Let Your Kids Be Kids

There is so much effort these days to make our kids act like adults. Many adults can’t even adult, so why should we expect our children to at such young ages? It is healthier and more compassionate to just let your kids be kids.

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Children are our children not to control and squeeze into a mold. Rather, they depend on us for sustenance, protection and guidance.

We are here to meet their needs.

And that doesn’t mean that we can’t have expectations or begin teaching them what it takes to become a productive member of society. We just need to remember to keep it age appropriate and focus on emotional health as well.

Here are some practical tips to let your kids be kids:

1. Know What’s Age-Appropriate

At every age, it is important for you to know what’s age appropriate so that you aren’t unnecessarily harsh on your child. You should not expect a newborn to sleep through the night anymore than you would expect a six year old to hold a full-time job.

2. Remember That Children Grow At Different Paces

Babies smile, coo, roll over, sit up, crawl, talk and walk at different paces. This never changes throughout a child’s life! As much as we should recognize that babies will meet their milestones at different times, we should also know that our children grow and learn at different paces.

When we keep that in mind, we will have a lower tendency of forcing our kids to “just grow up already!”

3. Let Them Play In Mud

Not only is playing in dirt good for our children’s immune system, it’s also amazing for their creative and emotional growth. Playing in mud can be a sensory experience, and also helps with fine motor skills.

Allowing our kids to be kids and engage in messy play such as dirt and mud helps them develop stronger cognitive function, and if we involve them in all aspects of clean-up, they also learn practical skills.

I personally used to love playing in mud when I was young, and digging up earthworms. But now you wouldn’t catch me touching a worm!

4. Incorporate Fun Traditions

Traditions help our children to know what to expect. It also helps them develop a strong sense of belonging and community. Although many traditions are generally with our immediate family, sometimes we have them with friends, coworkers, teachers, etc.

At one job I worked at, we used to love having a daily dress-up day leading up to Christmas day. We would have “elf day,” “scarf day,” “winter wonderland day,” etc. It was plenty of fun and added some much needed variety to our work day.

Through having family traditions, we show our children that we can bond with others in meaningful ways. We also give them ideas for what to do with their own families once they do grow up!

Check out this list of over 30 Christmas traditions for kids that you should consider for your family!

Let Your Kids Be Kids - Kids Playing In The Rain

5. Play With Your Children

Playing with your children is more valuable than you could ever imagine. It fosters friendship, trust, and mutual respect.

Take turns coming up with what to do, which encourages your child to express their creativity, learn leadership skills, as well as to become a good sport.

It also shows your child that you care about being a part of their world, and not just telling them what to do/helping them to become an adult.

Playing make-believe with them shows them that you value their feelings and don’t mind suspending reality for some time to contribute towards their happiness. It shows them that you can be fun and put your adulting on hold for a short time to spend quality time with the ones you love.

It affirms that being a child is OK, however that presents for your particular child.

6. Respect Their Autonomy

Don’t assume that you always know best for your child. Listen to their wants and needs, and take their feelings into consideration.

If they can trust you with the small “kiddy” stuff that you think isn’t even really that important, then they will be able to trust you with even bigger things when the time comes.

It will eventually help the tween and teen ages go a bit more smoothly because they know you respect them as a person.

Your child will know that you love them, even when they do not have the same perspective as you do and sometimes you have to work towards a compromise.

In some instances, they’ll also learn very beneficial natural consequences for choosing to do things their own way rather than following your recommendations. And in many instances, that is OK. Over time they’ll learn that you only want the best for them and that will lead them to willingly listening to your recommendations as they get older.

For now, it’s OK to let your kid be a kid and try to figure things out on his or her own. As long as it isn’t hurting anyone, any animals, or anyone’s property!

7. Practice Attachment Parenting

Attachment parenting is a term coined my William Sears, M.D. (American pediatrician). It is used to describe a parenting philosophy that believes the attachment between parents and their children, both emotionally and physically, is important to foster close relationships and raise well-rounded children.

It starts at birth with plenty of close contact, skin to skin time, baby-wearing, co-sleeping or at least room-sharing, breastfeeding or bottle-feeding on demand, and being very responsive to baby’s needs.

Studies show that children raised in authoritative households have the best outcomes when it comes to behavior. This is because authoritative parents have high expectations of their children, but are very responsive and supportive in helping them to meet those expectations.

Attachment parenting falls into the authoritative parenting bucket, but is very high on support, especially in the early years.

8. Pick Your Battles

It is important to pick your battles when it comes to dealing with children. They are more likely to be combative when they feel that they can never do anything their way.

Maybe you want your child to help set the table but they don’t put the placemats quite the way you like. Allow them to do it with encouragement instead of saying you’ll just do it yourself.

I remember when my son first expressed interest in helping to fold clothes. He didn’t do the best job, but the important thing was that he was contributing and excited to help! I let him know how much I appreciated it, and he eventually became so good at folding clothes that I offered him a job folding them for $5 to help fold things other than his own.

If I had told him I need to do it myself because he doesn’t fold well, he wouldn’t have much incentive to keep learning, and I wouldn’t get that much appreciated help.

Pick your battles also comes into play in situations where you and your child are fighting for control.

It is important to remember that YOU are the adult. That means that YOU are the one who should model appropriate behavior. Screaming at your child (or worse, hitting them) because you are not getting your way is counterproductive to what you want to teach him or her.

Instead, you might let your child know that you can relinquish control and let them do the thing their way this time, but next time it will be your turn.

Maybe they don’t want the dinner that you served. Do not force them to eat it just because. I’m sure you don’t eat food you don’t want to. Instead, take their needs into account and don’t continue offering things they have already shown they don’t like. Get creative if you need to. Preserve your sanity, and preserve their well-being.

9. Allow Time For Free Play

Allowing time for free play, which can sometimes be considered “boredom,” allows your child to develop their creativity, problem solving skills, and get comfortable being alone without feeling lonely.

When multiple children participate in unstructured play together, they learn important skills such as compromise, taking turns, the impact of bossy behavior, and other real world scenarios. Sometimes joining in the play as a casual observer can help you find things to discuss and guide your children towards appropriate social behaviors.

Let Your Child Be A Child - Child Covered With Paint

10. Allow Them To Take Risks

Avoid being too much of a helicopter parent, where you are saving your child from every potential danger that ever existed. Let them climb, roll, tumble, jump.

Let them climb higher and learn to estimate their capabilities, make mistakes, manage risk. If they cannot do it when they are children, when will be the right time?

Is it more important to raise children who cannot deal with any sense of discomfort, or to raise kids who can make judgment calls and take calculated risks? Don’t you want to raise a resilient child who can handle the pressures that life sometimes throws our way?

I want my child to explore risk while he is young, while I am able to help him if things did not go the way he expected. I don’t want him to crumble under pressure. I want him to be able to make decisions during stressful situations.

11. Don’t Compare Them To Other Children

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Many people find that everything is fine when they are in their own bubble. But soon they learn that this child is speaking 3 languages, or this child is playing Beethoven, or this child is reading at a college level in the 1st grade, or this child is doing all the above and then some. And suddenly, their own child, which they previously thought of as normal, is deficient.

Your child is enough.

Your child is doing exactly what he or she should be doing at this very moment.

You don’t need to recreate another person’s child with your own. Let your child be themselves. Yes, you should encourage their unique talents and gifts to grow, but that doesn’t mean they need to be a carbon copy of Suzie’s piano prodigy!

Love your child for where they are in life, without stressing out because they aren’t where you FEEL like they need to be!

12. Let Them Sleep… ALOT!

Much of our brain’s development occurs while we sleep. This is especially true for children!

Encourage them to have early bedtimes, and to wake up naturally if they can. Remember that during certain times they may require more sleep than others, so if they need to have naps, let them do so!

Even older children, like teenagers, need more sleep at certain points. It is developmentally appropriate, and will help them regulate their emotions better!

Final Thoughts

The sheer amount of responsibilities and micromanagement of children has led to a generation rife with psychological issues.

More U.S. adolescents and young adults in the late 2010s (vs. the mid-2000s) experienced serious psychological distress, major depression, and suicidal thoughts, and more attempted suicide and took their own lives. These trends are weak or nonexistent among adults 26 years old and over, suggesting a generational shift in mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes rather than an overall increase across all ages.

– AAP (link, PDF)

Many people are shocked when they hear the list of mental issues that surround recent adults. Scientists have found that it is mostly due to parenting styles, as well as growing up in a technology age where social media can have such negative impacts on our mental health.

Protect your children from “growing up too soon” by letting your kids be kids. But don’t over-parent and burden them with the feeling like they cannot make great decisions on their own.

And more importantly, allow them the opportunity to make terrible decisions, feel the consequences, and learn that they will still be OK!

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