Kid Magic: 5 Ways to Make Your Little One Wish They Never Had to Grow Up

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When I became a mom, obviously I worried about worrying too much. I didn’t want to be the kind of parent who wonders aloud whether my child should be in violin lessons, pushes flash cards on him, constantly warns him not to get dirt on his tiny three-piece suit.

I’m a rule follower by nature. So naturally, I want Hank to be the opposite of me – Flexible! Carefree! Laid back! So naturally he made constant requests that I wipe his face when he was a toddler, and now that he can read? He gets anxious when he thinks I’m parking in a way that defies municipal signage.

Still, I’d like him treasure his childhood enough that some part of him never wants to let it go. If he has to grow up (and he totally doesn’t forever and ever amen) at least I’d like him to hang on to a bit of wonder.

Over the years, I’ve found ways to put some cracks in the system so we can let the light in. Here are my personal rules for loosening things up, and introducing a little magic into my kiddo’s childhood:

1. Get sand in the car.

I get tired, you guys. Often the thought of cleaning up after mud pies, or glitter, or salt dough? It’s enough to make me suggest a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders instead of a day at the beach — followed by a round of vacuuming sand from the car.

So now if Hank wants to do something, I think about what will make a better memory later — another game of UNO, or a papier mache volcano. And then I lay down some newspaper.

2. Bend instead of snapping.

A while ago, we talked about your childhood memories, and Martha said she had always felt at home at her grandmother’s house precisely because her grandmother was so laissez faire:

“My grandmother had no rules: she threw away toothpaste caps and slept in her clothes. My mom was the type that kept the plastic on things. I loved being so free [at my grandmother’s house] because it always felt like I was getting away with something huge.”

Ulp. I think about this a lot, and it’s one of the reasons why we have snacks for dinner about once a week. Hank doesn’t love meals, but he adores snacks. He gets so excited when I announce that we’re having Snack Dinner. We even have a song. Snack Dinnah! Duh-da-DUH! … You may have to be there.

3. Wake your kiddo up.

Remember how much more special things were as a kid when it was dark outside? Tiny ones have so few memories of being included after dark. I woke Hank up to carve his pumpkin, decorate the Christmas tree, and sometimes I wake him just to have tea and toast with me if it’s an especially early morning. Sometimes we light candles. Kids don’t get much access to fire either, which is probably for the best.

4. Give kids some grown-up perks.

I’ve been trying to keep fresh flowers in the house, so I started picking them up when we go grocery shopping. It feels like an extravagance even for me, so when Hank asked if he could pick flowers for his room, I hesitated at first. Then I caught myself. Five bucks. I’d spend that on a crappy plastic toy that he might not look at again. Why not?

5. Think before you say no.

Speaking of which, “Why not?” has become my mantra when it comes to Hank. If there’s a good reason why not, I can provide it. If there’s not, and I forget to ask myself, I can always count on him to Remind me.

“Can I have a cookie?”
“No, love.”
“Why not?”
“I want you to be hungry for dinner.”

“Can I have a cookie?”
“No, sweets.”
“Why not?”
“You just brushed your teeth and cookies will stick to them and give you cavities.”
“Oh. Can I have a cookie when I wake up?”
“… Well. Why not?”

29 thoughts on “Kid Magic: 5 Ways to Make Your Little One Wish They Never Had to Grow Up

  1. About the laissez faire thing… My childhood was the opposite. At home I could do pretty much everything I wanted – my parents were very laissez faire. Whenever I stayed with my grandmother there were a lot of rules. I loved it. I knew what was expected of me and what I could expect. I always felt very save there. Maybe a nice balance 🙂


  2. My kids (now 14 and 10) still love to be awakened when it’s dark and put in the car for a road trip.

    Also, Breakfast for Dinner, watching The Simpsons DVDs in Spanish or French (kills us every time), and anything with dancing.


  3. A few of favorite childhood memories are essentially the magic of my single mom putting an incredible spin on her being too tired or busy to make dinner. Breakfast for dinner was just bowls of cereal, but it was the best because it was such a split from the normal healthy, balanced dinner with vegetables we usually ate. Chinese takeout was always this incredible production where we got to sit on the floor in front of the TV, eat on these crazy plates from Chinatown and with chopsticks, and drink tea out of fancy teacups. And sometimes there were reading dinners–when we both read a book or a magazine instead of talking about our days. Looking back, I now know it was most likely because she was exhausted, but back then–it was just so much fun!


  4. I’m a little tired of the internet telling to make more of a mess with my kid. Make better memories. I mean, are you really making papier mache volcanos twice a week? Are you constantly vacuuming up glitter? I doubt it. Are snack dinners for him or for you — probably both, right? Snacks on the coffee table are easy. That’s okay too.

    Your kid is in school all day I’m guessing and going to bed at 7 or 8, right? Let’s start there. How about a post that is like, “Now that my kids are in school from 8am until 3pm, things are a lot easier. Right? A LOT easier. So I try to really put down the phone for a couple of hours and be with them.” It doesn’t always involve handmade anything and it absolutely doesn’t need to be photographed. But there’s a run outside, a stop at the cafe with friends, a trip to the regular ol’ grocery store, some cooking, the breaking up of many fights, dinner, bath, book for each, bed. And if there’s no glitter involved and I’m not putting handmade heart-shaped patches on anyone’s jeans, this is okay too. This is okay too!

    Sorry, but my google reader is pissing me off this morning.


  5. I’m saving this post. Forever. Gorgeous advice. Maggie, you are a an incredible mother, and your boy is absolutely beautiful. That smile with the cookie is killing me.


  6. Wow, someone really disagreed. I don’t think Maggie is saying to break out the glitter daily. And, yes, some of this is probably not just for him but for her, too. That’s what life is about. No one said you can’t get joy from your kid getting joy or you can’t make things easier on you once in awhile. But lots of these instances mentioned above don’t take more effort but provide memories. I have a newly-minted 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, a dog, a house, a full-time job, and an overworked husband. And one of my goals for the year is to do one fun family activity per month. Not a super lofty-sounding goal but it is. In the meantime, though, I do try to make the grocery store trip more fun (until I get reprimanded for running with the cart), and some days the best I can do is try to avoid creating a BAD memories.


  7. I like to live by the little saying “all reasonable requests granted”– it reminds me that saying ‘no’ arbitrarily is silly.


  8. Why not? I love that one and use it often. The hard one for me is finding time to PLAY with my daughter. She LOVES to *play* and would pick playing Barbies with me for an hour, over anything else. We even bargain with each other and make bets with each other where the stakes are “X many minutes of playing”. I’m not complaining though because it DOES keep me young. (Although, I didn’t FEEL young after tobogganing last weekend!)


  9. This makes me excited to be a mother. As of now, I can only say that “why not” is AMAZING. It makes your kid feel closer to you (no arbitrary rules!) and helps them ferret out weird arbitrariness in others. My parents did this, and I was so grateful to them . . . and am much less likely to tolerate authoritarian personalities than some of my friends.


  10. Tiny notes in their lunch box or taped to the mirror above their toothbrush. Before my daughter could read, I’d print up silly pictures from Cute Overload and stick them in her lunch box. She has kept every picture and note and tells me her friends wish their moms did this. I still do it, and she’s 12. 😉


  11. I love this. It’s a bit more difficult for me with three young kids and a husband who works umpteen hours a week. I will say the Summer tends to me our easy, breezy season where I say YES to a whole lot more. No matter what your personal choices are (phew, Nic! glass of wine?) I think the main thing I take away from this is to take even the smallest time out to show them how special you think they are and what a great job they are doing just being them.


  12. I’m with my kiddo all day long, and letting sand in the car is where it’s at. I may be exhausted by day’s end, but somehow I don’t (as much) mind the messes that I consciously choose to make.


  13. My son is 16 months and one of the things I’ve promised myself & him is that when I say No I will always give him a reason. One that he can relate to and understand. I hated it when my parents would say No and when I asked by the answer was always “Because I said so.”


  14. I think everyone is trying to do their level best. And I think it makes sense to take a look at blogging from 30,000 feet. Do posts like this make people strive to better parents, or add to their guilt about not always choosing the “better memory” option or creating a magical childhood. And, on a fundamental level, there is the question if people being truthful. That’s another issue.


  15. It’s easy to get stressed about creating enough magic for your child…. and for your spouse… and your employer… and your friends… and your parents…. etc. I try to think about things we would all enjoy and work from there.

    My daughter who is three goes to school a few times a week. On the last day for the week we return home to a tea party on my good china. Also, if we eat something with all the colors of the rainbow like chopped veggie salad or fruit salad, a dollar coin “magically” appears under her placemat. We take walks in the rain. We skip through the middle of town signing Skip to My Lou. We also have marathon reading sessions. We have family dance parties with instruments while we wait for the pizza delivery to arrive.

    I think we will pinpoint the real magic when she grows up and says, remember when? I am willing to bet you it won’t be any of the things I’ve listed in this comment.


  16. I am six months pregnant today with our first child and am feeling a little overwhelmed by all of the information about the “right way” to raise a child. I’m comforted by the thought that sometimes doing some things “wrong” could really be the right way to do it. I remember getting dirty as a kid, and putting makeup and dresses on my little brother, and my mom making queso for dinner sometimes, and being awakened in the middle of the night to see the shooting stars, and dancing in the garden with my mom or on my dad’s toes, and sometimes staying home from school just to have a special day. And I remember learning to set a proper table, and to say please and thank you, and to have good table manners, and to be respectful to everyone, and to do my homework, and to clean up after myself, and to accept the consequences of my actions. I think my parents were able to find a balance in parenting that created beautiful memories and (I hope) a child that they can be proud of. It is my wish that as we raise our little girl that we will be able to find that same balance and sometimes remember to just say “why not.”


  17. Love this post. I had lots of wonderful memories as a child and I was seventh of eight kids! I remember cooking or gardening with my mum or getting to pick a cake from a cook book that she would then make for my birthday. Such little things that now I have a little boy and another one on the way I really strive to not sweat the small stuff and give in to requests like can you play Lego or train or read me a book or whatever. Childhood is so short and so special and a privilege to make someone’s memorable knowing that its about little things.


  18. When I know that my husband won’t be home in time for supper and we don’t have swim class or any such events to be at, my daughter and I have Girls’ Night. This includes “snacky supper–cheese, crackers, crudites, nuts, hummus, etc.–reading together or a dance party. Maybe even supper out together. I’ve been trying hard to say “yes” to more reasonable requests, much like you’re “Why not?” I think it’s made a difference, especially to my own mindset.


  19. I totally need this post today! For me this post was just a reminder to relax and if you don’t like the “rules” make new ones! 🙂


  20. This post is a good reminder that it doesn’t take much to make a kid happy. I remember my Nana letting me pick any cereal I wanted at the grocery store when I stayed with her (it was always Cheerios and Chex at home), my mom taking me to the library, my dad giving me a hammer, nails, and a little piece of wood and letting me hammer away, having nachos and smoothies for Sunday night dinner, playing dominoes with my grandparents…I think those kind of things matter more than big expensive things.


  21. Love these and the scrumptious pic of Hank at the end.
    I love snack dinner. We call it antipasti; lots of different meats, cheese, pic less and some chick peas. Mister 4.5 loves it and it suits our weater at the monent (in Perth Australia – been about 35 degrees (98F) for the past 8 weeks…
    I try not to say no without a reason. That way after he reasons the same question 20 times we can have fun with answers and the inevitable compromise.
    And as far as sand… I think my son is recreating shares hank redemption with the amount of sand that comes home in shoes, pockets.


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