All That Parenting Advice Works Just as Well on Grownups.
That adult in your life might just need a nap.
In my home-life with a 4-year-old, and my job running a weekly playgroup for kids 5 and under, I utilize a lot of great parenting advice.
Recently, I realized those same parenting tactics that get your kid to calm down, to listen better, to practice empathy, to feel empowered — they work for grown-ups too.
We don’t often give adults the same patient attention we give to kids, because we expect adults to have outgrown childish tantrums, to be able to self-regulate their emotions. Ideally, yes, that’d be great.
And, sure, it’s not your job to regulate other adults’ emotions for them. It’s unpaid emotional labor. I totally agree.
That said, if you are going to expend energy with an adult going through a hard time, you might as well do it tactically. To me, that means going through a checklist of useful parenting advice. I have yet to read a bit of good parenting wisdom that didn’t also apply to adults.
When kids are in pain, we give them kisses, ice packs shaped like penguins, cuddles, songs. What if we approached grown-ups’ pain with even half of that same empathy and care?
Next time an adult you’re talking to — your partner, your parent, your friend, your coworker, even yourself — is fussy, try treating them with the same care you’d give to a child. You’ll be more likely to feel connected and get to a happy resolution, and it might actually take less emotional work than complaining about how you shouldn’t have to deal with their issues in the first place.
What’s really going on?
Potty: Your baby peed their diaper. Your toddler peed their pants. Your preschooler has to go potty but doesn’t want to stop playing.
Your grown-up, just like those little kids, doesn’t want to stop what they’re doing to use the bathroom. Or maybe they don’t eat enough fiber and they’re constipated. Maybe they’re holding in a fart. More often than we’d like to admit, adults are a pain in the ass because of potty problems. It’s called being anal retentive for a reason.
Hunger: Your baby needs to nurse. Your toddler doesn’t know how to feed themselves yet. Your preschooler doesn’t want to stop playing, but they’re going to have a meltdown if they don’t get some food in them.
Grown-ups get hangry too. But you know that, because it happens to you. Admit it. Sometimes we get so involved working on something, we forget to eat. Some of us purposely avoid eating enough, because the world convinced us to starve ourselves in order to be liked. That grown-up in your life might be freaking out because they need to eat or drink. Sometimes it really is that simple.
Sleep: Your baby doesn’t know yet how to fall asleep when they’re tired. Your toddler wants a long routine before bed. Your preschooler insists they’re never ever going to sleep again.
But grown-ups always go to sleep as soon as they feel tired, right? We definitely don’t self-medicate with coffee, binge-watch Netflix shows, and go down infinite Facebook scrolling holes. Adequate sleep helps our brains make decisions, solve problems, cope with change, and control emotions/behaviors. You may have heard the advice to never go to bed angry, but instead try out parenting advice: do whatever you need to do to make sleep happen. If you attempt to reason with a tired child or a tired adult, it probably won’t go well.
Choice: Parenting wisdom says offer choices to your child, and make sure every choice is something you’re okay with. Instead of handing your toddler a blue cup, ask, “Would you like the blue cup or the yellow cup?” Instead of telling your preschooler to get ready to go to the grocery store, ask, “Are you going to put on your sneakers or your ladybug boots for our trip to the store?”
Maybe free will is an illusion, and everything is predetermined. But grown-ups, like children, feel more empowered when given at least the illusion of choice. You can tell someone what to do and watch them rebel, or you can frame your communication in the language of choice. Just like with kids, make sure you’re okay with any choices you offer.
Pain: Your baby is teething. Your toddler toddled over and bonked their head. Your preschooler fell off their bike.
Fifty million Americans struggle with chronic pain. Then there are all the other pains — we get booboos too. When you’re in pain, it colors every interaction and emotion you have. When kids are in pain, we give them kisses, ice packs shaped like penguins, cuddles, songs. What if we approached grown-ups’ pain with even half of that same empathy and care?
Movement: Your baby is using every muscle they’ve got to attempt to crawl. Your toddler wants you to hold their hands while they try to jump — again. Your preschooler wants you to play tag with them.
We know kids often freak out because they’re full of unspent energy; they need movement. Grownups, meanwhile, often sit motionless for hours at a time, staring at a screen. Hey, we’ve got to get our energy out too. My husband and I found our mental states, our communication, and our relationship as a whole improved vastly when we started doing yoga together. Don’t underestimate how important it is for people of all ages to move their bodies every day.
Helpfulness: We smile at babies’ cuteness, then the babies delight in our smiles. Toddlers mimic our actions, wanting desperately to be helpful. Preschoolers are ready for regular chores and love hearing thank you.
We all want to be helpers. I recently realized, when taking my child to an anti-concentration camp protest, the key to informing kids about tough stuff is giving them a way to feel like they’re helping to solve the problem. We all, regardless of age, want to feel helpful. We’re understandably crabby about all the pain in the world, but we find relief — and treat each other better — when we feel like we’re helping. So organize together to make a positive difference. And show appreciation to each other. Just like with kids, you can do this with a simple thank you.
Touch: Your 4th trimester baby wants to feel the safety of a womb. Your toddler wants to ride on your back, everywhere you go. When your preschooler feels shy, they run right back to you.
Loving touch is magic, at any age. Consent is key: don’t ever touch anybody you don’t want to touch (or who doesn’t want to touch you). But do remember, the benefits of touch don’t go away just because a person grows up.
Validation: “Does Baby want a hug?” “You’re feeling really frustrated that it’s raining, huh?” “Are you feeling scared about those spooky decorations?”
When children have a feeling, good parenting advice says name that feeling for them. Acknowledge it. Validate it. Like magic, their whining often stops, as soon as we acknowledge their feelings. Our acknowledgment communicates to them that we understand, so they no longer feel the need to express their angst to us. We often think we don’t need to do this with adults, because they can name their own feelings. Sure, but try it anyway. Often an adult will chill out as soon as someone acknowledges their feelings.
Kids don’t learn any lessons unless they’re listening. And they’re not listening until you connect with them. This is definitely true for adults too.
All this parenting wisdom is helpful with adults. You don’t owe this sort of patient care to anyone, but it may be worth a try.
Here’s a printable refrigerator sheet from one of my go-to parenting books: No-Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. The main takeaway in that book is kids don’t learn any lessons unless they’re listening. And they’re not listening until you connect with them. This is definitely true for adults too.
Remember, the adult whose emotions you should spend the most time regulating is yourself. So use this advice on yourself. Baby yourself.
Which simple fix from the list can you do right now to improve your own mood?
Seriously, go pee. Eat something. Stretch. Give yourself a hug. You deserve it.