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5 Ways to Take the Fun Out of Childhood

While we all have our own unique way of parenting, we all share the ability to take the fun out of childhood. And the kicker is that many parents don't see how un-fun they are making things until way down the road. How are we screwing it all up?

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1. Freaking out over messy stuff

Here's the thing, being a kid is messy business. Snacks are messy; crafts require stuff like glitter and paint; the park is muddy. Kids love anything that creates a mess—and they should. You might just see a mess, but underneath it all they are learning stuff. Seriously. I remember one of my 8-year-old students telling me she wasn't allowed to have Play-Doh at home because it was messy. So I brought out all the colors—and she couldn't stop smiling.

2. Having too many rules

I am all about the rules, really. And following the family rules teaches responsibility and accountability. But implementing rules like "we only eat ice cream at parties" or "you must be in bed by 7 p.m. every night" takes the fun of spontaneity away from both you and your child. Want to see the biggest smile ever? Offer ice cream for dinner. Go ahead, it's OK.

3. Holding them back from failure

Let them go a bit. It might be hard, but you're sucking the fun out of the "Fun Run" here.

Wait, what? Don't we want our kids to succeed? Of course we do, but it is just as important for them to fail. And how does this add "fun" to childhood? When kids feel that their parents are giving them the space to try new things or push their limits, it makes everything more fun.

I recently participated in a run to raise money for a charitable foundation that is close to my heart, and after the main event there is a kid's run. Kids are corralled into age groups and their start times are staggered—so the adorable 4-year-olds are never even close to the uber-competitive 12-year-olds. As my teenage daughter and I watched from the sidelines, several hundred kids started the race and took off like their feet were on fire.

Except for the fact that probably 75 percent of the kids had their parent holding their hand as they ran. Um, have you tried to run while holding hands? With a person several feet taller than you? It doesn't work, people. I was shocked by the number of parents who appeared so fearful of losing their child or having them fall down and scrape a knee that they insisted on the hand-holding. Let them go a bit. It might be hard, but you're sucking the fun out of the "Fun Run" here. And all the things you aren't letting them fail at.

4. Making a big deal about money

Whether you give your child an allowance, pay for chores (or none of the above) your kid is still going to wind up with some pocket money on occasion. And you might be surprised at how many "issues" a simple thing like money stirs up. Yes, I think that kids should learn the value of a dollar and the ability to save (I am a total saver). But one of the ways we learn about money is by making mistakes with it. How many of us have saved for a super-cool thing, ordered it online and then figured out it was worthless? Or made a split-second decision as a 9-year-old and bought $20 worth of gum at the convenience store? I admit it's been hard for me to watch my kids make certain decisions with their own money, but how else will they learn? It's part of childhood—it's fun to buy $20 worth of gum once in a while.

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5. Taking the fun out of food

There are just some things about childhood that need to stay fun—and food is one of them. Remember cereal for dinner, Popsicles in the summertime and all the watermelon you could eat? Fast forward to the generation we are raising, and food has taken on a life of its own. Organic? Local? Sustainable? Sugar-free or vegan? We have so many labels for our food now that it isn't much fun for kids. Remember that teaching your kids healthy habits isn't the same thing as denying and obsessing over choices. My brother had a friend whose mom was very obsessed with nutrition and healthy choices, even back then. How did he cope? He spent his allowance on junk food and kept it hidden in my brother's room. Keep food fun, and you can still teach them to be healthy. I promise.

Your kids only get one childhood, right? Don't suck the fun out of it. It'll be better for both of you.

Image via Twenty20/darby

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