Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree and Storm Clouds

Doucleff is a veteran of those battles. Here’s a glimpse of what she recommends to mothers and fathers, gleaned from her research.

Shrink child-centered activities. Kiddie birthday parties, special play dates, “Mommy and Me” events and their ilk erode a child’s place in the family. “In human history, parents have never created these activities designed specifically for children,” Doucleff said. These undertakings are a “huge disservice” to kids, she added, because they define the child as special and exempt him family duties. What normal six-year-old will be eager to take out the trash or help with laundry if she’s spent half her day in a “magical kiddie world”? “They’re not learning about life,” Doucleff said, and kids don’t need them.

Set your own agenda. Parent’s lives shouldn’t revolve around kids’ activities. Instead, mothers and fathers should carry on with their own business and invite their kids to follow along if they please. Engage in the whole-family activities—hikes, yardwork, chores—and encourage children’s participation, but don’t force them if they resist.

Try not to intervene. It’s healthier for kids if they are allowed to do their own work, play their own games, and do their part at home—however sloppy or imperfect—without Mom or Dad stepping in to offer suggestions or fix things. “They are more adept at figuring out what to do than we give them credit for,” Doucleff said. Giving children the freedom to plot their own course will give them a sense of competency and autonomy. And when parents manage to hold back on the instructing and correcting, friction at home will shrivel. 

Encourage, don’t force. Compelling children to do what they’re dead set against may damage parent/child relationship and thwart intrinsic motivation. Instead, speak calmly and treat children like responsible little people whose contributions are needed.

But ease up on the praise. Frequently celebrating a child’s routine activities does not help them develop a sense of competence. And often, praise inflation has the effect of spurring conflicts among siblings who feel wounded by their relative deprivation. Instead of praising them, acknowledge the child’s effort with few words, such as “that’s helpful.”

Practice being quiet. It’s not uncommon, when wandering into coffee shops or grocery stores, to spot parents engaging in nonstop patter with their children. It’s OK to be quiet with them, and to take time out during the day to practice being silent. Quiet calms everyone down.

MindShift