In a recent interview, I was asked for the best parenting advice I have to offer. My usual response is “Never take too much credit and never take too much blame.” By this, I mean that your child is his or her own person. Though we do our best to guide and shape our children, ultimately they make their own choices. But, this is more of a mindset than an action.
I’ve been rethinking about this question ever since that interview, and I would like to change my answer. The BEST advice would have to be actionable, universally applicable, and result in the most expansive positive impact.
So here it is (drum roll, please): The best piece of advice I can give to parents is to learn about human development.
Are you feeling let down?
I know it isn’t flashy but I firmly belief that if parents had a better understanding of human development, they’d be much more equipped to take on the challenges of parenthood.
Most parents are fairly educated about developmental milestones from ages 0 – 5 years old. Many of them are obvious and observable—sitting up, walking, talking, potty training etc. In addition to education, we have community supports. We are in close contact with our child’s doctor. Our preschool teachers are a great resource and can alert us to any behaviors we might not be aware of. On top of that, new parents have a “we’re in this together” mentality.
However, once a child completes kindergarten, our overall experience shifts. There simply isn’t a lot of directed guidance past this point. Despite this, we set higher expectations for ourselves. We believe that since we’ve been at it for a few years, we should have it down by now. Those high expectations, combined with less support from doctors and teachers, means that as parents, we’re basically winging it.
Think of it like this…
Imagine that two parents find themselves in the deep end of a pool. One was never taught to swim but the other had several years of swim lessons. Fueled by the survival instinct, the first parent frantically dog-paddles to safety. The other parent does the breast stroke and glides to the edge with little effort at all. They both have the same outcome but the parent who was never taught to swim had to struggle, was probably pretty scared, and was more depleted than the experienced swimmer.
By learning about human development and the growing brain, we are empowered to become the best parent we can be. We don’t have to “just survive.” We can experience less struggle, make fewer fear-based decisions, and even enjoy the experience at times.
Additionally, knowing what is reasonable to expect from a child, based on their developmental stage, reduces conflicts and improves the relationship overall.
Can a 4 year old implement all three instructions by being told to do something once? Not really.
Can a 7 year old be expected to clean up their toys (imperfectly)? Absolutely.
Can we expect our 10 year old to ace a science test when they haven’t gotten enough sleep? Probably not.
Can we depend on our 13 year old to take out the trash (with out a reminder) before school? Possibly.
And don’t forget about the older kids. Our older teens may look like young adults, and they will certainly argue that they “aren’t kids anymore,” but a 15 year old’s brain processes situations and information much differently than an adult’s does. With this understanding, even through the rocky road of adolescence, we can maintain a relationship that is more loving and compassionate and less controlling and combative.
Overall, there’s real value in looking at parenting through the lens of human development.
You wouldn’t head to a new city on vacation without doing some research first. If you simply show up, you might end up missing out all the best experiences. Let’s look at parenting the same way. Unfamiliar territory requires us to dig in and educate ourselves. If we commit to learning about our kids’ development, we can potentially improve our parenting experience as a whole.
Are you with me??