I so feel for parents today! They are constantly being bombarded by parenting fad after parenting fad, bounced from one extreme to the other. First it’s Tiger Momming, drilling and winning, then everyone is a winner just for showing up and no one should ever be told “no” for fear of hurting their feelings. No wonder parents are confused.

As a psychiatrist, I hear day after day what goes wrong. So I went on a quest to find the common denominators that help things go right. I picked the brains of revered teachers, therapists, coaches—and role model parents—to find out what is at the heart of great parenting. And it is heart, not head.

Where fads encourage hyper-vigilance in specific areas, parenting shouldn’t be a project. At its best, it is a deeply loving relationship. Parents need to cut themselves—and their kids’ “future success”—some slack. Relax. Enjoy each other. Connect. Form close bonds. That doesn’t mean abandon family hierarchy. Be in charge, and honor your child’s feelings while still holding the line. Take the best of what your parents did and the best of what New Age parenting has discovered, and form a reasonable, loving hybrid.

Running yourself ragged from one activity to another to give your kids a head start isn’t the foundation they actually need. Connection is. Today we can study the brain in real time. Neuroscience research shows us that parent-child connection gets hardwired into the structure of a developing brain. It’s so much more important than whether kids go to chess club or soccer or violin lessons or have flashcards in preschool.

You are the best Head Start program your child can have. But today’s parents worry so much about keeping up with their children. If they could just let that go and really tune into their kids, they would not only rediscover the joy in parenting, they could also ignite the child’s brain in ways no computer or extracurricular activity could. How children are loved, how they are spoken to, how they are respected, how they are cherished strengthens the brain and makes them more resilient for all of life’s challenges.

So let’s stop stressing about getting them signed up for everything and getting them there on time. Kids feel your energy, so they will pick up your stress. Wouldn’t you rather have them absorb your love and ease? Can’t we skip the toddler tumbling class and let them watch a ladybug crawl up a blade of grass? Let’s stop trying so hard to be “good at parenting” and just enjoy our kids. Instead of scheduling and rushing and worrying about every detail, let’s free up their time and our energy and let them just play and engage with us so they can truly flourish.

Bathe your kids in love. Your relationship is what they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

About the Author

Robin Berman, M.D.
Robin Berman, M.D., is a psychiatrist and associate professor at UCLA.

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