Despite many parenting books existing, the ultimate parenting manual is yet to hit the shelves. Instead, to find out what things parents do that really matter to kids, I hit the Google research library. Then I read what the parenting experts and bloggers and forum mums and random Facebookers and, yes, kids had to say about the things parents do that really make a difference to how they feel.
Here they are, the top ten things that I think will make your kids’ eyes light up (or at the very least, help bring them some calm and confidence).
10 things parents do that really matter to kids
1. Listen when I tell you stuff
More than anything, kids want their parents to listen to them. How they’re feeling, what they’re thinking and – perhaps hardest of all for busy parents who have absolutely no interest whatsoever in gaming, TikTok or Snapchat filters – what their interests are. I know you know what I’m talking about when I say that throwing in an occasional distracted ‘uh ha’ won’t cut it. We can’t feign interest and we can’t half-listen either. We need to ask questions, make suggestions and even throw in a fact or two of our own to really win our kids over.
2. Tell me about yourself
Good conversation is never one-sided. Just as your kid wants you to listen to what he’s interested in, he wants to listen to you in return. Kids are genuinely fascinated by what their parents get up to, but most parents don’t take the time to talk about themselves enough. Everyday life and your own childhood provide countless charming stories and ‘wow’ moments for your kids. Go to town – you will never have an audience quite like your children ever again.
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3. Make time for just me
One-on-one time with our kids is hard when you have more than one kid. It feels like enough to just get through in a day and fit in whole-family engagement, let alone quiet times with just one child. But if I tell you that it really, really, really matters to your child, would you find the time then?
It doesn’t have to be a grand-scale outing (although a special-interest trip with just you two – or three, both parents are wanted – is a great idea from time to time).
Spend just five minutes having a quiet chat before bed or ask them to help you peg the washing out or invite them along on the grocery shop. As long as their siblings are not invited and they get some time alone with you, it won’t matter what you do together.
Loads of things to do: 100 fun, quirky, important ways to bond with your teen
4. Do things together as a family
As modern life gets busier more and more families take a ‘divide and conquer’ approach. “You take Clyde to swimming and I’ll take Remy and Agatha to dance” makes sense, but “you take the kids to the park while I catch up on the housework” or “I’ll go to the movies with the kids while you do your shopping” probably doesn’t.
I know it’s hard, but it’s important to your kid that you all make those visits to the park and the movies. It’s also vital to them that you have special rituals that your family does that others might not.
Movie nights, bushwalking, playing a game of UNO (we love UNO), a family ten pin bowling championship that runs all year… Doing things together as a family – as many things as you can possibly fit in – is better than ice cream. Just ask your kid.
5. Let me stay up late sometimes
A great way to fit in more one-on-one time is to allocate a night of the week to each child when they get to stay up a little later than their siblings. Even teens love this ‘stolen’ time!
You can use this time as a reward for especially good behaviour. You don’t need to do anything fancy, just hang out like you usually do, but invite your child in. They’ll feel like they have a window onto the adults’ world and they will be thrilled to be ‘breaking the rules’ with you.
6. Be there when it’s bedtime
Bedtime is the most routine, everyday thing in a kid’s life and having you there each night is an immensely important part of that routine – especially to younger kids, but it matters to tweens and teens too. Of course, it won’t be possible every single night, but on as many nights as you possibly can, be there for your child when their day is finishing.
Make this time special by hanging out together, talking about the day just finished and wondering about what’s coming up tomorrow. The comfort you offer in the words you say to them every night will be appreciated their entire life.
7. Notice me, even when I don’t shout
The more you notice your kids when they’re being good or when they do good things quietly and without fanfare, the more confident they will grow. Kids are great at telling you when they do things well, but sometimes they like you to notice them first. Your kids lap up being ‘caught’ doing things they know you will love, so notice it when they do!
Set the table without being asked? Read a story to his brother? Finished a chapter book and started on another? Got a merit on their homework? Do I need to keep going?
8. Reward me when I’m good
We spend a lot of time disciplining our kids when they do the wrong thing, but how often do we reward them when they do the right thing?
We talk a lot about ‘consequences’ in parenting, so making the consequences for doing the right thing rewarding and satisfying makes a lot of sense. Nothing fills us up with more pride and confidence than receiving praise or reward for doing the right thing.
Reinforcing the good makes it a lot easier to let the bad slide from time to time.
9. Remind me of my boundaries
Now, most kids will protest (loudly) (I swear mine set up a picket line) (with placards) against any attempt we make to fence them in – we know that. It’s hard work having to fight them all the time, but if you give in and don’t defend your boundaries, kids will think you don’t care. I know, right? You can’t win!
But tight boundaries (and weirdly arguments) tell our kids that they matter to us enough for us to protect them and care for them and, yes, even fight them. Boundaries make them feel loved and secure. It may feel (a lot) like fighting and whinging and carrying on like a pork chop; but it’s all just an expression of love, sweet love.
This should help: How to set boundaries on Fortnite and other games
10. Ask me about my day
Having a chat about what happens when you’re not together is important. It shows you are curious about what your child gets up to and your feedback can show them how capable you think they are when they do things without you. More than that, debriefing the day allows them to process the more difficult aspects with someone they trust completely. They can work through all of the things that happened that they might have been uncertain or worried about. Better even, they get to share all the joyful things they got up to and relive them through the eyes of someone who adores them utterly.