10 Parenting Secrets We Learned from the Amish

Will their technology-free way of life persuade you to change the way you raise your kids?

Happy little girl playing barefootShutterstock / Purino
Shutterstock / Purino

In today’s technology-driven world, sometimes it’s appealing to return to simpler times. This concept of simplicity defines the entire lives of the Amish, who raise their children without the comforts or conveniences of iPad games or YouTube videos. You’d be surprised how good it feels to take a step away from technology for a while! In Amish households, you won’t see kids turning away plates of food or refusing to do chores; eating whatever’s given and doing whatever needs to be done are just parts of growing up in a working household. Today’s typical parenting style seems more tolerant than that, but as your own children scoff at cauliflower or refuse to clean a dish, you might start to see some value in the traditional Amish ways.

Luckily for you, there are ways to incorporate some Amish values into the way you raise your family without actually becoming Amish. Here are our 10 favorite tips, gleaned from The Amish Cook, by Elizabeth Coblentz and Kevin Williams.

Set aside One Meal a Week for Family

Before dividing up the day’s tasks, the typical Amish family gathers once a day after early-morning chores for a family breakfast. They meet as a larger group once a week, often including the church community or extended family for Sunday suppers. These traditions ensure that even the busiest of people spend time with the ones they love, an approach you can carry into your own home. Given your busy schedules, it might be difficult to round everyone up once a day (no Amish breakfast for you… unless you’re talking Amish casserole!), but you can set aside one day a week for a large family meal. It doesn’t have to be Sunday, but you’ll find that you begin looking forward to these full family affairs.

Make Chores into Games

When it’s time to harvest the corn, the Amish hold a “corn-husking bee” that turns the task into a friendly competition among neighbors, filling the fields with singing and yodeling. When a new baby is born who requires new bed sheets and clothes, a “quilting bee” is held that distributes the work among neighbors as they work together. Taking what would be a chore and making it into a fun, friendly event is an easy way to get hefty tasks done without worrying too much about the amount of work ahead.

Helping with homework? Turn each child’s work into trivia questions for a round of family Jeopardy. Need to clean the entire house for company? Raffle off cleaning supplies like prizes and switch with a family member every 30 minutes! The chores will be done before you know it.

Get an Early Start

It is not uncommon for Amish families to rise as early as 4 in the morning—sometimes even 3 if they have somewhere to go in the buggy. While waking up before the sun might sound like torture to most, those extra hours in the morning are ideal for beginning prep work before most other people are awake. Find that you’re always rushing to get the kids out the door? Start waking up before them to begin preparing breakfast, making to-do lists, and getting ready for the day.

However, if you’re not the early-bird type, we get it. There are other ways to put your morning into hyperdrive.

If You’re Going to Throw a Surprise Party, Make Sure It’s Actually a Surprise

It’s no fun if your kids know about the surprise before it happens. Throwing surprise parties is an Amish tradition. When someone in the community is turning 21, the Amish age of adulthood, their family plans a surprise party and tells the rest of the town. The secret? The party is thrown as early as a month in advance so that the person with the birthday never sees it coming! Often, when it is this early in the year, the person does not even realize the birthday is approaching. While having a party for your kids four weeks early might seem a little too soon, doing it the week beforehand is still completely appropriate—and they’ll have no idea! Here’s another way to make such a surprise even sweeter.

Enjoy Technology-free Entertainment Every Now and Then

The Amish have structured their entire lifestyle around old-fashioned entertainment, avoiding modern technology like computers and television. If you find your family sitting down to watch television every night, take a break to do something classic and timeless like playing charades, pulling out a board game, or just having a lively conversation. Encourage your kids to get off their electronics every now and then. Looking for ways to replace all that time? Here are six fun activities inspired by popular smartphone apps.

Start Traditions—and Keep Them

Every family has certain things that make them unique, so celebrate them. Gather to eat dinner the night before your child’s birthday each year. Pass presents around for everyone to admire during the holidays. Allow time for sharing school news at supper. Whatever you choose, show how much you value family by starting traditions around your own home, food and lifestyle. These things are incredibly important to the Amish and are passed down through generations, which makes every member of the family feel even more included and loved.

Send Letters to Family Members

In traditional Amish families, the married children only live a few miles from their parents, but still send letters back and forth to communicate, just because it gives that extra touch. Although it might be faster to just call Grandma, it means a little extra when your family takes the time to compose a handwritten note or child-drawn card. Make it a habit to send letters to your relatives, especially if you don’t see them every day. It can be a kind gesture to send a card for no reason, and that extra thought will bring joy to the person every time they look in the mail.

Apart from a handwritten note, Amish community members also enjoy bringing baked dishes or gifts to households with new babies or sick family members. If you’d like to try, see our list of make-and-take meals to bring to new parents.

Use Rainy Days to Catch up on Indoor Chores

While we can drive our cars to work in any weather, the Amish take rainy days as opportunities to work in the home. They spend time writing letters, reading, sewing and cleaning until the weather is clear enough to go back outside. Taking time during storms to reorganize your thoughts and finish a few household tasks is a good way to make sure you don’t neglect the little things.

Don’t Tolerate Picky Eaters

Many Amish families have little spare money, so food is sometimes scarce. Because of this, many of their children are taught to eat whatever is given to them, whether they like it or not. While some children have strong aversions to particular foods, most can learn to tolerate the majority of ingredients to ensure a tantrum-free supper. Take a tip from the Amish and teach your kids to eat a variety of foods from a young age. If you start them eating healthy foods early on, it will be harder for them to become picky eaters later. And of course, we’ve always got plenty of tips when it comes to parenting a picky eater.

Let Your Kids Experiment

There is an Amish tradition known as Rumspringa, when a teenager might venture into the “modern” world to attend parties, wear non-Amish clothing, learn to drive, or experiment with non-Amish traditions. Even though Rumspringa gives them a taste of the outside world, 90 percent of the children return home to their Amish lifestyle and grow up to raise their children Amish. Although it is scary for Amish parents to let their children leave the house and do things that would normally be seen as inappropriate, this is an important time of growth, experimentation and learning that is just part of growing up. Give your kids the opportunity to forge their own path and realize that it is just a natural step they must take on their way to becoming mature adults. If you raised them the right way—which you probably did—you should be confident that they will always return to their roots.

Which of these Amish parenting tips are you most excited to instill in your house? Let us know, and be sure to check out our Amish cooking secrets to take the traditions into the kitchen.

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