Encompass Blog

Ideas to Help Parenting Seem Less Like “Mission: Impossible”

March 17, 2015  |  Parenting, Family Enrichment  |  By Encompass

I was reading an article written by Magda Gerber and a quote hit me like a ton of bricks. Magda refers to parenting as an “almost impossible task” because we rely so heavily in parenting on past experience and are parenting children in a world we could only imagine exists.  We have no past references to draw upon.  I was thinking, “She’s right, my mom never had girls who had access to cell phones and could text people at 2:00 am.  I have no social reference to recall and think about how my mom handled that.” Years ago, children didn’t have access to screens everywhere with parents who had less time to monitor what is showing.

What Are the Best Skills to Equip Kids With?
As a parent educator, I can’t teach workshops and say, “Well, sorry folks, looks like parenting is an almost impossible task, so I guess we just need to give up!”  So that made me think, if I can’t predict the future and I don’t have social references for future events, what are the skills I can teach my child early on so they will be able to handle future situations, even when I might not know what to do as a parent?

Developing executive function skills was my answer.  Self-regulation, inhibitory control, mental flexibility and working memory are skills executive function skills and, if kids learn them early, hopefully they will be able to handle future events that we can’t know or plan for today.

Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child says “these skills help us remember the information we need to complete a task, filter distractions, resist inappropriate or non-productive impulses, and sustain attention during a particular activity. We use them to set goals and plan ways to meet them, assess our progress along the way, and adjust the plan if necessary, while managing frustration so we don’t act on it.” (https://www.developingchild.harvard.edu)

How are these skills developed? Playing! Through play, children get many opportunities to learn these skills. Taking turns teaches inhibitory control.  Playing cards teaches working memory (you have to be able to recall the rules of the game). Then, if someone lays a card down unexpectedly, you need to have the mental flexibility to change your actions. The beauty of this is your kids love that you’re playing with them and you are teaching them the skills that will stay with them for a lifetime.

Limit Screen Time to Allow for Play
We are living in a time when screen time has increased dramatically over the past decade. It is important to remember the importance of limiting screen time to allow for play, which develops so many important skills. We know there are many benefits to letting children play and explore their world, but current research suggests that over the past 20 years, children have lost 12 hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities (Hofferth,S.L. 1999),  largely to screen time.

Written by Kerry Beymer, the parenting education and support manager at Encompass

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