Reviewing some of the best parenting articles of the year, a few general themes kept jumping out at me. Here are a few big ideas that we learned from child development research that I think can help inform us as we head into 2017.
1. Too much too soon isn't helping our kids' academic growth. Repeatedly this year we saw how a push to include formal academics into preschool is just setting our kids up for failure. We have seen the research on this coming out over the last few years, but I think 2016 was the clearest yet, that academic preschools are a case of "putting the cart before the horse." Young kids need to be active learners that engage with new material primarily through play, not "rigorous instruction."
Playful learning means using a child's innate interests and abilities in a setting with strong positive relationships. Guided play is a perfect example of this. Adults guide (not control) the play and kids make it their own and learn through it.
2. Outdoor play, for kids and adults, is key. In an era of smart phones and voice-activated shopping, it's easy to stay in your house, on your couch virtually all the time. Of course, we all know this isn't healthy for us and or our kids. Research this year pointed out how outdoor families are happier, healthier and actually get along better. More surprising, however, is that kids who play outside with friends also gain valuable skills in empathy as well. We also learned this year that "risky" play can have its benefits too. Turns out kids learn some pretty valuable lessons from a skinned knee or scratched arm.
3. Emotional skills are just as important as academic...but parents must lead by example. One of the best parenting books of the year (Unselfie by Dr. Michele Borba) focused not on how to get your kid into the best college, but on how to teach them empathy. After a tumultuous 2016, I think we can all agree that empathy should be a big goal for all of us parents. Empathy not only helps us be better people, but it makes us happier, more creative and ultimately creates a sense of unity in our communities.
Empathy and compassion are wired into us from birth (to some degree), but they must be fostered by adults for it to grow and develop. Research showed us this year, that kids pick up on our lack of consistency when it comes to emotional learning. Many teenagers feel their parents talk about kindness, but actually value academic or sports achievement more. If we just "talk the talk" but don't actually "walk the walk," they notice and follow suit.
4. Simplification should be the new parenting buzzword. In contrast to what we adults may think, kids actually flourish in an atmosphere of simplicity. More than ever, in 2016 we learned that too much stuff, too many activities, and overstimulation can just be stressful for kids. Childhood is never stress-free, but we can do things to help our child learn a slower pace and value meaning. One thing I have learned this year, and hope to continue into 2017, is the value of simplicity. Some days I feel overwhelmed by the vicious circle that is toys, storage for toys, toys that don't get played with, getting rids of toys, etc. When I feel stressed and the kids are cranky, I know the key is to slow down and simplify. Although we just finished Christmas with usual barrage of toys, I'm trying to make simplicity my goal for the new year. I'm hoping to slow down, clear the clutter, and treasure the time we have together.
To sum up, there are a few themes from 2016 that can guide us into happy parenting for 2017: playful, outdoors, empathy, simple. These are some goals for 2017 that I can get behind!