As both a mother and a psychologist, there are certain behaviors I look for when engaging with many worried parents in my professional life. A large number of my clients are unsure about certain actions that might raise alarm bells – whether it’s a particular thing their child does or an unexpected statement their child makes. These are typical questions I encounter in my nearly ten years of experience working with families.
My work has only increased some of the anxieties I, like other parents, have since becoming a mother to two boys, Hunter, 3, and Paxton, 1; they are my pride and joy. After all, I’ve seen the effects of parenting personally. As a parent, there’s a lot to worry about, but there’s no way to keep track of it all. If all we can do is love our kids and make their childhood as good as possible, that’s good enough.
In this article, I discuss the parenting problems I give the most attention to and the ones I don’t worry about as much. There is no one best way to raise children, but everyone can believe they are doing the best they can.
As a Parent and Psychologist, Here Are the Things That Never Cross My Mind
As a parent, I could worry about a lot of different things, but here are a few that, from my professional and personal experience, I try not to stress out over.
If I am with my children all the time.
Since I have to work, I can’t always be home with my kids during the day. The quality of your interactions with your children is more crucial than the amount of time you spend with them. I pay close attention to my kids and do my best to meet their needs anytime I’m with them, whether it’s for an hour or a full day.
My kids spend the day with reliable babysitters who instill in them the values of perseverance and flexibility while I’m at work. Your child can learn autonomy and independence from you and your partner even if you don’t go to work. Get Grandma to take care of the kids! Everyone benefits from some time spent on their own from time to time.
If they have been successful thus far.
When children are ready, they reach their developmental milestones. What is deemed typical and what might be called delayed both have ranges. My friend and colleague, psychologist Dr. Jaclyn Shlisky, whose daughters Piper, 4, and Harlow, 2, keep telling me that she sees other parents continually comparing their children to others. Her suggestion: Halt! Dr. Shlisky explains, “Every child learns and grows at their own pace.” What counts most is whether your child is improving daily, weekly, or monthly as compared to themselves. Find something to celebrate every day.
And talk to your kid’s doctor if you’re worried. If you don’t feel comfortable with your child’s pediatrician, looking elsewhere for that competent parenting companion is best. In addition, if there is a delay, you need not worry. Services that intervene at a young age are quite successful. I think it’s important to act quickly if your pediatrician suggests you see a specialist or get evaluated. It is more likely that a problem can be fixed if it is discovered early on.
If our usual schedule is changed.
I admit that on special occasions, I let my kids stay up late and force them to miss naps in favor of an exciting outing. During family vacations, I’ve even invited the kids to share our bed and watch cartoons with us.
Many parents worry that their kids will suffer if they deviate from a rigid routine. There is no doubt that children do better when there is routine and when there are clear expectations set for them. Children, like the rest of us, thrive in predictable environments. Children can adapt to little disruptions in their routines and schedules quite fine.
It’s possible that you’ll experience some mild disruptions or out-of-character actions as you try to get back on track. However, that is OK as well. Your child may not remember that you “retrained” their sleep or got rid of their bad behavior, but they may never forget that you gave them ice cream for breakfast on their birthday.
If my children have a limited appetite.
I don’t argue with my kids over eating as long as their pediatrician doesn’t have any worries about their weight or health. What we’re eating as a family and whatever is in the fridge at the time are the two main options (no complaints if someone eventually eats the leftovers!). They eat if they’re hungry and don’t eat if they’re not.
I’ve also witnessed parents who offered their children a balanced dinner with multiple selections. For instance, a protein, starch, and vegetable supper should always have both a familiar and an unfamiliar component. This is a great way to get your child to try new foods without having to force them. That way, you know they’ll eat at least some of the meal without making a fuss.
My kid is reluctant to try new experiences when I force him to try them. But when I place it on his plate alongside his usual items, he is more likely to try it because he is not being forced to eat anything new.
If I let my kids use the TV.
Screen time, like any other activity, can be beneficial, provided it is supervised and managed properly. Talk to your kid throughout the commercial breaks about what they saw on TV and what they thought of the show overall. Make use of the parental controls available on most electronic gadgets.
My youngster can only use the currently active app, and my iPhone will automatically shut down after the specified time is up, thanks to Guided Access. When the phone goes to sleep, he moves on to other toys. If your child is 13 or older and uses an iPhone, you may use Screen Time to keep tabs on their usage and impose limits on specific app types, like gaming or social networking.
Tablets are also useful for learning purposes. iPads are needed for many students on long car rides or in waiting rooms, and many schools provide students with iPads to use for homework. Once again, your level of participation is crucial.
While waiting for an appointment, I have let my 3-year-old play a virtual scavenger hunt on my phone. He would sneakily find the things I pointed out to him and snap pictures of them with my phone’s camera. As long as you and your child utilize technology together, you have nothing to worry about.
Concerns I Have
As a parent, it is equally important to know what to worry about and what not to worry about. Here are the things that, as a mom and a psychologist specializing in children, I value most.
My children’s social circle:
Oftentimes, we are not even permitted to enter the school building after dropping off our children and determining where they will sit in the morning circle. How can I tell if my kid hangs out with decent people and speaks out for himself?
Invest time and effort into learning about your kids’ friends and teaching them positive social skills. Talk to your kid about how they felt about their experience after setting up a playdate or enrolling them in an extracurricular activity.
It’s fine to make suggestions about what they could do differently on the next playdate. I’ve noticed that you always agree to do anything Johnny wants to play,” you can say if you’ve realized that your child never gets to pick the activity. What game were you hoping to play?” Then, work with him or her to draft a plan for the next time this situation arises. Your youngster can learn to advocate for him or herself with the help of role-playing. Either you or your sibling can take on the role of a friend and play a social game.
Instead of choosing an activity for my son based on its popularity, I attempt to get him involved in things that genuinely interest him. Offer your kid a wide range of experiences, and encourage the ones he or she enjoys the most. This can teach children to take the initiative and steer clear of the herd mentality. They can also network with others who have similar interests.
If my kid is nice.
Sometimes I see kids behaving badly, not because they are inherently mean, but because the behavior of those around them has influenced them. Children absorb information like sponges even when you don’t believe they’re listening.
I attempt to instill in my kids the value of being nice and inclusive by having them use phrases like “everyone’s included” and “kindness counts.” When my children are of an age to understand, we have open discussions about how to respond when they see others being cruel. We talked about what we saw and considered whether or not there were other choices available to the person that would have yielded better results.
Instill in your child the value of kindness and compassion for others, even though they may not share their own personal preferences. You should also provide a good example for your kids by acting in this way. Try inviting the entire class to park playdates and always be friendly to other families, even if they don’t return the gesture. My kids and I try to take a step back and consider whether or not the other person is just having a terrible day when we see someone being hostile.
If I am choosing the best path for my children’s education.
How we teach reflects broader shifts in what we expect of our youth. Our kindergarteners seem to be preparing more for college than for adjusting to life outside of school. Every parent wonders at some point if they are making the proper decisions for their kids. Do we have them enrolled in too many after-school activities? Where should we send them to school, public or private? Intervention or improvement? Both the present and the potential futures are open.
I can’t tell you what’s best for your kids, but I can tell you that whatever you decide isn’t set in stone. If you’re worried that you’re exerting too much pressure on them, try easing up and seeing what happens. Call a meeting or request a change if you’re not content with their current academic or extracurricular placement. Get an evaluation if your kid is having trouble and falling behind in school. The burden of proof rests with you as the parent, and you are your child’s best advocate. Since there is no “one size fits all” method of education, failure, and subsequent growth are necessary components of the learning process.
If my kid is happy.
My two-year-old would rather play than do his homework, but I wonder if he’s actually happy on some fundamental level. As a parent, I don’t feel like I have any say in this. Instead of fretting, check in with your kids daily to see how they’re doing and try not to brush off their worries. It’s crucial to reassure your youngster that you understand how they’re feeling and are there to listen.
Realize that while test-day jitters are normal, your child may have a more serious problem if they worry about things that don’t matter, avoid activities that would normally be enjoyable, and/or complain of physical symptoms (stomachache, headache, etc.) that have nothing to do with medical conditions.
If this is the case, having an honest conversation with your child about their emotions and concerns is crucial. If your kid is upset about anything, help them find solutions. Ask your kid how it went afterward. If your kid is still having trouble, it’s time to call in the experts. Ignoring minor concerns can lead to more serious ones on the road.
It’s a lot easier to be a parent when you know what issues to focus on first. Keep in mind that you are not alone in your feelings of anxiety or worry as a parent. You can talk to many people for support, including friends, family, and experts (such as a school psychologist or pediatrician).
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