Parenting Instructions

I’ve often heard parents complain that their children didn’t come with any instructions. I know most people never read books these days, so I thought I’d do my best at writing up some succinct instructions for the busy, modern, high-tech parent.

  1. From the moment your baby is born, treat them with the kind of respect your close friends would expect from you. The baby can’t demand that from you – that’s your job. This is a 24/7 thing, and it’s hardest at 4 am.
  2. If your baby or child is hungry, then it’s a fine time to eat. If they’re not hungry, it’s a fine time not to eat. Don’t make them eat or sit down if they don’t want to.
  3. There is no such thing as the “terrible twos” or threes or any of that other nonsense. Give your child your full attention when you’re together and they won’t freak out because you’re ignoring them. Put down your damn phone, turn off the TV.
  4. A little guidance is good, micromanagement is bad. If your child is frustrated and could use some help, help them, just as much as they would like you to, and no more. Otherwise, facilitate activities but don’t control them. Take the kid to the park, but then let them climb and fall and hurt themselves and others, within limits.
  5. Forget the stupid rules we all learned from the control freaks who raised us. They are abusive. There is nothing wrong with climbing up the slide.  Your children do not have to share.  You don’t have to take turns at the playground.  Or if you do, you don’t need adults to tell you that.  There is nothing wrong with having your elbows on the table. It’s more comfortable to sit that way, and it makes the food taste better.
  6. Generally, strangers are not the problem.  More likely it’s a close relative.  If you’re worried about either one of these things, then raise a self-confident child by being a loving, respectful, and non-smothering parent. Don’t tell them not to trust strangers.  That’s pointless and confusing. What the heck is a stranger, anyway?
  7. Non-smothering does not mean “anything goes.”  Your kids need your attention, love and guidance. They don’t need your controlling behaviors, your criticisms or your insults.  They also don’t need you to treat them like little adults who are capable of making all their own decisions. They’re not – they’re children.
  8. Be aware of your own emotions.  How are you feeling right now?  How is this affecting how you’re treating your child?
  9. If you’re about to say something other than “yes” or “right on” or “good job,” don’t say it.  Count to 10, slowly, and breath deeply.  Review what you were about to say in your head.  Are you about to say something critical?  Why?  Will it help your child with what they’re doing, or just hurt their feelings?  Why were you about to say that?  Did your parents say that to you?  Maybe next time you won’t even think about saying that stupid thing you were going to say.
  10. If you do a good job, your kids will easily do what you want them to do whenever you really need them to do something, with no conflict.  If you don’t do a good job, they won’t be like that, they’ll be more like you.
  11. Don’t teach.  Little children don’t learn that way.  They learn by modeling behavior.  Do you ever get angry and shout?  Do you argue with your spouse or others?  Do you ever interrupt people when they’re talking?  Do you get excited and work on artistic projects that you feel passionate about?  Do you read books that you really like?  Or you don’t read books at all?  They’ll be like you.  What you say can hurt, but it can’t teach, if it’s inconsistent with what you do.  What you do, on the other hand, can teach, hurt, help or all of the above.
  12. Speaking of modeling behavior, how’s your diet?  If you’re an overweight sugar addict like most people in the US, your children will probably be, too.  Now is a great time to stop eating sugar yourself, and actively embrace green vegetables, so you can be around to be a grandparent, and have a positive impact on future generations.
  13. Never tickle children unless they specifically request it and even then only when they are fully in control of when it stops.  It’s otherwise a form of torture, despite the fact that it makes them laugh.
  14. It’s rarely necessary to say “no.”  Oftentimes when you might be inclined to say “no” it’s because you don’t want the kid to break something.  In that case, “gentle” is much better than “no.”  And they will break things.  If you don’t want things to break, don’t have a child.
  15. Never use rewards, punishments or (completely unequal and false) “negotiations” for any reason.  The use of rewards and punishments causes life to be miserable and based on bribery and addiction.  It’s very bad.  Don’t do it.  Just communicate your needs and desires and listen to what the child needs and desires, employing copious amounts of empathy and understanding at every turn, and rewards or punishments will never, ever be necessary. I promise.
  16. Always remember – you are a great, big, scary monster with unlimited power and virtually no accountability.  Your child is a helpless dependent. Your child is not your equal.  Anything hurtful you say or do to your child will affect them a thousand times more compared with the impact anything they do or say will have on you or any other adult.
  17. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by how full-time parenting is, this is probably because you live in the US or some other primitive country that doesn’t have high-quality, inexpensive, government-sponsored daycare.  But don’t worry, it gets easier once they’re around 5.  This is because they either will be going to school, or if not, either way they become more inclined towards entertaining themselves for significant periods of time, and less inclined to run into traffic by then.
  18. Aside from preventing them from running into traffic, don’t tell your children what to do or how to act.  Model.  If you’re into good manners, they will be, too.  If you swear a lot, they will, too.  If you tell them when to hug someone or when to shake someone’s hand, you take away from them their agency and they’ll take years longer than they otherwise would to learn these things.  Your efforts will result in the opposite of the effect intended, as usual with control.
  19. Traffic: children don’t have a more or less fully-developed understanding of traffic patterns and driver behavior until the age of 12, according to studies.  If you have a child younger than 12, don’t let them cross a 4-lane road by themselves.  They might not know how to react if something unexpected happens, and being hit by cars is one of the most common ways for children to die.
  20. Addiction: you can’t expect a child (or many adults) to be able to navigate addictive habits without assistance, such as videos or processed sugar.  Best to avoid both, but if you must introduce these things into the life of your child, you need to tightly control access to these things.  Which is very difficult to do, so it’s best to just not have these things available in your home.  Never use sugar or TV as means of control/reward/punishment.  Or anything else.
  21. If your child is upset because they can’t do something they want to do, or you won’t let them, or for any other reason: show empathy and support.  Show that you see and hear them.  You understand they’re upset, and you understand why, and it sucks, doesn’t it?  If they want to be held, hold them, and don’t let go until they themselves push away and indicate they’ve had enough support to make it through this experience.

These are my own child-rearing instructions, but if you want to read my favorite book on the subject, check out Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort.