What do you wish you would have done with your young child?
January 24, 2006 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Single dad with almost 4 yo son. For those with older children, looking back, what do you wish you would have done/started when your child was young. I'm thinking along the lines of "take more photos, buy life insurance, force them to learn an instrument, save $50/week for college, etc."

Parenting regret anecdotes accepted!
posted by crosten to Human Relations (67 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a parent, only a resentful child who knows what I would have wanted out of my parents (kidding - kind of). I think getting them started learning a foreign language at a young age is key - I wish I had had Spanish forced down my throat as a kid. Similarly, start him on an instrument as early as possible - he'll definitely appreciate later, as long as you give him the option to stop/switch at some point.
posted by youarenothere at 8:26 AM on January 24, 2006

I don't have kids, but I was one once. The two big things that I wish my parents had insisted on are 1) learning an instrument and 2) really learning another language. I would go so far as to say that I think a lot about putting any future children of mine into schooling that will force them to learn Spanish (since I live in the US).
posted by OmieWise at 8:27 AM on January 24, 2006

Not a parent as such but I am now the gaurdian of a teenage sister... here's what I wish had been done for her:

Definately save for college, don't overdo the photos, forget the instrument unless they show an interest, teach them a language and basic survival skills - growing veg, cooking, DIY etc... they'll need it and they'll end up healthier for it
posted by twistedonion at 8:34 AM on January 24, 2006

The one biggest regret that i have as a young adult (27) is that my parents allowed me to quit playing the cello in middle school orchestra. It is honestly the one thing i would go back in time for. Oh how i wish i could have been playing all those years, with free instruction and with dozens of other players!!! But I showed an interest in playing from the beginning, it was *not* something that my parents forced me to start in the first place.

a random tidbit that i didn't know i even thought...i wish my parents had catered less to things on a childhood level and interested me more in things that they enjoyed as adults. for example: my mother loves quilting and my father tended a garden, but i received GI Joe action figures; of course this is what i wanted at the time, but if i had receive an action figure and a sewing kit or hoe, then i'd have an open invitation, without being forced, to share in the things my parents love to do. Definitely cultivating shared interests will pay off a whole life long.
posted by iurodivii at 8:43 AM on January 24, 2006

Save for college, please. I can't say that enough. Starting at birth would've been better, but starting now would also be really good. And saving means serious saving. My whole life, my parents told me not to worry, they'd been saving for my college education; my senior year of high school, I found out that they'd amassed a total of $2000. And no, I'm not missing a zero.

You can start teaching an instrument young, but don't force the kid to continue, and obviously don't pressure him too much. And it's not just typical stage-mother stuff I'm warning about -- you may see a situation as "Look, I know he's better than all the other kids in the competition" or "This is a chance for him to hear other kids his age play" or "If he has this amazing talent now, later he'll be sorry he didn't use it to perform as a child prodigy," but he may see it as "DEAR GOD GET ME OUT OF THIS NOW AAAAUGH." Yes, with caps; if you can't use capslock when you're a kid, when can you? (On preview, I see I'm the opposite of iurodivii -- I would've given anything to get out of the torture of the whole "child prodigy" competitions thing, and out of the hours of practice while all my friends were out having fun. So take both of us with a grain of salt, I guess.)

Um, I'm not rehashing my childhood or anything. But minus the angst, my biggest recommendation is to give him time to do what he wants. If he likes to look up information about dinosaurs, awesome -- but if he just wants to play with plastic figures of them, he should get time for that. And of course, playing with other kids (are you in a neighborhood?) -- climbing trees, playing kickball, whatever -- is something else he can look back on and just say "Holy crap, my childhood was fun."

Can you play catch with him? Or help him build a radio set, or help him bake -- whatever he likes. Be prepared for this to change as he grows. Maybe he'll be 18 and still think that his dad's a pretty awesome guy for being able to put together a computer. Or maybe he'll be 10 and find that hey, what appealed to him at 4, when the tradition started, doesn't represent his current interests. The important thing is that you have something to enjoy together, not that it's always the same thing.

To this end, you may want to look into some community groups -- Boy Scouts if you're okay with that, or a substitute like YMCA Indians or something. In a group like this, he can go and have fun with his friends, and once or twice a year you can go to camp with him, or help him with a Pinewood Derby car, or sleep outside in the snow with him, and have a really good time. Or you can be the dad who's the troop/den/tribe leader, or the special guest talent for a night or two ("Look, kids, Mr. crosten can show you how to debug a computer!"). But of course, if he's outgrown this or really wants to quit, you've got to let him go. It can certainly enhance his childhood, but if you force it, it's not going to be so good.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:47 AM on January 24, 2006

I don't have kids, but I have two little sisters that I helped to raise, and also used to be a kid.

1. Make them learn an instrument. Let them choose which one, but strongly suggest that they pick guitar. It's all very well learning the violin, cello, trumpet, etc etc, but the guitar has by far the highest likelihood of being actually useful because a) it's a very common instrument - lots of them lying around at friends' houses b) it's by far the most practical to take to the next level by starting a band c) you can still have a lot of fun and sound reasonable even if you suck - it's very rewarding, but if you really practice hard, you improve quickly and satisfyingly.

2. Forget the 'this'll be a useful skill when they're older' rubbish. I'm referring to sewing on buttons, having neat handwriting, changing a fuse, putting up shelves, painting a room. Yes, these will be useful, but your kid will learn them when and if they need to know them. My Dad was a great parent, but one of the few bad parenting decisions he made was to give me little classes on all these useful skills. I used to dread them and so my Dad and I would argue, and I've forgotten a lot of what I learnt.

3. Stop your child from watching lots of TV. Maybe an hour a day so that they can fit in by being able to talk knowledgably about whatever programme is cool in their school, but no more. My little sisters were brought up watching hours of TV a day, and it's SUCH a waste of time. All the kids I know for whom TV is restricted (or even banned) seem absolutely fine and are more outdoorsy and better balanced, I think.

4. Yeah, definitely start saving for the college fund.
posted by pollystark at 8:51 AM on January 24, 2006

You know, I got the lessons and activities as a child, and I do value them today. What I regret about my childhood the most, though, is that my dad never spent much time with us. Sure, I went camping with the boy scouts, and did pretty well in band, but I don't have a lot of memories of doing any of it with my dad.

I have a child of my own now, and I'm having the same struggle as you, crosten. I lean much more heavily towards doing stuff with my daughter, rather than having her learn specific skills. She's in girl scouts, and is taking violin and voice lessons, but I'm not pushing her to achieve in those (or other) endeavors. Rather, I try to participate in those activities with her, to the extent I can. That's what I wish my dad had done.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:54 AM on January 24, 2006

I asked a somewhat related question last March. There were a whole bunch of cool answers.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:01 AM on January 24, 2006

Save all or most of the child's artwork. Write the date on the back (and if you have more or plant to have more than one kid, the name of the artist). I've saved most of the artwork my nieces and nephew made for me, and they get a huge kick out of looking at it when they're grown.

Another great idea that I heard is to keep a diary about the kid. Write down all the cute things they do and say, etc. Then give the diary to the kid when he or she graduates from high school.

Give your kid an allowance early on, because it's a valuable teaching tool for learning how to manage money. If the kid wants some fancy extra, you can say, "Well, you have an allowance, you can save for it, " or say "I'm willing to pay half if you pay the other half." The kid may quickly decide that the item really isn't worth the $30 or whatever it costs. As the kid gets older, you can hand down responsibility for buying certain things, starting with something like school supplies.

Make the kid help out around the house. She or he needs to know how to cook and clean and do laundry, and it's good for them to have the responsibility. A half hour of chores a day and maybe two hours on Saturday isn't a lot to ask and it'll also make life easier for the adults in the household.
posted by orange swan at 9:01 AM on January 24, 2006

I agree with most of the above comments... Eliminate TV except for an hour a day, learn a language, and read-read-read.
posted by Psharden at 9:05 AM on January 24, 2006

Push them to try stuff - put tasters in their way, like judo or swimming lessons. We've hit on guitar lessons in the past few months, and a boy who always thought he was useless is suddenly discovering he's got a talent.

Keep them away from computer games, as much as possible - I'm currently putting lots of obstacles in the way of a World of Warcraft account without quite saying "no" outright, because I know from my own childhood that games are a hideous time sink.

Look into a pension fund for them. I know that sounds stupid, but... just take a look.
posted by Leon at 9:09 AM on January 24, 2006

Talk to him. Tell him about things you've experienced. Tell him about places you've been, places you hope to go to. Open the lines of communication so he'll always feel comfortable coming to you with questions he may have.

Allow him to expand on his interests. If he shows an inclination towards sports, school plays, public speaking, provide him with every opportunity to improve those skills.

Teach him the value of a dollar. Teach him about savings accounts, checking accounts, investments, and how much better life can be when you have these things.

Teach him patience and manners. How he treats people throughout his life will make a big difference in how things go for him.

As for you, don't take a minute for granted. They do grow up so fast.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 9:11 AM on January 24, 2006

The regret that is strongest is that my parents never put me on any of our town's sports teams. Soccer, specifically, was huge in my town. I had all of the art, ballet, and theatre classes I could want, but I never had the experience as a kid of learning to play a sport with a team. Particularly in recent years, when more and more kids are overweight and inactive, it seems like at least introducing a kid to a sport is important. Of course, if he hates it, don't push it.
posted by amro at 9:12 AM on January 24, 2006

Followup: my biggest concern with my kids is that they don't get out of the house enough. It's a habit that was ingrained in them when young (I'm a guardian here, not a parent), and it's become almost impossible to break. So the moral is: don't over-protect.
posted by Leon at 9:14 AM on January 24, 2006

I am a few years ahead of you and my top tip is never blink; when they ask you what the "F" word is tell them straight away and tell them what it means, when they ask why Uncle Peter doesn't have a wife tell him he is gay and tell them what that means and the problems it has caused some of the family. Tell the truth as straight as you can.

But, lie about Father Christmas.
posted by priorpark17 at 9:19 AM on January 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yet another posting from a non-parent about what my parents did wrong and right...

1) Don't cater to picky eating too much. Every kid is a picky eater, but if you work around that and go out of your way to always cook for them the things they like, they'll never get over it. I'm 30 and still struggling to learn to eat veggies because my mom would cook me fish sticks or sausage or whatever else I wanted if I didn't like what she had cooked for everyone else. I'm not suggesting you force-feed anything, but once you've cooked something, make that be the only dinner your cooking that night.

2) Spend lots of time with your kids, take them out, and have little traditions. In talking with my mom now she's amazed at all the little detail things I remember from my childhood as being special: "Remember how we always had fish and chips after going to the dentist and chicken after getting haircuts?" (of course this wasn't a "tradition" to her, it was just that there was a fish'n'chips place by the dentist and a chicken place by the salon). "Remember the escalator ramp at Dufferin Mall?" "Remember you always bought me a ham sandwich whenever we were in the Miami airport?" And of course the bigger event-type outings: The science centre, Ontario Place, the Ex, the Islands, the beach (lots of beach), High Park, Harbourfront, The Nutcracker, a bunch of plays, even a Julio Iglesias concert once (I was a wierd child. I begged to go to that concert.). And all the little outings that were more everyday things: The local park, the library, more of the park, Honest Ed's (If you don't know what that is, I can't explain it!). All those little things are the ones I remember most from my childhood and that I'm most grateful my mom did. I don't know where she got the energy.

3) Read, read, read as others have said. I think everything that has been good in my life (and that's a lot, cause I've been very lucky) can ultimately be traced back to my mom reading to me so much when I was little, buying me books as little surprises, taking me to the library all the time, even she was the one who would have to carry back the 20 books I picked out.
posted by duck at 9:23 AM on January 24, 2006

My dad was always willing to explore my stupid ideas, and he never made me feel like they were stupid. One memorable day, we went to the hardware store and bought some nuts and bolts and a wee bit of wood. I fancied myself an inventor, and I thought I had come up with the perfect self-powered car. I couldn't explain the concept in a way that made sense to my dad, but he was willing to spend some time and a little money on it anyway. And when my machine failed to manifest, he never gave me a hard time about it. I still remember and appreciate his leap of faith. If you can do this for your son once in awhile, it will give him some confidence in his own ideas.

My mom often scolded me for doing things wrong (chopping vegetables, cleaning the porch, wrapping a gift for her), even if she had never explained the right way to do them first. Tasks often felt like a setup for failure -- I knew I was somehow going to screw them up. Please try to make your expectations for your son reasonable, age-appropriate, and clear.
posted by equipoise at 9:25 AM on January 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

And oh yeah, throw them out of the house. Send them outside to play with the other neighbourhood kids. Not "play dates," just "Go out and play."
posted by duck at 9:25 AM on January 24, 2006

I second giving for an allowance and saving artwork. These were among the two best things my parents did for me.

This won't work for every child, but when my I got old enough my mother had me do the bills myself a few times. I learned a lot about how much things actually cost (like a mortgage and gas) and how much money we had coming in versus how much we were saving. Their trust made a big difference to me and it made me a less wasteful child. Plus it showed me how to manage money even on a blue-collar salary without going into credit card debt. Thanks to those lessons I bought a house by myself for my 24th birthday.

My parents were also really great about teaching me not to be afraid to leave the country. You don't have to go to Europe every summer, but just take him overseas once or twice when he is old enough to appreciate it. History was a lot more interesting when I could connect them with an actual place, plus I cared to read the newspaper more and learn about the world. Now I'm not afraid to go somewhere where I don't speak the language, although travelling inspired me to learn a few.
posted by Alison at 9:26 AM on January 24, 2006

Eliminate TV altogether. Just get rid of the thing. Replace it with a fishtank, for those times when you find yourself in the mood to watch test cricket.

My parents didn't buy a TV until I was 15, and I've thanked them many many times for that decision.
posted by flabdablet at 9:27 AM on January 24, 2006

Oh, yeah: spend the time you would have spent watching TV reading aloud to your kid, until the kid starts taking the books off you because you read too slow.
posted by flabdablet at 9:28 AM on January 24, 2006

Teach money management skills. Teach your kid how to budget, to set aside money for savings, etc. My mom, who didn't believe in giving out an allowance, used a "point system" instead. Chores, etc were given a certain amount of points. Each time I did a certain chore, I got "paid" which went into an "account". Rewards, such as going to the movies or sleeping over at a friends house, cost a certain number of points. So, even without actually using money, I learned about saving, budgeting, etc.

If you decide to use this, do be fair. My "salary" for all my chores was pretty low (about 20 points a week) but rewards were really expensive (e.g. over 100 points to spend the night at a friends; even more if I had friends over). If I did this, I'd set it up so that his weekly "salary" (e.g. for doing the stuff that you expect him to do) at least equals one fun thing he'd like to do (e.g. go to movies).
posted by luneray at 9:31 AM on January 24, 2006

This is not a regret, but something that I am really glad my parents did. Have him help a little bit with cooking dinner so that he can get used to being in the kitchen. My mom always sat me in the kitchen while she prepared meals, and let me help with things that were age appropriate (fetch the correct measuring cup, stirring, etc.) It really does help with math and science (fractions, temperature, chemical reactions). It really irritates me how few of my peers know how to cook anything. Most are terrified of the kitchen and won't make anything that isn't pasta or a george forman grilled chicken breast. He doesn't have to grow up to be a gourmet chef, but he should leave home one day knowing how to feed himself reasonably well. That process really does start at an early age, IMO, since its easier to get a little kid into the kitchen than a moody teenager.

Things that I regret my parents didn't force me to do? Learning another language, I guess, although unless the kid practices it throughout their childhood and teenage years its not something they are really going to retain. I wish my parents had pushed me into sports - and no, not in the crazy psycho way, but in the healthy, get-off-your-fat-ass way. The problem is that while I was an active child (bike riding, roller skating, tag), I never picked up a sport that could translate to high school (soccer, softball, track). If I had had a sport that I could continue to channel my physical activity into, I probably wouldn't have had weight issues in high school.
posted by gatorae at 9:34 AM on January 24, 2006

Encourage your son to learn an instrument (or to sing). Enroll him in team sports. Sign him up for the Cub Scouts. Help him engage in group activities so that he develops social skills (oh, how I wish my parents had done this for me). Help him learn financial skills (oh, how I wish my parents had done this for me). Read to him. Encourage him to explore the world around him, to ask questions. Take him camping. But most of all, for the love of god, get rid of your television.
posted by jdroth at 9:36 AM on January 24, 2006

I couldn't agree more with eliminate TV. My two daughters didn't watch a TV unless they went to friend's houses until they were 10 years old. We started reading to them and taking them to the library when they were two. As a consequence they were always accelerated in school. To this day they would prefer to read. They are both almost 30 now and couldn't agree more. I made mistakes raising my children but I think I'm really right in this area. Letting your children watch TV unsupervised is like inviting a stranger off the street to babysit them. Reading to them establishes the strongest bond, and puts at their disposal a tool which will let them go anywhere and be anybody. Sorry for the rant but I feel strongly about this.
posted by malhaley at 9:38 AM on January 24, 2006

Find out what your kid wants to do and encourage them to do it. This means many opportunities to try stuff. Learning an instrument or languages might be great for some kids - but not all kids are interested in the same stuff. My dad tried way too hard to foist languages on me at an early age and, at 36 now, I still have no fucking interest in learning another language, ever, ever. This is odd b.c it seems like the sort of thing I should like, but the memories of those tedious times are just too much. OTOH, I remember fondly the stuff he taught me about electrical wiring. For some reason everyone expects kids to be "well rounded" and a little interested in everything, from sports to music to literature. But I think kids are more like adults in that they have very particular passions.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:43 AM on January 24, 2006

I agree with the encouraging to read thing. If possible take them to the library every week to get new books and return the old ones. Read with them.

Learning a language: Learn with them (preferred) or make it a language you already speak, otherwise you're going to be setting yourself up as a two faced git.

I'm also with duck on the chuck them out to make friends locally thing.
posted by biffa at 9:44 AM on January 24, 2006

Thinking about my answer re languages (above) got me on to thinking about whether you consider new learning experiences as essential to your development now. Lots of the answers that sound good for your son might be good for you too, don't discount just because they might be something that you should have learned as a child (apologies for the preaching). Plus the advice of many of the answers above is more time spent with dad, which fits nicely with both of you learning stuff together.
posted by biffa at 9:49 AM on January 24, 2006

I wish my parents had saved something, anything for college. I wish they hadn't smoked. And I wish they had put me in French immersion. Although I'm technically bilingual by the federal government's definition, I really would have preferred to have done all my schooling in French immersion.
posted by acoutu at 9:56 AM on January 24, 2006

I'm a parent-to-be, thinking of the same questions for what I want to do with my future offspring.

I wish my parents had:
- helped pay for my education, because they had enough money to help and didn't and I ended up not getting a degree because of that. I wouldn't expect them to pay for it all, but raising a kid doesn't automatically stop at high school graduation.
- kept me in sports so that I would be in better shape and loved exercize more. Perhaps a martial art would have helped.
- attempted to learn with me instead of leaving that up to the schools. It took until my late 20s to reawaken my love of learning.
- found time to spend with me one-on-one, instead of leaving it up to the school and the neighbourhood kids to raise me. It would have been great to learn from them the things that the schools didn't teach, like personal responsibility, good work ethics, the joys of volunteering, entrepreneurship.
- helped me learn about saving and investing with the small amounts of money I had saved and earned.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:05 AM on January 24, 2006

Help him find his interests. Expose him to different interesting adults and their actual jobs and hobbies. I read voraciously, but grew up in the suburbs where people didn't seem to DO much. Now, as an adult, whenever I meet those lucky people who have professions that are their passions, I swear they almost always say that they fell in love with whatever it is when they discovered some aspect of it as a kid. Take him to a dairy farm, a glass blowing studio, a big city construction site, a fancy restaurant with an open kitchen, a marine biology museum, a robot war, whatever, and notice when his eyes to light up--then nudge him in that direction.
posted by tula at 10:06 AM on January 24, 2006

Read to your son.

When the kids were little my wife and I both read to them a lot: board books, picture books and so on; when the oldest was a year or so old I started reading to him every night at bed time. It started out with the usual Dr. Seuss, silly poems and the like, but by the time his little brother started listening we had branched out, first into things like Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows, but remarkably soon into relatively challenging books: Treasure Island and so on, and a lot of other varied stuff including poetry; Shel Silverstein, yes, but also some classic stuff: one of the kids particularly liked Browning's "How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix" for example, I think because of the rhythm.

It really helped that son number two is a gifted listener (if there is such a thing) and would keep up and love what ever his big brother, almost two years older, was listening to. But you can adjust to the kids' likes and dislikes, capabilities, and understanding. Number three son (another two years younger) was not nearly as much into narrative as the other two when he was little, but he did like the poetry so we would begin with that, then he would doze off while I read the next chapter in whatever book we were working on to his brothers.

Nothing really unusual in any of that, except that I always did it, it was very unusual to miss a night, and I have kept on going way past the age when most people stop. The oldest is now thirteen and I'm still reading to the three of them every night for twenty or thirty minutes, and they complain bitterly if something prevents me doing it, or if they think I haven't read for long enough.

It has been great for the kids -- they have enjoyed it, they love books, know more about narrative and story telling than most kids and have a wider knowledge of poetry than most of their teachers, and they have also absorbed a lot of history on the way past too. It was not done as an educational exercise, it was supposed to be fun for all of us, but it certainly has had educational benefits

But the biggest benefit of all has been mine. The couple of thousand hours, or whatever it is by now, I have spent reading out loud may sound like work, but all of it has been pure joy. Spending quiet time with them every night, sharing a love of good literature, and enjoying the books myself (I won't read anything I find too dull myself -- they have to read those things to themselves) has been beyond price. I'm really going to miss it when it finally stops.

You phrased it as "what do you wish you would have done" which seems a little defeatist to me: some of us manage to do things that work out well. No doubt you will too!
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:06 AM on January 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

One of my mother's greatest faults that she's unwittingly passed on to me is self-deprication. Even now, when I tell her about some cool project I'm working on, she says "oh, you're so clever. I wish I could've done things like that. But you'll have to do it for me!" Granted, I'm old enough to know she has lousy self esteem & filter for that, but it was/is hard work getting out of that self-depricating mindset as an adult, much less as a prone-to-failure teen. So be aware that your own sense of self-worth & attitude towards the world is passed on just as strongly as any outright lessons or advice you might give your kid.

Unrelatedly, I'd like to second what everyone's said about encouraging your child to get out of the house. I grew up on an organic farm somewhere rural, and almost every day I'd grab a few pieces of fruit & a book and go off by myself for hours. No one really knew where I was (I suppose they knew my general favorite areas), and no one noticed when I was gone because they were too busy working on the farm or taking care of my younger siblings, so I could come & go as I pleased. I never got hurt or lost, and I learned a lot about nature & about being by myself.
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:16 AM on January 24, 2006

Just a quick note on the instrument idea: my parents told each of us kids that before we would be allowed to touch any other instrument, we had to have two years of piano under our belts. We took the years in probably first and second grade - and when I started playing violin and then flute later, I was so much better than my peers because I had the original experience. I hated the piano lessons at the time, but know now how useful and important they were. You could probably substitue guitar for piano - just something that gets you reading music and listening. As with everything, YMMV.
posted by bibbit at 10:17 AM on January 24, 2006

Former kid, non-parent here, with five young siblings.

Please recognize your child's true character as it takes form, and don't force them to do things that rub them the wrong way just because you think it's "good for them," it "builds character" or it just gets them out of the house so you can smoke weed in the living room. If you really want them to engage in regular out-of-the-home activities, work with them to find their passions and make those passions the focus of their activities. They will do better at them and not resent you for filling their lives with meaningless busywork.

Don't overschedule their lives. Kids today can be stressed out by test-driven schools, hyper-protective parenting and an obsession with filling their resumes, which leaves them no time to find out who they actually are.

And please, whatever you do, however difficult things may be financially, never hold onto money that belongs to your kid, spend it, and pretend it never existed. You wouldn't believe how many people I know who tell this story. No matter how little we are when you scam us, we will never forget.
posted by Scram at 10:17 AM on January 24, 2006

...force them to learn an instrument...

Um, no. Encourage their innate interest in music? Celebrate music as a wonderful gift? Teach them to play an instrument you know and love yourself? Let them know how much you value music that doesn't just come out of an iPod or a CD player? That making music is one of life's great joys? Yes. But, no, don't force them to learn an instrument.
posted by TimeFactor at 10:19 AM on January 24, 2006

Here's what I plan to do w/our kids (currently on the way):

1) Expose them to foreign languages early. I am a firm believer that it's much easier for kids to learn languages later if they've been exposed to different sounds early on - even if they don't remember the language they were first taught.

2) Take them camping. It's so important to not just get out in nature, but to learn how little you actually need to get by - especially in our materialistic society. If you can also throw in a few survival skills, so much the better.

3) Let them watch and participate while we cook. I'd love to inspire my kids to learn some basic cooking - it is certainly a skill they'll appreciate and use.

4) Involve them in sports. They can pick the sport and it's not about the level of success, but rather about learning to work as a team, staying fit and learning about winning and losing.

5) Let them choose an instrument to play. There is a (difficult?) balance to be found between pushing them too hard to practice and letting them drop out whenever something else looks more fun.

6) Teach them early on about money and budgeting. They need to learn about income and debt, writing checks, paying bills and simple saving/investing - well before they go to college.

7) Encourage them to hold on to their dreams. I wish I'd had the opportunity to explore some of my ideas myself rather than have them shot down by adults. The more experiental learning, the better.

8) Let them learn the value of charity and giving. I believe in engendering a sense of social responsibility and teaching them the wonderful return on doing for others.

9) Find activities we can do together as a family. The activities will change with age, but the playing together will remain constant. Pizza and board game nights, project night, whatever the activity may be - doing it together, regularly - can't be beat.

10) Create our own family traditions. This is one of the things my mother did best. Xmas and holidays are obvious examples, but smaller scale things are just as important (if not more). A friend of mine had a whole litany of traditions his mom had instituted: donuts after practice every Friday, homecooked formal meal w/relatives every Sunday, board game night once a week etc. His was one of the most close-knit families I've ever met.

On preview: most of these have been mentioned already - drat having to work in the middle of posting!
posted by widdershins at 10:33 AM on January 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Lots of great suggestions! I think reading to your kid is great, but don't restrict it to just bedtime. My cousin associated reading with bedtime (and of course he never wanted to go to bed), and it took him a long time to disassociate books with falling asleep. YMMV.

My mom actually had me read to her as often as she read to me. God knows how often she had to listen to a chirpy four year old voice reading "Green Eggs and Ham", but it made storytime a shared event.
posted by luneray at 10:36 AM on January 24, 2006

I think I mentioned it in the earlier thread, but my father read to my brother and me at bedtime but had us read the characters' voices while he did the narration. I remember that being all sorts of fun.
posted by occhiblu at 10:39 AM on January 24, 2006

Repeating again how important it is to restrict TV and games (other than board games or card games that you can do together).

I spent TONS of time reading to my nephew and he really enjoyed it. I think it contributed a lot to the close relationship we have. But, before he had the chance to start reading on his own, he got completely hooked into video games. That's virtually his only free time activity.

Reading to them YES, YES, YES. But in my experience, without heavily restricting access to TV and video games, a lot of the benefits will be lost.

Spend a lot of time listening, and playing along with whatever thoughts, ideas or silly-ness that they're into. You'll be rewarded ten-fold with the sense of openness that they will have with you. If you can, and when they want you to, going along with repetitive-ness that little kids seem to enjoy a lot, also helps them feel that you think that they and the things they enjoy are important to you. Like reading the same book OVER and OVER and OVER again, and playing out the same little scenario over and over, like a pretend train ride, pretend laundry, pretend making cookies, etc, etc, etc.

When they're just starting to walk, walk outside with them, and pay attention to whatever's on or near the ground, since that's where their focus will be. Leaves, stones, chipmunks, dog poop, dead birds, dandelions all really mundane stuff, but new and interesting to them, and can open up your own head in a beautiful zen kind of way, that I treasure still.

Just enjoy them on their own terms and let them know how enjoyable they are.

Not a mom, but lucky enough to have a great relationship with both my nephew and niece.
posted by marsha56 at 10:43 AM on January 24, 2006

- Save for college. One of the biggest gifts that you can give your son is the gift of choices. Even if he decides to not attend, he can use the money to start a business.

- Spend more time with him. Your question really intrigued me, so I posed it to my teenaged daughter. Her answer? The best part of her childhood was her time spent with my husband and me. Not gifts, not lessons (although we gave her plenty of both - just goes to show you how far that went), just time. We've had a family weekend night since both of our kids were little - no friends over, no sleepovers, no dates that night. The kids used to complain about it occasionally, but my daughter now tells me that it was, and is, the best part of her childhood.

- Always be honest. Tell him honestly why you don't want him to drink, smoke, have sex too young -and use your own mistakes as examples. If someone in their life (like a grandparent, teacher etc) is a jerk, be honest about that too. Kids are very smart, they already know these things, and your acknowledgment will validate their feelings.

- Teach him to teach others how to treat him. Meaning, teach him to treat others with respect and kindness, and only accept that treatment from others.

Last, take lots of video! My kids love to watch the old videos of themselves. Also, let them use the camera when their friends come over! This will make priceless memories of their childhood, just for them.

Just enjoy it.
posted by Flakypastry at 10:43 AM on January 24, 2006

But, no, don't force them to learn an instrument.

Yes, force them to learn an instrument, even if they don't want to. You wouldn't let them get away with not learning to read just because they didn't want to, would you? So why would you let them be illiterate to music? My parents forced me to take several years of piano lessons and I hated it, was not really all that good, and stopped as soon as I was able, but being familiar with how music is put together at some level above "not at all" has certainly led to a deeper appreciation of the art. How would I know that music was one of life's great joys if I didn't know how much work it was, if I thought it was just something that came out when you turned a knob, like water from a tap? It's one of the things my parents definitely did right.

As for the life insurance -- there is absolutely no reason to buy life insurance for children. It's extremely unlikely that they'll die, and they have no income to replace. (That's the purpose of life insurance -- to replace the income lost by the death of a family's breadwinner. Unless your child is supporting the family, life insurance is wasted money.) If your child dies, there will be unexpected expenses for the burial, but, well, to be blunt, you can dip into the college fund for that, since it's not needed anymore.

Getting away from the macabre, do start your child saving and investing as soon as they are able. Teach them the basics of finance and impress upon them the benefits of delaying gratification. This will be hard because it's always hard for kids, but if they learn it early it will serve them well.
posted by kindall at 10:50 AM on January 24, 2006

Response by poster: Wow. Post a question, go to lunch, read awesome answers. Simply amazing. Thanks everyone for your amazing input. I feel a little verklmpt!
posted by crosten at 10:52 AM on January 24, 2006

For the love of all that's holy, do not force your child to learn anything that isn't essential to everyday life. They have to know how to read, they have to know how to manage money and how to cook decent meals, and how to treat other people. They don't need to know how to play piano or oboe or how to play soccer or how to climb rocks. If they want to, great. Forcing them will only create bad feelings and that means wasted time. It's possible to appreciate music and movement and teamwork without being under the thumb.

Having lost my father way too early, more than half my life ago, I still regret every wasted minute. I am still sorry for each minute we spent squabbling about my disinclination toward piano practice or because I didn't run as fast as my athletically-inclined sister. But I wasn't the adult, I wasn't the one who had a way of diffusing those situations before they started by not demanding unnecessary things.
posted by Dreama at 11:35 AM on January 24, 2006

Big big second to the few people who mentioned sports. Introduce him to the basics of a few sports and let him pick the one(s) he likes. If this is left too late his skills will fall behind his teammates and his self-confidence may suffer as a result
Also please don't listen to the anti-TV crowd. Social interactions are vitally important at school age, and if the other kids are talking about TV-related topics (Sponge Bob, etc) he will be left out. Children must be seen as 'normal' by other kids to be socially acceptable...even if that means having the same bad habits as them.
posted by rocket88 at 11:51 AM on January 24, 2006

When they're just starting to walk, walk outside with them, and pay attention....

Seconding this - Just this morning, I had to take my 22-month old daughter to the pediatrician's to check on a cough. The half-mile walk back took almost 40 minutes. We watched the trolleys go by at the Green Line station, then half a block away a bunch of fire trucks rolled up and we watched all the firefighters walk around and grooved on flashing lights. 20 yards up the road a big crane was lifting an AC unit on to a building, etc.

Simply: Whatever you do is probably OK as long as you can be involved/supportive as well. Finding the time is the hard part - the rest falls into place.
posted by jalexei at 11:57 AM on January 24, 2006

For the love of all that's holy, do not force your child to learn anything that isn't essential to everyday life. ... Forcing them will only create bad feelings and that means wasted time.

If you allow children to do only what they want to do, you will raise spoiled brats who expect to get their way all the time. Children don't like the work involved in becoming really good at something, but that work is good for them, as is the end result, and so they must be made to work, just as they must be made to eat their vegetables, go to school, and all the other things they don't like to do.
posted by kindall at 12:05 PM on January 24, 2006

Also please don't listen to the anti-TV crowd. Social interactions are vitally important at school age, and if the other kids are talking about TV-related topics (Sponge Bob, etc) he will be left out. Children must be seen as 'normal' by other kids to be socially acceptable...even if that means having the same bad habits as the.

This is terrible, terrible advice. It's akin to "if all of your kid's friends are doing drugs, he should do drugs too". Time and again television has been demonstrated to have negative physiological and mental effects on children (and adults). True, your kid may not be able to discuss Spongebob with his peers, but so what? Trust me: he'll pick up plenty of television exposure elsewhere even if you do not have a TV in your house.

For the love of all that's holy, do not force your child to learn anything that isn't essential to everyday life.

And this has to be the second-worst piece of advice in this thread. Don't force your kid to do anything, of course, but lead him down the path of self-improvement by encouraging him to explore music, to explore crafts, to explore the outdoors. You might enroll him in a pre-school piano class, for example. I have friends who did this, and their boy loves it. He's been in the class for three years now (he's in first grade), and he's beome quite adept. He's never going to be any child prodigy, nor do his parents expect it, but he's going to have a life-long appreciation for music.

Pay attention to your child's interests. Encourage them. Give him every opportunity to explore the world around him and to find out who he is.
posted by jdroth at 12:19 PM on January 24, 2006

My advice above, which I apply to the raising of my own two children, is designed to foster healthy friendships with peers, and develop good social skills. Those traits are well worth whatever damage (if any, which I highly doubt) TV may be rumoured to cause.
Of course, if that's not important to you, and you don't mind raising a bookish social misfit, then by all means listen to (self-described middle-aged geek) jdroth's counter-advice.
posted by rocket88 at 12:49 PM on January 24, 2006

...[if] you don't mind raising a bookish social misfit, then by all means...

Ouch! Rocket88 has me there. :)

The damaging effects of television on young minds have long been documented. I did a paper on the subject in college and was overwhelmed by the literature. It's not a hypothetical problem, but a real one.
posted by jdroth at 12:59 PM on January 24, 2006

I wish my parents had taught me more about nutrition and cooking. I know it's hard, but I think it's important.
posted by armacy at 1:02 PM on January 24, 2006

I think music education is as important as arithmetic; maybe more so, so I'm in the "have them learn an instrument" camp.

Listen to your child, as much as you can. When they really need you, they'll be able to talk to you.

I wish I'd taken a family picture every year on the same date, cause it's a way cool collection of photos to have later.

I wish I'd put away a case of good wine or a couple bottles of port every year, so we could enjoy it together when he's old enough. I did put away a few bottles of port and 1 will be ready to open at graduation.

Start a "memory box" and put in the blankie, pictures, artwork, cards, a few favorite items of clothing; whatever will be fun to look at many years from now. His/her kids will love it, too.

Write the family history of your family; I wish I had a written record of the stories my dad told about his family. I got my Mom telling family stories at Christmas, and the grandchildren really enjoyed it.

They won't let you know how much they appreciate you and all this for a while, but they'll appreciate it. You will, too.
posted by theora55 at 1:55 PM on January 24, 2006

I wish I'd put away a case of good wine or a couple bottles of port every year, so we could enjoy it together when he's old enough. I did put away a few bottles of port and 1 will be ready to open at graduation.

This is a fantastic idea. As I've mentioned before, my grandfather did this for me. He passed away before my undergrad graduation, so it was extra-special knowing that he'd sent a gift anyway.

Also, do a time-capsule. Hell, do several. One long term and some shorter 1-2 years maybe 5 years one. Kids change a lot in just a few years so it will still be neat opening up something from a couple of years ago and remembering "Remember when I was all into tamagachi...wow, 7 really was a golden age. 9 is so much more complicated." Plus if he has a really annoying noisy toy, you might be able to trick him into putting it in the time capsule!
posted by duck at 2:03 PM on January 24, 2006

Half the money they receive as gifts (birthdays, Christmas, confirmations, bar mitzvahs, whatever) put into an IRA and left until they're retired makes a heck of gift.
By the same token, ask grandparents,aunts, etc to consider spending less on cheap plastic things the kids won't remember and donate that money instead to the retirement fund.

Open an IRA in their name, add the money to it every year, and tell them about it in your will.
posted by madajb at 2:18 PM on January 24, 2006

My son is almost six and like you, I'm a single Dad so here's my advice on what you need to do...

1. Art: take him to museums to see how people can express themselves artistically. Then color with him, anything you or he wants. My son and I spend hours coloring in our sketch books and talking. I treasure these moments and know that when compared to the GameCube and TV at his mothers' he will too.

2. Music: Sing with your kid. My son and I make up songs about everything. We sing in public and often dance too. He has a songlist on my iPod and usually comes up to me once every other week singing a song that he wants added to his playlist (right now, he's on a Steely Dan kick).

3. Nature: We are fortunate to live in an area with lots of wooded trails. We enjoy long walks on the trails searching for the perfect walking stick, tracking deer, wild pigs and other animals. I point out tracks and we follow them, we explore. My ex was always afraid of the woods because she grew up in the city. I loved them and want my son to feel like every wooded lot is an opportunity to explore.

4. Culture: Expose your kid to different cultures to teach him to respect, enjoy and value the differences between people.

5. Remember with him: When I was growing up my parets would ask us to remember events from past vacations or past holidays all the time. On Christmas eve on the way to church we tried to name all the gifts we got for others the year before; not gifts we got, but ones we gave. On summer vacations we enjoyed stories about the previous year's vacations. Now I'm in my mid-thirties and my memory is sharper of both my childhood and what goes on around me.

6. Limit TV: My son can watch movies if he's behaved. I try not to let him watch too much of the regular cartoons and crap because the commercials make him want, want, want! Most nights though, the TV is off and he's busy playing with legos or we're coloring. After he's gone to bed I try to clean and do the things that I need to do, but while he is awake I make time for him and I don't let the TV take my son away from me.
posted by DragonBoy at 2:33 PM on January 24, 2006

I nth everybody about the language classes. I despised them bitterly when I was a child, but now I very much regret quitting them.

Make sure he gets out and does physical activity. It will encourage him to stay fit, and believe me, it's a lot harder to get yourself going in later life than if he's already used to it.

I like the IRA/investment idea. One of my teachers bought her goddaughter some stock as a christening gift, it must be worth a pretty penny by now.

Tell your children about their roots. It is an endlessly fascinating subject no matter what age they are.
posted by calistasm at 2:45 PM on January 24, 2006

So many brilliant ideas in this thread, I could only think of one thing that I believe has not been mentioned. Encourage your son to write, the way you would encourage him to read -- make time, provide supplies, quiet and privacy if need be.
posted by verysleeping at 3:17 PM on January 24, 2006

I wish that I'd had some kind of competent athletic instruction available. My folks were older, bookish types who never once got out there with me and threw a football, sank a basketball, pitched a baseball, knocked a tennis ball around. It was embarrassing in grade school.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:23 PM on January 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yet another not-parent ex-child here, and reading this thread has brought up a lot of memories, so thankyou everyone.

Things that I think my parents did right:
(1) Started me on music at a very young age -- when I was kindegarten age (before school) they had me in group organ classes. I don't remember much of the class, but it started me on the path, taught me how to read music (BOTH treble and bass clef - that's important!). From there, I graduated to piano lessons with a private teacher, and cello from fourth grade.

(2) Always encouraged me in my music. Pretty much no matter what I wanted to do with it, they encouraged. Local Orchestra? Go for it. Private cello lessons? Sure, who's the best teacher? Own cello? Okay, let's buy one. Youth Orchestra? Sure. Better cello? Done. Better teacher? Done.
Looking back, they must've spent a tonne on my cello lessons alone, but they've left me with an unhealthy musical obsession that I'll always treasure ;)

(3) When I was very young, we lived opposite some easily accessible bush in Sydney. I have very, very fond memories of bush-walks as a young child, exploring creeks and trails and whatnot. Priceless.

(4) Encouraged me to play sport. T-ball, soccer, cricket, tennis, Taekwon do, swimming -- I did a lot of sport. Lots. And all without any complaint from my parents.

The only thing I wish they'd done a little differently is that I wish they'd been a bit more stubborn in _pushing_ me to do things. I was dedicated to my music, sure, but it started to take over my life in ways it probably didn't have to -- I believed I couldn't be in the Youth Orchestra AND play cricket at the same time, whereas looking back I probably COULD have (and wished I had). Might also have helped me with my weight problem a little bit sooner.

Similarly, I wish they'd pushed me to challenge my own boundaries a bit more -- I stopped playing cricket when I grew to fear the pace of the bowling. A reasonable fear to an extent, but one that I probably should have overcome. Similarly, I wish I'd not stopped Taekwon Do when I did -- if I hadn't've stopped for six years, I'd be a fourth-degree by now.... ;)

Finally, my parents were always very realistic people, who _were_ honest with me about drugs, sex, and alcohol. They made sure I had access to all the information I needed, and trusted me to make the right decisions. I like to think that I didn't let them down (well, not too much ;).
posted by coriolisdave at 4:10 PM on January 24, 2006

no TV. dulls their minds. (TIME article last week?)
posted by Izzmeister at 5:37 PM on January 24, 2006

My daughter passed away suddenly five years ago at age 11. I would do anything for a few minutes of video. Other than that, enjoy them. Share their lives. Share your life. Overlook some small stuff. Appreciate them for the qualities they have.
posted by JamesMessick at 5:38 PM on January 24, 2006

JamesMessick: Please forgive me if I'm being intrusive or if you've already tried and it hasn't worked...but you might try asking the parents of your daughter's former classmates if they have her on tape. If your daughter did school concerts/plays/recitals or anything of the sort, chances are parents taping their own kids got some of your daughter as well. If it would be a comfort to you I'm sure they would lend you a tape for you to get duplicated.

I can't imagine the depth your loss.
posted by duck at 9:59 PM on January 24, 2006

Based on what was done to me, and what I would want in retrospect:

-Hike with them. A lot. Walks in the park, day trips, two-day trips, river rafting, skiing, backpacking, you name it. This country has the best parks on the planet. Use them.
-Do not let them watch any significant amount of TV. It's destructive. Instead watch movies with them. I recommend watching the entire Studio Ghibli collection for starters.
-Teach them to use a computer well (this only makes sense after 5 or 6 years old). I can't emphasize how much I would want to see my parents give me a computer earlier - and show me its full potential (in a way that didn't bore me).
-Learn to be a photographer, take good pictures.
-Teach them a sport that requires hand-eye coordination. (That means years of continued instruction, moving on to a team or a club.) I would especially prefer self-defense or martial arts, which instill a degree of confidence not achievable otherwise.
-Start teaching a second language very early. It's good not for some abstract reason - it fundamentally expands the brain's capacity. Ideally, there should be two languages used interchangeably in the household. A third language would help later, too.
-Act as a role model. We are all fallible, but parents should instill confidence first and foremost.
-Build them a library. Force them to read. Know what books can be interesting and exciting for their age - by reading them. Make them play an instrument as a long-term commitment. Of course you should always be gentle, but not doing it should not be an option for a while.
-Show affection. Show lots of affection. (If your kid is embarrassed of affection, it's a sign that you did something wrong.)
-Never stigmatize anything, and never be afraid to discuss it.
posted by azazello at 5:42 AM on January 25, 2006

It's kind of opposite to many of the responses you've been getting, however, I would have liked for my parents to have kept some kind of memoirs about their life so that, as an adult, I could have known what they were like and what they were going through back when they were my age. I read somewhere that someone was making a list of their top 10 songs every year so that they could give it to their child when he was older. That would have been so amazing, "This was my dad's favourite song in 1975!". It seems like parents spend so much time cataloguing their children's lives when their own would be of interest to their child when they're an adult.

Sort of on topic, yesterday I saw a woman with a canvas tote bag that had "Kindergarden 2005" and about 30 little self-portraits that each of the kids had drawn of themselves with their names scrawled underneath. I thought it was pretty cool and a neat idea.
posted by KathyK at 6:31 AM on January 25, 2006

Not a parent, but was a kid:

I wish I'd learned an instrument, even against my will, as a kid.

I wish I'd learned another language, even against my will, as a kid.

I wish I'd started a 10% savings account, even against my will, as a kid. (10% of income goes directly to RRSP, basically.)

I wish I'd been enrolled in some sort of sport compatible with my nature. Which, given that I'm not into team sports, may have been rather difficult. Can't really let a kid go backpacking by himself...

I'm dead glad my mother read to me and read with me as a young'un. Learning to read, and read well and quickly, is a life-long gift.

I'm also thankful that I was kept on a no-junk-food diet and minimal television viewing. It developed lifelong habits that are nothing but good for me.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:47 AM on January 25, 2006

Something my dad did that had a very positive effect on me was to get me to think creatively and abstractly by asking me riddles, and letting me figure them out on my own. It gave me the joy of thinking and the confidence to do it.
posted by blueyellow at 6:39 AM on January 27, 2006

Duck, thanks for the toughts and the kind words.
posted by JamesMessick at 6:16 PM on January 27, 2006

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