The Surprising Benefits of Doing Less as a Parent

child washing dishes

How would it look to do a little less in your parenting today?

I’m asking myself this question a lot lately, because I find I’ve gotten wrapped up in old patterns of doing MORE these last few weeks, and it doesn’t feel great.

I mean a specific kind of “doing more” here, one that looks like:

  • Picking out my son’s clothes and putting them on him, piece by piece

  • Reminding him to take his plate over to the sink when he’s done eating

  • Talking over him in the middle of a big feeling.

I know why I’m doing all of this, despite my belief (and tangible evidence) that most of it isn’t helpful.

We’re busy. He just started kindergarten, and we’re all adjusting to the new schedule, as well as the way it squeezes out pockets of relaxation and flow that we relied on for connection.

We haven’t figured out where the new pockets are yet. And we don’t quite know how to relax into the schedule as it is.

Luckily, my son is at an age where he can remind me where I’m screwing up.

This week he said, “Mom, can you stop telling me to bring my plate over? I know already. Just wait for me to do it, and I will.”


Yikes. Message received!

Perhaps your little ones aren’t able to be so, ahem, crystal clear with you when you’re doing too much for, with, or to them. How can you do a bit less with them before they’re able to ask?

I have a few ideas, but let’s first rewind it back.

Why Do Less?

Why is doing less even something we’d want to strive for in our parenting?

Magda Gerber, the founder of Resources for Infant Educarers®, or RIE®, liked to say, “observe more, do less.” As she put it, “The more we do, the busier we are, the less we really pay attention” (Dear Parent, 63).

In other words, when we are constantly busying ourselves with doing things with or to our kids, we can miss the opportunity to see what they can do on their own, without—or with less of—our help.

My son was capable of not just taking his plate to the sink, but of doing it without being told. In my rush to remind him, I forgot to leave space for him to motivate to do it by himself.

With his reminder, I can watch him experience the pride and self-confidence that comes from initiating and completing this task.

Is he wounded by my over-doing? Certainly not. But could I have spared both of us the nagging and expectation that he wasn’t capable of doing this on his own? Yes.

And, what’s more, I could have enjoyed and appreciated the ways he’s subtly becoming more independent and self-motivated.

Ideas for Practicing Doing Less

So, if doing a little less with your little ones appeals to you, here are some ideas for how you might try to take even one small step back this week.

  1. Move the toy a little closer to your baby instead of putting it in her hands. Can she do the last bit to get it by herself?

  2. Take a deep breath before you move in to redirect your toddler when he’s behaving in a way you wish he wouldn’t. Now come closer. Does he need you to step in, or is your focused attention enough to shift his behavior?

  3. When it’s time to wash your child’s face or brush her teeth at the end of the day, ask yourself, “is there any part of this she could do herself?”

  4. The next time your child has a big feeling, consider whether you need to stop or change it. Could it be just your loving presence that’s needed now?


What I’d really love to know is how this feels to you—and to your relationship with the precious ones in your life. What is it like to do a bit less? What do you notice that you hadn’t seen before?


Further Reading

Trusting our kids: Want a Self-Confident Kid? Try This.

Letting go of teaching: What if You Stopped Teaching Your Child?

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