect parent is the best way to raise a child. From changing plans at the last minute to letting them throw that epic tantrum, here are some tips that may not seem like the best parenting skills but might actually help your children grow into adults ready to face the real world.
Beat them at a game
When you play games with your kids, do not always let them win. Sometimes when I race my son (almost 4) around the park, I beat him, and I beat him bad! I don’t try to win every time we race, but occasionally, I show him that his “old” mom used to run track back in the day.
It’s funny, because I used to get after my husband about doing this. I thought it would make our kids never want to play games with us. But here’s what happened when we started challenging our kids: they got faster, tougher, smarter, and better at the games we play.
One study found that children who were always successful began to ignore important information about the world around them. In other words, if you let your children win every time you play chess, they will not develop better skills at the game. In a sense, they will take for granted that they’re going to win and try a little less each time. Children who are challenged grow into adults who are competitive. Turns out the need to compete is one of the top personality traits in highly successful people.
Let them cry and throw that temper tantrum
Nope, we aren’t talking CIO (cry it out) for babies here. This pertains to children past the diaper phase. Older kids still need to be able to cry and “rage it out” from time to time without their parents barging in, trying to soothe, and attempting to make everything better.
Research indicates that tears and even tantrums are built in mechanisms that help children deal with the world that surrounds them. Dr. Frey, famed biochemist and “tear expert,” found that emotional tears contain stress hormones and other toxins that build up during stress. He also found that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s “feel good” hormone.
Don’t live an “on demand” lifestyle
There is something about being able to turn on the TV and watch exactly what you want, when you want. But just because something is there and easy to use doesn’t mean we should do it each and every time.
My kids are not allowed to watch on-demand TV often. Even though we could go directly to “Blaze and the Monster Machines,” most of the time we watch whatever happens to be on. In the game of life, very rarely do people get what they want the second they ask for it. I don’t want my boys to think the world works like our cable TV.
Think about wanting to lose weight. We don’t look in the mirror, demand it, and see changes instantly. You need to work at it, and it takes time. It’s important to me that my children understand that all their detritus must be cleaned up before we turn on the TV. We’ll catch Blaze and pals when our schedules coincide.
You might be familiar with the famous 40-year study about the kids and the marshmallow. The kids who waited to eat the marshmallow until the instructor returned (as told) were wildly more successful later in life than the ones who gobbled it down the second the instructor left the room. This study and many others replicating its findings showed that delaying gratification is one of the most important characteristics for success in health, work, and life in general.
Change plans at the last minute
Children need structure and they do well with routines, but they also need to learn how to be flexible. Flexibility has been found to be one of the most important characteristics of a healthy personality. People who are flexible have also been shown to suffer less from anxiety and depression.
Think for a moment about how you feel when someone changes plans on you at the last moment. Maybe you feel a little upset, or maybe you’re excited that you’ve found some new free time. Healthy minded individuals typically feel a little bit of both. Children must learn that life will not always go as planned and be able to adjust and adapt to change as it happens. (Once in awhile, this will probably lead to number two on our list.)
Laugh at them
Yep, you read that right.
The other day, my son was running around our kitchen in his socks, and he slipped and fell. I knew he wasn’t hurt (just a little embarrassed), so I laughed for a good five minutes because IT WAS FUNNY. At first, he felt angry with me for laughing at him, but after a couple seconds, he couldn’t help but join in and fell into a fit of giggles right along with me.
It’s important that children have a sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously. When my son allowed himself to realize how silly he must have looked (and that he also had not heeded my warnings), he knew I wasn’t trying to hurt his feelings by laughing at him.
Sometimes kids do funny stuff. They put on absurd clothing and think they’ll be allowed to leave the house. They make announcements that make no sense. They make weird noises and smells and faces. Childhood can be hilarious, and children should relish in the humor they discover in their young lives.
The sooner kids learn to laugh at themselves, the sooner they begin to develop a healthy sense of humor. Studies suggest that humor is a sign of cognitive ability and fitness in adults. One study even leads to reason that laughter may prevent heart disease.
We will not be perfect parents
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want perfect kids! We want our kids to have a healthy, competitive spirit. We want them to be able to cry and grow emotionally. We want our kids to be able to delay gratification (think about this one in regards to your children beginning to date…). We want them to be okay if their friends bail on them for a movie, or if the concert gets cancelled due to weather. And we certainly want them to be able to tell a joke, laugh at themselves, and smile through all the twists and turns of life.
So, go ahead, screw up your parenting style from time to time. Your kids will reap the benefits of your imperfections.