Julie Lythcott-Haims says her role as freshmen dean at Stanford University for a decade afforded her a view of the future—and what she saw frightened her.
A parenting shift is needed, she says.
In her book, How to Raise an Adult, her parenting recommendations make good New Year’s resolutions for moms and dads seeking to raise confident, capable kids who grow up to be independent, happy adults.
Teach kids to do more for themselves.
“Remember, your job as a parent is to put yourself out of a job,” says Lythcott-Haims. “We won’t be around forever, so we need to know our adult kids can fend for themselves.”
She encourages parents to not do what the kids can or can almost do for themselves. Not only will kids gain valuable life skills, it also sends kids the message that they are capable individuals.
Lythcott-Haims cites studies showing that excessive parental hand-holding not only deprives kids of opportunities to learn, but also leads to higher rates of anxiety and depression.
Stop saying “we” when you mean your son or daughter.
While children’s activities do feel like they involve the entire family, Lythcott-Haims implores parents not to say “we are playing soccer this spring” or “we have a dance recital.” Your children are playing and performing, not you.
Using “we” deprives children of accomplishment and can lead to parents being too intertwined in their children’s lives. It’s OK to make the separation between parent and child clear from a very early age, and in fact will make separation down the road easier.
Make sure your kids have some free time.
Cutting back on an activity or two this year could have benefits for both you and your children, including less time in the car, less hectic schedules, less stress and more downtime.
Kids need to know what it’s like to have unscheduled downtime before their freshman year of college.
“We are on autopilot in our minivans and serving as our kids’ concierge,” Lythcott-Haims explains, citing how the days of “go out and play” are long gone and replaced by a very full schedule of activities.
Parents don’t have to sign their kid up for every single opportunity, she says, and should fight the perceived notion that doing so is required to be a good parent.
“Stop cultivating kids like bonsai trees,” she urges.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
This may be a common New Year’s resolution, but it takes on greater importance when viewed in light of the impact on kids.
“Our kids don’t need to feel that every moment is make or break,” says Lythcott-Haims. “It messes with them.”
Letting a few small issues go and not insisting on perfection takes pressure off you and your kids, and teaches them a valuable lesson in the process. “Our kids need to know that failure happens, and that it is OK,” she says.
Don’t worry about college.
It’s not a shock that parents start thinking about college when their kids are little, but Lythcott-Haims stresses, “One does not have to mortgage childhood to get into an elite school.”
When Lythcott-Haims asks a group of high schoolers what they want her to tell their parents, she frequently hears, “Tell them that the brand name of college we go to isn’t as important as they think.”
She says she couldn’t agree more. “It’s the kid, not the school, that leads to a bright future.”
Remember how you parented when your child was learning to walk.
A parent helping a baby taking her first steps offers support, realizes stumbles are inevitable, doesn’t make too big a deal out of those stumbles when they happen and encourages a quick recovery.
In the world of overparenting, that may be the last time parents are comfortable with the idea of their kids failing, says Lythcott-Haims.
Parents should keep those early days in mind. They should continue to let their kids fall and encourage them to pick themselves up when falls happen.
As much as parents would like their children’s path in life to be perfectly smooth, there will inevitably be potholes and unexpected turns. Teaching them to handle that as children means that they will be fully capable of doing so when they reach adulthood.