10 things parents do that really matter to kids

Things parents do that really matter to kids

I don’t get to sleep much, but when I do I dream about a book. This book is the parenting instructions manual that was missing when we bought each of our three children. The book would have all the answers about what is really important and share all the secrets about the things that matter to kids.

The ‘kids don’t come with a manual’ parenting cliche, right? I mean, it would be truly marvellous if such a book existed, but then it would probably be about as relevant as all the other ‘parenting manuals’ that experts write and I devour like a ravenous beast until I realise they don’t have the answers and give the book away to Vinnies for other beasts to snack on.

Instead, I hit the Google research library and read what lots and lots and lots of parenting experts and bloggers and forum mums and random Facebookers and kids, sweet, sweet kids, had to say about the things they think matter to kids. The things that make kids eyes light up and four years later they’ll suddenly pipe up and say “remember four years ago when we did…” or “remember how you used to…” or just, right now, “I love it when you…”

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

Things parents do that really matters to kids

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 Barbies, Pokemon or Pearlie – 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.

Tell me about yourself

Good conversation is never one-sided. Just as your child 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 young children ever again.

Make time just for me

One-on-one time with our children 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. Helping in their classroom is another way to give them ‘special’ time.

Do things together as a family

As modern life gets busier more and more families take a ‘divide and conquer’ approach. “You take Vaxon 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 child 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.

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. Kids love this ‘stolen’ time! You can even 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 grown-ups’ world and they will be thrilled to be ‘breaking the rules’ with you.

Be there when it’s bedtime

Bedtime is the most routine, everyday thing in a child’s life and having you there each night is an immensely important part of that routine. 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 reading books together, talking about the day just finished and wondering about what’s coming up tomorrow. The comfort you offer in a special lullaby or phrase that you say to them every night will be appreciated their entire life.

Try this: A bedtime routine for non-sleepers

Notice me even when I don’t shout

The more you notice your children 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 absolutely lap up being ‘caught’ doing things they know you will love, so notice it when they do! Offered to set the table without being asked? Towelled herself dry without assistance? Read a story to her brother? Played quietly all afternoon? Finished a chapter book and started on another? Got a star on their homework? Do I need to keep going?

Read to me

I know many parents who roll their eyes every time “reading aloud to kids” is mentioned. It’s true that some parents don’t enjoy this ritual as much as they’ve been told they should, but parenting experts all seem to agree that making time for books and reading aloud is a wonderful thing to do for kids. The most important people in the world completely agree with them: your kids. They love it when you read together. It’s quiet, close time doing something that they enjoy immensely, usually in the cosiness of a warmly lit bedroom as they wind down to sleep.  Sharing a magical, imaginative book with you is very important to them, so find a chapter book you all enjoy reading. I’d start with Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree or Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach and go from there.

More ideas: 10 really good book series to tempt reluctant readers

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 to them back all the time, but if you give in and don’t defend your boundaries, they’ll 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.

Further reading: 5 things I think parents should be strict about

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.

I wrote about this here: 10 things to ask your child about their day

So there’s ten to start things rolling for you. Each family will have many more things that light up their kids’ faces, of course. Off the top of my head, I know my own appreciate it greatly when I:

What things do you do that matter the most to your kids?

{ This post is a modified version of a post written for Kidspot}

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    • Maxabella says

      I actually think I listen too much – is that possible? I’ve definitely learned that I need to be more talky less listeny with my kids. x

    • Maxabella says

      My parenting book would be so conflicted that it would be unreadable. I think I’ll just keep blogging where I can contradict myself merrily and be all kinds of all over the place. x

  1. says

    These are the important things, aren’t they? x

    • Maxabella says

      Indeed they are, Lisa. If we can just get these 10 things right, I reckon we’ll have done our job exceedingly well. x

  2. Lisa Oliver says

    So important! I really enjoyed this post Bron. One thing I try to do is put my children to bed each night and read to them. When I’m time poor, and days seem shorter due to tight schedules/after school activities/hubby away for work, I’ll always aim to be there for the bedtime routine and be ‘present’ . Loved all these points and think you should write that book! xx

    • Maxabella says

      I am there, but am I HERE – you know what I mean? Bedtime is definitely one for me to work on. I tend to be so over it by the time I get them into bed that I’m wearing the crankies. x

  3. says

    Love these points and so true. It’s not expensive presents and holidays that come to mind when I think about my childhood, it’s just doing “stuff” with my parents that I remember, including listening to stories about their own lives as children. Thanks for reminding me of these simple but key parts of parenting.

    • Maxabella says

      Being together and doing silly things that we just knew were our things alone – that’s the things I remember about my family growing up. x

  4. says

    Great list Bron – I’m going to work on telling them more about my childhood – not in a way that chides as in ‘when we were kids we only had’ but in the good way.

  5. says

    Oh I love this so hard! Thank you- just beautifully put! And so so true. I think sometimes we get so busy trying to ‘make’ a good living for kids that we forget to actually ‘live’ with them! Just taking those moments is so important. I always make sure I get down to their eye level too, and not talk over their little heads- making sure they’re looking at me and I’m looking at them- really valuable stuff. But that goddamned Pearlie….. theme song is the bane of my existence at the moment. Right up there with “Let it go”. 😉

    • says

      I completely agree – it’s like my Dolly quote from last week: Don’t get too busy making a living that you forget to make a life. x

  6. says

    You know I want my girls to remember me as the mum that joined in and had fun with them. I love all your tips and I can always be a better listener but I also want to join in with my girls when they do different activities. Great post Bron. :)!

    • says

      I try to join in, but it’s hard when the kids are into stuff that I’m not (boy stuff in particular!). I do try. As the kids get older they’re less keen to have mum gallivanting around with them anyway… x

  7. says

    As my kids have entered the teens & tweens stage of their life they want space & privacy. This is so hard for me because I love being part of their lives & knowing all the ins & outs but as time goes on I’m learning that if I give them what they want then I get what I want too. There’s no use being all up in their faces & pumping them with questions. They’ll eventually let you into their world.
    They also want trust. I tell them that I give my trust freely but if they break that trust then it has to be earn’t back. It’s a hard lesson for us all but we are learning as we go on.

    • says

      Things do change as our children grow – so quickly too! This is very good advice for the upcoming teen years (I refuse to acknowledge tweens… :)) x

      • says

        Tweens is such a stupid term but there’s definetly a stage between kid & teenager. It’s tricky when they have a teenager as an older sibling because they see themselves in the same age group but there is a BIG difference between 11 ( almost 12) & 14!

        • says

          I remember my mum telling me that “teens weren’t invented when I was a child” – TEENS! You went from being seen as a child, in with the babies, to being seen as an adult. That seems so foreign now. I wonder if ‘tweens’ will happen like that.

          I have ‘tweens’ at the moment – Arabella just turned 9 and Max is 10. I just think of them as bigger kids. When they hit teenage years, I’ll acknowledge their difference then! I’m just weird about the tween marketing thing. You know how it is. x

  8. says

    I’ve had a tough parenting time lately, so when I clicked open this post I was expecting to feel shithouse about the things I’m not doing and should be doing. I felt quite good when I got to the end and realised that I was doing most (if not all) of them.
    In the hot-house environment of our international school I can feel quite dragged down by the things I’m not doing (practicing times tables at every spare moment, giving extra homework/study, driving kids to music, sports or language classes) and having wildly different opinion on most things (believing the kids need less homework, believing that kids of all academic levels should be allowed in the school).
    I’m hopefully raising happy, average normal kids and that’s the best thing I can.

    • says

      It really must be hard, Corinne. We have similar pressures in the area we live in, but I learned long ago that happiness isn’t a career path. x

    • says

      PS – I’m very glad my post didn’t make you feel shithouse. Also very glad that you suspected it might, but read it anyway. That says a lot, my dear. x

  9. says

    Love this post and all the good reminders, am with you on wanting the book. We need to more things as a family as it’s a bit too much of ‘divide and conquer” at the moment, ballet concerts arrgh! Our favourite part of the day though is reading stories together before bed, we are currently reading my Mum’s copies of the Heidi series, so sweet and the girls are so into it. I love that the books have now been passed down 3 generations. I should probably join in more too before they won’t let me!

    • says

      This is something that’s on my list – having shared Mr Galliano’s Circus (one of my all-time favourite books) and the kids loved it, we moved through most of the Enid Blyton’s but now I want to do more of the older classics. Heidi would be perfect – thanks for the tip, Vicki! x

  10. says

    You should write a book! I like number 2. Children need to realise we are more than just our role to them and they so enjoy learning about who we are!

    • Maxabella says

      I think a book would kill me – I’m much too needy!! I think #2 is the spot a lot of us parents miss and one that is so meaningful to kids and really quite vital to our long term good relationship with them. To grow together. x

  11. says

    What a splendid list. I’ve been telling my girls lots of stories about my life and they love listening. They are in a stage of realising that we are more than mum and dad – we are people. It’s awesome x

  12. says

    Gah, write that book will you! I’m in a ‘I’d like to stick my head in the sand’ phase of parenting and can’t come up with anything useful, but I am listening to the audiobook, Thrive, by Huffington and she goes on and on about how we should get more sleep. Just sayin’ x

    • Maxabella says

      For the Huff it’s all “hindsight wears rose coloured glasses” for me. I honestly can’t stand it when hugely successful people who have stood on toes and climbed on shoulders like mice scurrying up the wealth ladder suddenly do a back flip off their enormous piles of money to tell us little people that they got it all wrong and THIS is how to live. Grrrr… hit a nerve with your ‘Thrive’ listening, clearly!! x

  13. says

    Oh Bron… love love love. The biggest one for me is to listen to them.. like really listen to them in a stop what ever you are doing and look them in the eye with all my attention kind of listen. My boys just soak that up xx

    • Maxabella says

      Don’t they just! And just a simple question like, “What do you think of…?” is enough to make their eyes light up. x

  14. says

    Such excellent tips.
    I know we are so guilty of the divide and conquer…I can’t remember the last time we had an exciting family outing.
    Maybe tonight we will go for ice cream just because!

  15. says

    Great list. I have just started the journey of parenthood and I remind myself all the time of things I need to do to improve our relationship. Even at this very early age. I wont to promote a bright and confident young lady.

  16. says

    I love this Bron. When I pick my daughter up from daycare, the first thing she says is ‘tell me about YOUR day’. It’s always the same old thing. I dropped you off at daycare, I got the last park at the car park, I caught the 137 into work, I sat down and did some typing and some reading and some more typing ….’ She loves it though :)

  17. says

    So truly beautiful Bron. I think sometimes we forget that these children, these annoying, sleep snatching, messy children ARE the people who we love most dearly in our lives. Sometimes I try and stop and ask myself how would I want to be treated here? What would I crave for? and instantly I drop the defences and should-haves and parenting comes with the ease that it does from the heart. Oh we could chat about this for hours. Just beautiful xx

  18. says

    Love it. So intuitive, but there’s something about seeing it all in one place – and written so positively instead of YOU SHOULD and YOU ARE RUINING YOUR CHILD IF YOU DON’T – that makes it all the more powerful. Thank you.

    • Maxabella says

      See, that’s the ‘parenting manual’ style of advice that I just can’t stand. This is just a ‘this works for me and a lot of other people I’ve noticed around the traps’ kinda thing!! x


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