Parents, do you want to stop overdoing it? Research offers a clue.

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Leidy Klotz, professor of engineering and architecture at the University of Virginia and father of two children, and Yael Schonbrun, clinical psychologist, assistant professor at Brown University and mother of three children, pay less attention to their kids lately. And their children, these parents are convinced, are better off.

“I try to ignore them for a bit every day,” said Schonbrun, whose children are 5, 9 and 12. great, what did you find?’ ”

By sometimes taking their attention away from their children, Klotz and Schonbrun are applying a lesson learned from the research that Klotz, whose children are ages 7 and 3, has conducted over the past few years: it’s human nature to tend to solve problems by adding, even when subtraction would provide an objectively better result.

Klotz and his colleagues came to this conclusion by a series of creative experiments published in the journal Nature, which involved tasks such as repairing a Lego structure (removing a brick was the best solution), planning a vacation itinerary (more on this below) or trying to create a pattern of symmetrical squares (the key erased squares, without adding them). But it wasn’t until he made a desperate late-night purchase of a rocking contraption to soothe his newborn that Klotz came face to face with how the trend is affecting parenthood.

When she heard about the purchase, Schonbrun, who met Klotz through her podcast, “Psychologists Off the Clock,” pointed out that he had fallen into the very trap he had researched: his instinctive approach to solving the problem of a crying baby and a tired dad was to add another baby gadget rather than focus, for example, on a consistent sleep schedule.

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The fact that parents often overdo it at the expense of their children’s independence and a calmer family life is not a unique idea. There are books less is more like “The Good Enough Parent” Where “Hunt, Gather, Parent,” Where “The blessing of a scraped knee.There are experts who advocate “minimalist parenting,” or tell parents they should give their children less praise, less attention, fewer activities, and fewer toys. Research consistently shows a correlation between over-involved parents and troubled young adults like school burnoutinability to regulate their emotionsWhere anxiety and depression.

But Klotz’s research, which is also described in his 2021 book “Subtract: the untapped science at leasthelps us understand why parents often overdo it in a scientific way — and as a natural tendency rather than a parental failure. He and Schonbrun, author of the next “Work, Parent, Thrive: 12 Science-Based Strategies to Let Go of Guilt, Manage Overload, and Build Connection (When It All Seems Too Much)also have granular advice to resist the urge.

First, it helps understand why humans developed this mental shortcut. One theory is that it provided an evolutionary advantage – more food, more companions, more focus on children would increase a family’s chances of survival. And as civilizations grew, “addition was the best way,” Klotz said. “When you don’t have a road, when you don’t have a building, you don’t have any educational opportunities for your children, which makes sense.”

Schonbrun said there’s also a possible psychological reason for the propensity to add: humans’ eagerness to avoid uncertainty. “When we get really uncomfortable,” she said, “we want to develop a sense of certainty,” which we might try to do by adding something to ensure the desired results — let it be. whether it’s gathering more food so our kids don’t starve or enrolling them in other activities in hopes they’ll get into Harvard.

In addition to evolutionary and psychological imperatives, there could also be modern cultural influences at work, Schonbrun said. “We’ve really evolved into this culture of more is better…more parents, more culture, more cultivation of your kids’ interests, more activities, more diverse foods, talking to them more, you know, just more of everything.”

Although being in the grip of additive solutions is a propensity that humans generally have, Klotz and Schonbrun suspect that it is also one that parents, who are often under pressure and overwhelmed, could fall victim to. One of Klotz’s experiments showed that people operating under heavier cognitive load are more likely to rely on mental shortcuts and miss opportunities to subtract.

When overwhelmed parents don’t see the options to subtract, one of the results is overscheduling, he said. “We think so often about what we should do, what we should do, and very rarely about what we can stop doing. And so over time, we have more and more of that on our plates.

This tendency was painfully demonstrated by the experiment in which participants were asked to improve an itinerary for a day trip to Washington, DC. The itinerary as presented was essentially undoable as it contained 14 activities that required a two hour travel time (with no traffic). Yet only 1 in 4 participants deleted an activity.

Of course, whether it’s a day trip to DC or weeks filled with school, sports and activities, “we end up not having a very rich experience at all because we we’re stressed and overwhelmed,” Schonbrun said. “And yet, because of this excess and because of this systematic neglect of subtraction…we often find ourselves in this position. It’s sort of the fate of the modern parent, I think.

So what can parents do to stop this tendency to overburden their families until they are overwhelmed?

To be aware. “You can’t change a behavior unless you know you’re committed to it, because awareness has to come first before it comes, especially if it’s something you habitually do,” Schonbrun said. .

Remember you can subtract. When researchers asked certain participants in experiments what they could add or subtract, those participants were more likely to see the subtractive changes as beneficial. (Once you start looking for them, it’s hard not to see aspects of modern parenting that could be subtracted: goodie bags, sports snacks, participation trophies, preparing lunches, folding laundry, worrying about eaters. difficult!)

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Klotz suggests setting reminders as you make decisions — about schedules, for example, or house rules. “So going back to the to-do list, for example, if you’re doing this every week, but you’ve also challenged yourself to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to think of things to quit when I do my to-do list,” then you get past that first hurdle of not thinking about subtraction.

Keep in mind that saying no is not subtracting. “Even when you say no to something, you say no to a new activity, it doesn’t relieve you,” Klotz said. “It just prevents it from being added.”

Consider your core values ​​when making decisions about what to subtract. Schonbrun says questions to ask can include, “What does this mean to me? What does that mean? What’s the reason I’m doing this? If the activity you’re engaging in doesn’t reflect your values ​​and, on top of that, makes your life more stressful and hectic, it might be time to let it go.

This approach doesn’t mean you can never add. “I think the bottom line here is that we want people to consider both options regardless,” Klotz said. Schonbrun agreed: “Being able to really reflect, Should I add or should I subtract given how I want to build my life is really a useful thing to deliberately contemplate.

Do you have a question about parenthood? Ask for La Poste.

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