As parents, we’re all a work in progress. It’s not that we aren’t learning and adapting at a breakneck pace; it’s just that these kids keep changing and moving the goalposts on us. We have to meet their basic physical, mental, and emotional needs and prepare them for a life outside of our home. We have less than two decades to turn a tiny screaming baby into a competent, empathetic, honest adult—all while being terribly human ourselves. Who could do such a thing without a little help along the way?
During this most reflective time of the year, let’s look back on all our best parenting advice from the past 12 months. We’ll tackle everything from getting a crying baby to sleep to getting kids to stop lying to you to improving your relationship with your teenager. Here, let’s start with an easy one.
Stop “gaslighting” your kids
OK, it’s not gaslighting in the truest sense of the word, but many parents do have a habit, however occasional, of glossing over a child’s feelings in a moment, often because we think it will help diffuse their big emotions. As Laura Wheatman Hill wrote:
“Kids want to know that you understand where they’re coming from,” [Psychiatrist and parent coach Jess] Beachkofsky says. “And often, once they feel heard, the behavior or situation improves; instead of telling your kid not to be a baby about their scrape or that they’re fine, just acknowledge: ‘Oh, you fell! Sounds like that hurts. What do you think? Do you need a Band-Aid?’ You don’t have to agree that it was the worst injury ever or over-exaggerate your response. But you don’t want to tell them they’re not feeling their feelings. That’s not fair, and it’s wrong.” So, instead of assessing a situation or forming a judgment for them, look at it from the outside first, then from their point of view.
How to instill perseverance in your kids
If one of the strongest predictors of a child’s future success is their ability to persevere, it seems like that would be a good muscle for parents to focus on helping them build. But how does one person teach another person to want to work through tough challenges? Turns out, it starts with praising effort (not results), and ends with letting them feel frustration—and then celebrating the small wins in life (plus a whole lot more in between).
An age-by-age guide to teaching your kids basic life skills
Of course, once you’ve tackled perseverance, your job here is still not done. There are loads of other life skills they need to learn before they can become functional members of society. And you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) wait until the summer before they pack up and leave for college—many life skills can start to be taught as early as the toddler years, and can be built upon with every passing year. Here’s our age-by-age guide to teaching kids basic life skills.
How to get any kid to like you
Before having a child of my own, I wouldn’t exactly say I was a “kid person.” The first baby I ever held was my oldest niece, and I was terrified of breaking her the entire time. (Nobody warns you how small they are when they’re brand new.) Some people just naturally connect with young humans, but the rest of us need a little help figuring out how to make a good impression. That’s why Lifehacker staff writer Meredith Dietz asked our readers for the best ways to get any kid to like you—and you delivered.
How to manage after-school meltdowns with a neurodivergent child
If you’ve ever parented a child who went to school, you know all about the classic after-school meltdown. They’ve somehow managed to keep their emotions and behavior in check all day long (maybe), and now that they’re in their safe space, full of unconditional love, they’re ready to release those pent-up emotions. It can (and does) happen with any child, but it’s especially likely for neurodivergent children with disorders that affect their social and/or cognitive abilities, including ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or dyscalculia. Writer Rachel Fairbank offers tips for getting them (and you) through it.
How to have a better relationship with your teenager
Every stage of parenting comes with its own unique challenges, but the teenage years can feel like an especially fraught time as kids get closer and closer to independence and adulthood, even as you fear they’re simply not ready. But it’s entirely possible to maintain a good relationship with your teenager as they make one of life’s biggest transitions. According to at least one study, it all comes down to two things: a warm, involved relationship, and practiced, effective discipline.
Bring back these things our own parents did
Back in the day—which for our purposes, we’ll define as the 1980s and early ‘90s—parents operated differently. The opposite of “helicopter parents,” they were peak free range, letting their kids ride bikes for hours around the neighborhood, flit from house to house and yard to yard, drink from garden hoses, and only come home when they were hungry or the street lights came on. Kids faced much less structure and supervision, and it was glorious.
While it wouldn’t be prudent to bring back everything from those golden days before parenting took a turn into micro-management (because getting burns on our legs from hot metal slides and rolling around in the back of a station wagon on a 12-hour road trip without seatbelts is...not that safe), there are certain aspects of the dominant parenting ethos from 30-40 years ago that are worth reviving. Here are some of the things “vintage parents” did that we should bring back.
How to make staying at a hotel with your kids suck less
So, you’ve decided to go on a trip with the kids. We don’t know what you were thinking either, but what’s booked is booked, so now it’s time to figure out how to make it as fun (or least torturous) as possible. Sarah has tips for the extras you should pack (baby-proofing gear, a night light, and a stash of plastic cups, to start), and the rules you should establish ahead of time (you need an elevator button-pushing turn-taking system, and you need it now). Read more here.
How to actually enjoy a weekend at home with your kids
So, you’ve decided to cancel the trip and stay home for the weekend instead! Also not a great move if you’re looking to achieve things like “rest” or “relaxation,” but you have children, so here we are. Actually, all is not lost—if you’re strategic enough about it and sacrifice in some areas to gain in other areas. Sarah’s advice starts with an ominous, “I know, this sounds terrible. But hear me out.” It does get better from there, though.
The best way to teach your kids to recognize a “safe” adult
It’s a tricky concept for kids and parents alike: We obviously want our kids to be safe and to know what to do if someone tries to hurt them—without unnecessarily scaring them. And we know that teaching them about “stranger danger” isn’t the best way to keep them safe from sexual predators, many of whom are often not a stranger and are, in fact, a trusted friend or family member. Here are our tips for helping kids learn to discern who to trust.
How to get your kids to listen without nagging
It’s a well-known fact that for as long as human children have roamed the Earth, a nagging parent has roamed behind them telling them, for the last time, to clean up their corner of the cave before dinner. It can feel like nagging is just part of the territory when the simple request you have already made four times today (and will make again four times tomorrow) falls on selectively deaf ears. However, we have a variety of solutions for you to try that are actually effective in getting kids to listen and follow through on directions the first (gasp) time.
How to make your house the teen hangout spot
What my small home has taught me is that you don’t need the huge backyard, finished basement, and dedicated game room to be the place where your kid’s friends will want to gather. If you, like me, want to be the host of the The Hangout House, you simply need to be the parent who offers, carve out some kind of space for them, stock up on all the snacks—and then leave them be.
Stop saying these things to your kids
“Oh, she’s just shy.” “Stop being so bossy.” “Boy, you can be really stubborn sometimes.” Certainly none of those phrases are going to cause instantaneous irrevocable damage, but you can probably see how telling someone they’re shy over the course of their childhood might make them believe they have some innate personality flaw (when, in fact, they may simply be introverted). You might also realize that calling a strong-willed girl “bossy” is a really good way to help perpetuate the stereotype that any kind of female assertiveness is “bossyness” (bad) while male assertiveness is, well, assertiveness (good). But there are all kinds of other common phrases we use (because our parents and their parents used them) that it’s time to re-evaluate. Here are 15 of them.
How to coach a sport you’ve never played
As the parent of an athlete, there is a thing I have noticed about youth sports: Nobody ever wants to volunteer to coach. Sure, it can be a thankless (not to mention unpaid) job that sucks up a lot of hours in a week, but I think what stops most people is never having played the sport themselves. But over the years, I’ve watched my husband coach basketball (which he played for many years) and soccer (which he played for one brief season as a young child before promptly quitting) to the same level of success. Coaching a sport you haven’t played much yourself isn’t without its challenges—but here’s how to do it, and do it successfully.
What to do about all those lies your kids tell
From as young as 2 or 3 years old (i.e., as soon as they can talk), kids lie to their parents. First it’s because the lines between reality and wishful thinking are blurry (toddlers); then maybe it’s because they want to see what they can get away with (elementary-aged); then to avoid trouble (tweens); or to stretch toward independence (teens). It’s both developmentally appropriate and something every parent needs to address. Here’s our age-by-age guide to why kids lie—and what to do about it.
How to get kids to stop eating their boogers
I’m just going to let Sarah do all the talking here:
If you’ve ever been around kids for any length of time, you’ve surely asked yourself: Why, why on Earth, would a person eat the inner contents of their disgusting nose? The most basic answer is: Kids are gross, and they do gross things. But more specifically, in the words of a child I know (I’ll never say who): “I eat them when I’m hungry, and because they taste good.”
As gag-worthy as this may be to adults, the fact remains: Most kids have snacked on a booger or two. First, let’s touch on why—then cover how to curb the habit.
How to get your teen to do their damn homework
Preschoolers who eat their boogers grow up to be teens who won’t do their homework. Kids of all ages are tough! The first thing to acknowledge about teens who are refusing to do their homework is that they’re probably not trying to be difficult for the sake of being difficult—there’s likely an underlying reason. As Rachel writes:
Generally speaking, most kids—teenagers included—want to do well. However, if there’s something interfering (say, confusion about the instructions, difficulties with the subject, or an issue with their ability to focus), then it can lead to a situation where they feel it’s easier to just refuse to do it rather than admit that they’re struggling. As parents, it’s our job to try and figure out what is really going on, even if all you are getting from them are monosyllabic answers and eye-rolls.
Here’s how to figure out what is really going on, and how to help support them.
How to stop rushing your kids out the door in the morning
When I tried to find a stock image of a parent rushing their kid out the door in the morning, I was met with dozens of happy, smiling, well-dressed parents and children poised to start their day. But any parent knows that even on the best mornings, there is a rush to make lunches, finish breakfast, grab a pair of shorts for gym class, locate that lost field trip permission slip, and yell, “I said, ‘get your shoes on!’” once or twice. What if it didn’t have to be that way? What if there was a way to emulate those stock image families and have a more peaceful exit? We think you can do it.
How to tell if your kid is gifted (and what to do if they are)
Gifted education is a controversial type of special education. As Laura writes:
The efficacy and equity of gifted programs came under fire in 2021 when New York City mayor Bill De Blasio rolled out a plan to phase out the city’s gifted program completely—a plan that was later quietly shelved.
Parents who perhaps were in gifted programs themselves as kids and whose own kids do or do not qualify are confused and sometimes outraged at the inconsistent policies about who gets to be called “gifted” and what privileges this “status symbol” can afford someone given this label. But what does it mean to be “gifted”? Should you get your kid tested, and, if they qualify, should you accept services? And will your kid be “better off” in the long run if they’re in a gifted program or identified as gifted when they’re young?
Read more about the signs that your child might be gifted—and what to do if they are.
The scientific way to put your baby down without waking them up
Babies are notorious for not sleeping when you want them (need them) to sleep. Or they’ll sleep, but only with you trapped underneath their tiny, excessively warm little bodies. But a group of scientists may have cracked the code for getting a baby to fall asleep and stay asleep. As Lifehacker senior health editor Beth Skwarecki explains, you first start with a crying baby. Then:
1. Walk around with the baby until they stop crying. Within about five minutes, they should fall asleep.
2. Here is the critical part: Sit down with the baby for five to eight minutes. This allows them to settle into sleep while they’re still in contact with you.
3. Then put them down in the crib.
The researchers admit that their study “is exploratory and needs confirmation,” so nobody is promising this is a magical spell for sleepytime. But it fits with several observations they made and that most caregivers of babies would likely agree with.
The easiest ways to entertain a baby
Of course, when the above-described method to get your baby to sleep inevitably fails, despite science, you will be looking for ever-more interesting ways to keep them entertained. Not just for their growth and development, but also for your own mental wellbeing. Here, Laura gives us some ideas you may not have thought of before, including (safe) balloon play, playing “fetch,” and handing over, well, garbage.
How to overcome parental burnout
We see you; we know you’re tired. In fact, a good two-thirds of us aren’t just tired—we’re fully burnt the hell out. The physical, mental, and emotional effort that is required of parents to successfully raise a child (or even unsuccessfully raise one) takes a toll over time—but it can also be easy to overlook. Here are the signs you’re dealing with parental burnout, and what to actually do about it.
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