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10 Things That Don’t *Actually* Ruin Your Kid’s Brain

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Every day I wake up and swear I will have a positive impact on my children. And every night I go to sleep fearing I’ve ruined them. I gave in too much, or I yelled too much, or I expected them to be patient and cooperative after a long day when I couldn’t even muster enough stamina to be a chill version of myself. Turns out, though, a lot of things don’t actually ruin kids’ brains, at least not in small doses. So yes, I still have to worry about my parenting style, but perhaps less than I originally thought.

There are so many opinions on what’s “right” when it comes to raising kids that I usually feel overwhelmed after consuming all the information that’s out there. And what may work for me and my kids one day, may not work the next. For example, my partner and I have been trying the “point system” with our 7-year-old son, as suggested by his teachers, to get him to care about his behavior and actions more. The system worked for a week, when he was so gung-ho to accumulate points, but his interest soon fizzled when he became less enchanted with the tiny rewards we were offering with each points level. It was frustrating for us, and kind of scary, because I really don’t want to raise a jerk.

I have to remind myself that raising kids is mostly trial and error, as well as consistently working hard to figure out what makes our kids tick. Screaming at my kids to do something — for the millionth time — is pointless, and it’s taken me years to realize that they respond to hugs, and not threats of punishment, when they are acting out. And even then, the hugs don’t always work and I need to resort to putting myself in a time-out in the bathroom so I can just take the minutes I need to collect myself when dealing with them during a tantrum.

If you’re worrying about everything you fear you might be doing wrong, this list of things that don’t actually ruin your kid’s brain may help give you some perspective:

Screen Time

Courtesy of Liza Wyles

The rules for how much screen time is “healthy” (or at least not detrimental) for kids have been in flux the last few years. All I know is that, as a kid, I watched a lot of television. So much so that I have been working in the TV industry for the last 15 years. TV didn’t derail me from making honor roll or having friends or acquiring basic common sense or humanity. I don’t think letting my kids immerse themselves in their Disney sitcoms or soccer video games is going to ruin them, but that is because screen time isn’t the only activity my kids are engaged in. It seems the fear about screen time isn’t so much the content or the amount, but the fact that it gets parents off the hook for actually, you know, spending time with their kids themselves to be positive influences. My kids have seen some rated R movies… with their parents. We explain them. We provide context. We know what they are watching.

But we also don’t let them have screen time on school days at all. I’m a proud mean mom.

Video Games

My husband is a big gamer and our son really enjoys video games. He chooses to spend his weekend morning screen time playing video games, and, according to Parenting, that may actually be a good thing. But the reason why we don’t worry too much about it is because our son’s favorite aspect about video games is playing them with his dad.

Some Junk Food

Courtesy of Liza Wyles

I grew up in a household that severely restricted junk food. My friends didn’t like coming over for playdates because we only had fruit and granola for snack. I can’t help but think that my complicated relationship with food had a lot to do with being denied sweets.

I swore not to do the same with my kids, so my partner and I do let them eat some junk food. Just a small sweet with their lunch for school, and a small dessert after dinner (provided their veggies were consumed). By not making a big deal about junk food, I’m hoping they don’t develop an unhealthy obsession with it, like I did.

Being An Introvert

I am an introvert. That means I am happiest when I have space and time and quiet, which is basically the opposite of life as a mom to two young kids. But given that I’m more comfortable on the sidelines, observing, I am very attuned to my own children’s behavior. I recognized my daughter’s hesitation to join groups of other children on the playground, and I would never force to her to “go play” with anyone. While my son prefers the company of a big gang of pals, my daughter is happier in smaller groups. She is more shy, and I think, like me, it’s because she is really contemplating who is worth her time.

According to Parents, raising an introvert isn’t a problem at all. It’s just that, as a society, we’re conditioned to believe that being overtly social is qualifier of a happy, successful life. I have a couple of really great friends and, honestly, that’s all I feel I need.

Not Forcing Them To Do Homework

Courtesy of Liza Wyles

I am not sure I’ll be taking this stance as my kids get closer to college age, but there are some things I won’t do when it comes to my children’s homework. The fact that I don’t force my kids to do homework might not actually be a bad thing, either, and according to a recent study by psychologist and neuroscientist Harris Cooper of Duke University.

I know my kids feel bad when they don’t do well, because it’s not like they can’t understand the material. No, they simply don’t want to put in the effort to check their spelling or answer social studies questions in complete sentences. If our kids were truly having trouble in a subject, we would get them the help they needed, but when they know what the right thing to do is, and they simply don’t do it, I am not helping them by demanding they do it. I am helping them realize there will be consequences to their actions, however, if they blow off work and take down their GPA in the process.

Refusing To Do Something For Them

I am desperately trying to wean my kids off their expectation that all will be done for them at home. But if I want them to pour their own beverages, fold their own laundry, or vacuum under the table after meals, I have to be willing to accept that they won’t do things exactly the way I do them.

It’s been a difficult lesson for me, but recognizing that cultivating their independence is more about them rising to the challenge and building their sense of ownership than it is about the actual execution of the task. I would not consider their shirts folded, but they are sort of rolled up and put away and it doesn’t bother them to wear wrinkled clothes. Letting kids do things themselves can be painful for Type A moms like me, but it’s a crucial step if I don’t want to be fetching glasses of water for my kids when they’re teenagers.

Confessing Your Mistakes

Courtesy of Liza Wyles

I yell more than I’d like to. Even if I wasn’t a working mom, with so little time and energy to put towards my kids at the top and tail of each weekday, I’d probably lose my sh*t just as often. I get overwhelmed easily, and instead of taking a break and retreating into the bathroom until I can maintain my composure, I fall apart and let my anger out via words spoken at a high volume. I basically give my children lessons in exactly what I don’t want them to do.

So when I do finally get it together, calm down, and re-enter the fray, I admit to them that I messed up. I think it’s important my kids see I’m not perfect, and experts at Psychology Today agree, because it takes the pressure off them to be that way. But it’s also crucial to show them what it looks like to own up to your failures, and to commit to being better. That’s all I want for them: to learn from their mistakes, not to expect perfection from themselves, or others.

Allowing Them Out In Winter Without A Coat

I remember how much I resisted wearing a hat when I was a kid. I rebelled against zipping up my coat, too. So when my kids protest my attempt to add more layers before they step out in winter, I totally understand. And apparently, according to a study highlighted by NPR, they’re not going to get sick from being cold. So making them wear a coat (unless it truly is freezing out) is a battle I think I will give up.

Letting Them Know The Truth

Courtesy of Liza Wyles

I want my kids to trust me and know that I’m there for them. That means being honest with them. I’m going to let them down in millions of ways while I’m raising them, but if they at least know they can expect the truth from me, we will have formed a solid foundation that can withstand all the rocky parts of being a family.

When my job was eliminated from the company where I had been working for three years, I hid it from my daughter. But I knew she sensed something was… different. And it felt terrible to outrightly lie to her. I didn’t want her to worry about me not having a full-time job at the moment, but I also didn’t want her to feel I was being dishonest. I eventually did tell her that I was no longer at my job, but was looking for a new one. And she was fine with that. I think she was relieved to get confirmation that something fundamental about my life had changed, and I was careful to communicate that change without inviting her to worry. There is no reason a little kid should be burdened with the fear that their parents aren’t going to be able to provide for them, even temporarily.

Comic Books

When my 8-year-old daughter was so reluctant to read level-appropriate chapter books, her school librarian turned her on to graphic novels. I was never into comics, and always thought they were childish, but books are books. And as long as she was being properly challenged by the material, these comics were totally right for her. I’m glad she started reading them, and reading them to me, too. I never knew there were ones I’d enjoy.

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