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All it takes are two lines on a pregnancy test for people to start coming out of the woodwork with parenting advice. Before we even have the baby in our arms, we’re inundated with “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” about raising them. Between the parenting books, the old wives’ tales, the Internet horror stories, and the advice of — well, pretty much anyone who’s ever had a baby, it can feel like we’re drowning in good intentions … but such an information overload can also leave us more unclear than ever.
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Unfortunately, the noise doesn’t stop once your kids leave the baby stage. There’s so much more to think about with each new development: Potty training methods! Disciplinary styles! Screen time! We try to fill every waking moment with the best opportunities for brain development and learning, hoping that we’re doing enough to enrich their lives. (And, consequently, wondering if we’re falling short.) But this week, a Twitter thread emerged that should give every parent a reason to take a deep breath and realize that we’re all doing just fine. No wonder it quickly went viral — what parent doesn’t need to hear, from an expert source, no less, that they can relax?!
The expert source in question is behavioral scientist (and mom!) Dorsa Amir. Currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at UC Berkeley’s Department of Psychology, she also has a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from Yale (you know, NBD). And she begins her Twitter thread by introducing herself and her very worthy credentials: “I’m a developmental scientist who studies how children grow & learn across cultures,” she says. “I’m also an American mom who feels the extreme pressure put on parents in the West. I’m here to offer you some parenting ANTI-advice — here are a few things you can worry less about.”
Things we can worry less about? We’re all ears!
Not Everything Has to Be Educational
In this age of products purported to enhance cognition in even the littlest babies, this advice seems downright blasphemous — but it’s Amir’s first point. “It’s truly completely okay (and indeed, good) for kids to play for the sake of play. They don’t have to be learning the alphabet or animal noises. They can just do whatever silly thing they want to do. They are ALWAYS learning!”
This is, of course, backed up by science. A 2018 clinical report in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics says that “Play is fundamentally important for learning 21st century skills, such as problem solving, collaboration, and creativity, which require the executive functioning skills that are critical for adult success.” So playing and using imagination is learning, regardless of how simple or non-productive it looks. And Amir’s second point?
You Don’t Have to Put Pressure On Yourself to Constantly Teach Them Things
“In fact, active and direct instruction from an adult is the rarest form of teaching in human history,” Amir says. “Kids know how to learn in other ways — like observation — and they’re extremely good at it.” She then describes a mommy-and-me class she took her toddler to, in which the instructor held up a ball and moved it around so the little ones could “learn to track objects with their eyes.”
“I cannot stress enough how completely and utterly unnecessary that is,” Amir says. “You do not need to teach that!”
Let Them Be Bored
If you feel a constant need to keep your kids stimulated, engaged, and occupied — don’t! “Kids should be allowed to experience boredom. It’s part of the human experience and it’s okay if they’re bored,” advises Amir. “You do not have to feel obligated to constantly entertain them or provide new activities for them. They should be allowed to generate their own activities and ideas.”
Again, this advice is rooted in actual findings. “A long-term study finds that creativity has been steadily declining among children of all ages over the past 30 years,” says PBS.org. “The researchers think it has to do with the way we’re raising our kids, both at home and in school. If we’re constantly filling their schedules and their brains, they’ll have no need to imagine a story, wonder how things work, or construct a fort with pillows and blankets.”
Allow Them to Experience Social Conflict
This one’s painful, because we’d do anything to protect our kids from yucky experiences — and social conflict is decidedly not fun for anyone. But according to Amir, it’s vitally important to let them have these experiences.
“[K]ids should be allowed to experience social conflict,” she says in her Twitter thread. “They can disagree or argue with their playmates; that’s completely fine and actually very good for them to practice. Let them resolve things if they can, you don’t have to get involved or prevent it from happening.” Yes, it’s hard to sit back and watch your kid learn lessons the hard way, but it’s beneficial to them in the long run.
“[N]egative emotions are not bad, and it’s good for kids to experience what they feel like and learn how to process them. A childhood that’s entirely carefree and completely devoid of emotional challenges is NOT the goal,” Amir says. “It’s good to experience all of life’s nuances.”
Being a ‘Boring’ Parent is Just Fine
“You do not have to be your child’s zany, cartoonish friend,” the Twitter thread continues. “You can just be their boring parent, if you wish. This thing we do in the West, where we pretend to be kids to play with our kids? That’s super unusual, to be honest, and you do not have to feel obligated to do it.”
Your Life and Schedule Doesn’t Have to Revolve Around Your Children
A little louder for the folks in the back who struggle to grasp this one (ahem, me): your life does not have to revolve around what your children want. “Every family member is entitled to their own preferences and should be considered,” says Amir. “Your kids will almost certainly be content tagging along [during] an adult-centered activity, like grocery shopping.”
Don’t Stress About the Amount of Toys You Buy Your Kids
Whether you worry that your kid doesn’t have enough toys or worry that you’re buying too many, you’re fine, according to Amir. “You don’t have to buy your children 600 toys. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you do, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you don’t,” she says. “Kids can play with literally whatever. They have a particular fondness for adult-utilized objects, actually, those function as play objects just fine.”
In the same vein, she suggests taking that a step further: “You know what kids everywhere and for all time have loved doing? Mimicking adults. This is how they learn. Give ’em some actual chores to do around the house. It’s the best of both worlds; you get help and they get to help. No need for a toy broom; give ’em the real thing.”
Amir sums up the Twitter thread with the final breath of fresh air that all parents need.
“One thing that makes humans extra special is high levels of what we call ‘plasticity’ or the ability to calibrate to a million different ecological, cultural, and social environments,” she says. “What this means is that there are a million different ways to be human and they’re all valid.
Your kid eats the same thing at dinner as you? Sure, that makes sense. Your kid gets their own special meal? Great, that’s fine too. Does he have 600 toys? That’s great. Does he play with kitchen utensils most of the time? Excellent! It’s all good, folks! Truly!”
She then recommends a parenting philosophy that she herself values: “My favorite parenting philosophy comes from my adviser [cognitive scientist and psychologist] @AlisonGopnik‘s book The Gardener & The Carpenter: We should tend to our children like we tend to a garden, offering support and nourishment and letting them take whatever shape they’ll take. We’re not building chairs.”
Perhaps my personal favorite part of the whole viral Twitter thread, though, is where Amir admits that even she can get overwhelmed by this super-stressful gig we call parenting.
“Please give yourself some patience and grace, especially if you’re a first-time parent. Even with a literal PhD and over a decade of research experience on these topics, I still struggle to not let the pressure get to me,” she says. “It’s a LOT.”
It really is a lot — but there’s just something to be said for this expert advice on letting go just a little bit. Despite what we’re so often led to believe, we don’t have to be on a mission to shape our kids’ lives and futures at every turn. Because so much shaping goes on all by itself … if only we allow ourselves to step back and let it happen naturally.
Before you go, check out the laid-back parenting styles of some of Hollywood’s most permissive parents.
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