On Parenting & Picking Your Battles Wisely

The best child rearing advice someone ever gave me was “pick your battles.” This wisdom came to me from my mother-in-law when our son was a toddler.

In a nutshell, parenting consists of dealing with a steady stream of conflicts. There’s a lot of fun thrown into the mix, but problems arise constantly in the world of bringing up a child. For instance, a kid might be having difficulty in school — in ALL his classes. When a parent picks his battles, he focuses on one class a night, instead of trying to cram the information from all the classes in question into the child’s head.  

Or say it is morning, before school, and your child hasn’t done his homework from the night before. But he also has to shower and walk the dog before he goes to school. You, as a parent, might encourage your child to do his homework and go into school a little untidy that day, as well as skip walking the pooch; Fido will be fine for a day while your son attends classes, and he can walk the dog when he gets home. In both cases above, a parent has “picked his battles.”

What are the benefits of following this philosophy?

  1. Doing this prevents both the parent and child becoming overwhelmed. In short, if you try to tackle EVERY problem that comes up, it’s counterproductive, and there may just not be enough hours in the day. Things might be done sloppily; the child might have to redo them. You’ll be frustrated, and your kid will boil over. Not a pretty picture.
  2. This technique helps you prioritize your issues. When you have a hierarchy of what needs done, things make more sense. You’ll want to tackle problems when you can sort out which ones are the most important and which ones aren’t so crucial.
  3. You as a parent will be less of a nag; consequently, your child will like you more. Sad but true. Does anyone like a nag?Love, maybe, but like, I don’t think so.
  4. You will be a more effective parent and less like Chicken Little screaming, “The sky is falling.” If kids are nitpicked, they tune out. By choosing your battles, you get their attention every time.
  5. This method teaches your children to think for themselves. If you’re always trying to solve battles, what does that leave for the child to do? Picking your battles gives your kid a chance to “fill in his own blanks” or begin to solve his own problems.
  6. There are some things that are just not that important. Does it really matter if your kid rips the jagged edge off the paper before he turns in a handwritten report?
  7. If you are modest in what your child needs to accomplish, he will have more free time, and it is in this free time that the child has time to play and relax. In this day and age of rushing around and overscheduling, a kid needs down time. Reducing stress is of grave importance today.
  8. Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is a cliché, but it rings true in a discussion of picking your battles. Hygiene is important to a child, but before you can teach him to bathe himself, first you need to instruct the very young child on how to wash his hands. By starting slowly, you can build on good habits that will last a lifetime.

So, are there any downsides to this philosophy? Sure. You can pick the wrong battle and find this out later when your strategy backfires; consequently, parents beware. Judge wisely. This battle-picking philosophy isn’t perfect, but it’s darn good.

When I’m overwhelmed with childrearing problems and the sky does indeed seem to be falling, I say this to myself: “Pick your battles.” 

This mantra works. Again, I have my mother-in-law to thank for this advice. She raised two children and they turned out wonderfully. In fact, I married one of them.

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