Sick of hearing about all the don'ts of parenting? Well, now that my son, August, is eight, I can tell you some of those don'ts just won't do. The parenting rules below range from no-brainers and head-scratchers, to total taboos. Although we had the best, most sanctimonious, slow-parenting, organic and free-range of intentions, life happens, and you have to do what's best for you and your family. Here’s what I've learned along the way so far.
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1. Don't give them juice We waited a long time before starting to give our son juice. Then we tested little amounts, watered it down—and lo and behold, his teeth haven't rotted. Now that he’s eight, I buy juice boxes because they're a quick solution to long hours away from home; I just tuck them in my purse, and we're rolling. At breakfast, August gets a glass of milk, mango, or orange juice, and he takes a water bottle to school. In the summer, and on playdates, I reach for an organic, sugar-free juice box, and the kids are hydrated and happy. Because it's not forbidden, he never wants too much of it, and really, it's just fine.
2. Don't give them packaged foods My husband and I spend a large portion of our time poring over recipes and planning the next meal. Who could have predicted we’d ever buy anything packaged for our son? But when our son failed to thrive as a baby (due to an undiagnosed heart condition), we gave up trying to feed him foods he wouldn't eat. And since he doesn't eat well at school, I say, why not give him what he's hungry for after school? It happens to be yogurt tubes! I was able to find a product that uses less sugar than the leading kid-centred brands. He tears open the package after school, delighting in the brightly coloured graphics. and sucks that yogurt mix right down. Up with wholesome packaged foods, down with parental fatigue and worry over uneaten school lunch.
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3. Don't give them too many toys With an only child and no ready access to childcare and family in the city, my kid needs something to do. When I was growing up, I got the occasional toy. As Hindus, we had a tree and a family celebration at Christmas, but gifts were miniminal. I didn’t have tons, but it was certainly enough at the time. Now that I have my own child, it gives me such pleasure to buy him toys I never got. And, although he has playdates, he often plays alone in his room and lets his imagination run wild with his cars, Rainbow Loom, and Lego. Bonus: When his friends come over, they play with them, too. Over the years, we’ve given toys away to friends and family. The rest, I’m keeping for my grandkids. Indeed, you can never have too many toys!
4. Don't let them watch TV When I was a kid, my bedtime was 9 p.m., except for Fridays, when it was 10 p.m to accommodate Dallas, which we watched as a family—and I loved that time we spent together! These days, my son loves his quiet after-school TV time: Spongebob Squarepants, Pokémon, WildKratts, and sometimes some CBC news (see No. 6), which we watch and discuss as a family. He's not watching Flash Gordon chop through some evil bad guy’s head with green blood spewing out, and he refuses to watch The Hobbit because it’s "too scary!" So, I’m not too concerned. At all.
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5. Don't let them play too many video games This past October we got our son a Wii U video game system for his birthday. With the help of his grandparents, we pooled our funds to buy him one game and the system. And, after he sacrificed birthday presents and did some charitable fundraising (yes, we made him work for it!), we got him Super Mario 3D World, Lego City Undercover and Skylanders. These games are super fun and non-violent, and they involve problem-solving, math and simple logic. What’s not to love?
Among our friends, however, the votes are split. Some won't allow video games until age 10. Others have bought their kids every system under the sun, including their own laptops, desktops and iPads. My son is thrilled with his video game system, and so am I—as long as it’s not interfering with homework, of course. Besides, I'm going show him what a master I was at Super Mario Bros in 1988!
6. Don't tell your kids what's going on in the world There are many horrible stories in the news every day, and I am the first to say our kids do not need to know about them; let them stay innocent just a little while longer. That said, the journalist in me knows that, when left to the imagination, the unknown can be more frightening than the reality. When I was young, for example, I became fixated on child abduction. Had I known the rarity of kidnapping and been explained the news, I might have been able to put things into context.
We allow our son to listen to Metro Morning on CBC every morning with us at breakfast. There’s a lot of talk of Rob Ford and other things affecting Canada as a whole. This gives us an opportunity chat about events that affect us—pleasant or not. We prefer to have these discussions at home before they hit the schoolyard, so August can be prepared and learn the essentials of safety.
Indeed, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from parenting these last eight years it’s that, if children want to know something, they will ask. They won’t push themselves past their own limits.