Of all the conventional wisdom about parenting, “pick your battles” may be the most sensible piece of advice. After all, defiance is a normal part of childhood. And it’s pretty hard to argue logically with someone who legitimately believes she is a flower fairy. So when it comes to facing off with your kids (especially when they’re under 10), how do you know when to fold and when to hold your ground? Read on to make sure you’re fighting the good fight—and not the unnecessary one.
5 Battles You Shouldn’t Bother Fighting with Your Kid—and 4 You Should Fight to Win
Let Them Win: Going Coatless
While freezing temperatures do pose a legitimate safety concern to little bodies, if your child is running around actively and insisting he feels just fine, you can likely relax about this. Or at least give him the option of wearing something lighter than your ideal triple-goose-down-swaddle-puffer. The science is clear: It’s viruses, not low temperatures, that cause illness.
Let Them Win: Sleeping With A Pacifier
Pacifiers can be a godsend to newborns, even potentially decreasing the risk of SIDS. But they can become a crutch for toddlers—deeply connected to comfort and associated with the onset of sleep. What if you’ve missed the prescribed window to banish the binky before age three? One pediatric dentist assured us that as long as the pacifier drops out of the child’s mouth once she has fallen asleep—meaning your kid’s sucking on it for a few minutes at most—it is unlikely to cause long-term, irreparable damage to the teeth.
If the child were to turn to thumb sucking to replace the pacifier, he reasoned, this could be far more problematic, because you can’t get rid of the thumb. The absolute latest deadline to ditch the pacifier is by the time the child starts losing baby teeth (average age: 6). A few disclaimers: If your child is a vigorous sucker, or spends more than a few minutes a day with a pacifier in her mouth, you are entering the dental-development danger zone. Paci use has also been linked to ear infections. But if you’re not struggling with any of the above, you can likely let this one ride for a while. And anyone who paci-shames you or your kid can, uh, suck it.
Let Them Win: Wearing Something Totally Bananas
He pairs an Avengers flip-sequin shirt with the seersucker suit pants you bought when he was the ring bearer in your sister’s wedding two years ago—which are now capris. She wants to wear her Poppy from Trolls Halloween costume to picture day (wig included). The question you should be asking is not, “Will other people think I have no control over my own children?” It is, “Did they dress themselves?” (And therefore give you a blessed four minutes to spend drinking coffee and staring into space?) If the answer to the latter is yes, you have already won.
“There’s very few ways kids can establish independence or let you know their will when they’re very young, but they do have some control over what’s touching their bodies,” Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, told The New York Times. There’s no gray area on this one, he added: “You have to give in.”
Let Them Win: Refusing To Eat A Particular Food
As long as kids eat a somewhat varied diet, and are growing appropriately per your pediatrician, they are likely getting sufficient nutrition. “Most kids are meeting their nutrient needs,” says pediatric dietitian Victoria Stein Feltman. Kids simply don’t need as much food as we think they do. “Protein gets a lot of attention, but the average kid’s protein needs are pretty low,” she says. “For example, a 70-pound kid would need less than one chicken breast, or a peanut butter sandwich with a glass of milk, per day. Parents shouldn’t stress about the nutrients.” Her very useful advice boils down to this: “Continue to offer the cucumbers but don’t freak out if your child only eats bread and butter.”
Let Them Win: Doing Homework On Their Terms
This is a case of “Done is better than perfect.” Some kids do their homework the minute they get home from school. Others need time to let off steam first. Some education experts advocate having children work in a public space within the home—like the kitchen or dining room table—so parents can be within earshot to help, without hovering. Others say they should work in the quiet of their rooms with no distractions (the theory being that said rooms are magically toy-free?).
At the end of the day, especially when we’re talking about younger kids and lower-stakes assignments, if your kid is focused and thriving, let him decide the setup. (There’s even a strong argument to be made that kids should be able to work standing up if they prefer to!)
“The bottom line is that the notion of ‘no, don’t ever do this’ is too cut and dried,” Duke University social psychologist and homework researcher Dr. Harris Cooper told Food52. “It’s more a case of the developmental age of the child, how much help they’re going to need, and the parents’ abilities to act as monitors and models.”
Fight To Win: Brushing Their Teeth Twice A Day
There’s no wiggle room on this one. “It can be busy in the morning when you are trying to get everyone out of the house—and it’s understandable to be so exhausted in the evening that just getting kids into bed becomes the goal,” writes Claire McCarthy, M.D., an editor of Harvard Medical School’s health blog, and clearly a mind reader. “But regular brushing is key to preventing cavities. Ideally, brushing should happen after every meal, but twice a day is fine. Once a day is not fine.”
Fight To Win: Going To Bed Early
According to SleepFoundation.org, the optimal bedtime for school-age children is between 7 and 8 p.m. It is recommended that preschoolers ages 3 to 5 get between 10 and 13 hours of sleep a night; for kids 6 to 13, it’s 9 to 11 hours. Factor in late-night sports practices, after-school classes, general bedtime-delaying shenanigans and the fact that 83 percent of middle schools start before 8:30 a.m., and it all adds up to a looming preteen sleep deficit. One study published in the journal Pediatrics found that extending the sleep of kids ages 7 to 11 by a mere 27 minutes resulted in a detectible improvement in emotional regulation and a reduction in impulsive behaviors. You do the math.
Fight To Win: Having A No-phone Zone
The dinner table, the car, their bedrooms, the bathroom (think about it)—there are just certain areas of your home where screens and little people don’t mix. Want to optimize mental health, sleep hygiene, physical well-being and opportunities to bond? Saying “no screens in here” is a no-brainer.
Fight To Win: Getting Them To Do Their Chores
Want an easy way to promote self-sufficiency, empathy and self-esteem in small kids? Regularly assign them chores and don’t give up when they push back. Whether it’s unloading the dishwasher (turns out if they do it badly that’s just as good) or matching their socks from the laundry pile, the research is clear: The younger kids start to pitch in, the bigger the payoff once they reach adulthood.