Pick Your Battles – A Ten Step Program

We hear that line all time, but have you thought about how it relates to your mommy style? Use it as a guide and you can shift your reactions to the ups and downs of raising your gang and help save precious energy for things that really matter. In no particular order …

  1. Let go of your inner mommy fashionista. Sure, your 2-year-old may have a different aesthetic than you, but who says that purple tutu doesn’t work with the mini-me football jersey she wears to watch Sunday NFL with Dad? And does anyone really care? Look at it as creative expression.
  2. Turn in your ‘food police’ badge. Avoid appetite-killing snacks, offer a wide choice of healthy foods at every meal, and then back off. Research shows that children need to be exposed to a new food several times before developing a taste for it (sugary stuff not included), so keep steaming that broccoli. Don’t cajole, bribe, beg, or force-feed — it sets you (and them) up for lasting food issues.
  3. Know their limits. If you spend an hour or 2 dressing everyone to the nines for the holiday photo shoot, chances are by the time you get to the studio your little one will be ready for a major meltdown. Short circuit it by letting him play happily ’til the last minute. Then do a quick 1 minute  clean-up for the camera and keep it low key.
  4. Stop comparing! This one is tough for most moms, but just because little Austin in play group loves pee-wee karate and is already working on his orange belt doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your Charlie if he whines and sucks his thumb through the entire class. It’s just a sign that the martial arts are not his gig — not for now anyway.
  5. Skip the over-scheduled enrichment activities (see karate above). There’s nothing to be gained by forcing small kiddos to participate in structured groups they’re not drawn to, even if it’s called “play”. Wait until they show interest or try out a range of different options until something sticks. Always leave plenty of time for relaxed free play without rules. Children learn best when engaging their imaginations.
  6. Make it fun when you can. Want them to write a ‘Thank You’ to Aunt Susie for her birthday gift? Try providing a new set of cool markers for the project. Desperate for a thorough room clean-up? Offer to make it a race and set the kitchen timer. Any job that doesn’t have CHORE written all over it is less likely to be greeted with attitude. Channel your inner Mary Poppins.
  7. You can’t pick their friends. I know it’s hard to swallow, but if your daughter can’t stand the sight of your best friend’s child, even though you both always dreamed they’d be best friends, too, don’t force it. You can and should expect good manners, but you can’t make her like it.
  8. If they can do it themselves, they should. Even if the results are imperfect and it takes forever. From getting dressed to helping wash the dishes, and, yes, on to homework and the dreaded science projects, they learn competence by doing — not by watching you doing. Trust me … start this one early and you’ll avoid many future battles.
  9. Be the change you wish to see in your kids. I can’t say it enough. Children model the behavior they observe, not the words they hear. If you want them to be kind, treat others with kindness. If you want them to work hard, show them what hard work looks like. It’s hard to win the fight over video game time when you’re glued to your Blackberry 24/7.
  10. Reality check! Ask yourself: Will this be important in 5 minutes? 5 weeks? 5 years? If the answer is yes it may be worth fighting for. If not? Take a deep breath and walk away.
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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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