We parents get lots of advice. Lots. But instead of the experts telling us what we should do, perhaps it’s time they tell us to just stop it.
So here we have it: Six things parents need to stop doing right now.
You must set the example and be physically active, says Katherine Tallmadge, nutritionist and author of “Diet Simple. But don’t push kids to “exercise,” which sounds (and feels) like a chore. Instead, play with them. Make it fun: hit the basketball court, play tag or hide and seek. Join them at the playground. Organize a game with neighborhood kids. Dance. Do the Wii together.
They get exercise, you get exercise. But it’s fun for them and for you.
2. Relying on a screen
You’ve heard it a million times. Screen time “is just not a good way for kids to learn and develop intellectually and socially,” says Lee Beers, a general pediatrician at Children’s National Health System. “A little bit is fine. It’s part of our world. But when it becomes what you spend the majority of your time doing” you know that’s too much.
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The more screen time a child has, the less time you all are spending outdoors, running, playing or reading. Too much TV or iPhone action “displaces your time so that you’re not able to…do more positive things,” she says.
And of course, it’s important for a child to know how to entertain themselves without screens and to behave well without screens.
What to start doing? Eat dinner together every day or as many days as you can, she says. “It’s a family habit that is closely tied to good outcomes for kids. It has less to do with the actual act of eating and more to do with sitting down with the family.”
3. Hiding the treats
Sounds counterproductive, right? But if you hide treats, kids will find them. When they do, goodbye, complete package of Oreos. So instead of hiding the bad stuff until your children find them and gorge, replace the processed, fatty junk with better treats — and put them in a place where kids can help themselves.
“Control the environment,” says Tallmadge. “Stock your home with really delicious healthy food.” That could include chocolate dipped strawberries placed on a low shelf in the fridge. Or any chocolate dipped fruit. Try apples dipped in peanut butter, then rolled in granola. “Make healthy but tasty foods that are grabable for children,” she says. They might not even miss the Oreos. Yes, that’s a good thing for you, too.
4. Ordering, directing, correcting
Every time we order, correct, and direct our kids with phrases like “It’s time to clean your room,” “Get your elbows off the table!” or “Just try one bite of asparagus,” we set ourselves up for a power struggle, says Amy McCready, founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com and author of “If I Have to Tell You One More Time.”
“Like anyone else, kids dislike being bossed around, and they tell us so with eye-rolling, back talk, negotiating, or ignoring us completely,” she says.
Instead of barking orders at our children, try to get them to cooperate. Try “I’m slammed with work tonight. Anything you can do to help with the dinner dishes would really make a difference for me.”
Or, McCready says, shift the focus to problem solving: “I’ve noticed we’ve had difficulty getting out the door in time for the bus. Let’s brainstorm ways we can improve our morning routine.”
Sure they’re kids and you’re the parent. Some ordering, correcting and directing will always be necessary. But try to make that only about 30 percent of your communication and that “will go a long way towards engaging cooperation and a more peaceful home in 2014.”
5. Skipping breakfast yourself
It’s easy to put their breakfast in front of them as you get ready in the morning and just throw something in your mouth on the way to work. But children model what they see. Will they be getting the right nutrition if they eat how or what you eat? Didn’t think so. Set an example by eating breakfast every morning, Tallmadge says. It will help all of you if you keep it interesting: a peanut butter sandwich with yogurt and fruit. Whole grain pancakes. Cereal and yogurt. Oatmeal with nuts and fruit. Or even a slice of leftover pizza (yes, that’s Tallmadge approved). Your good eating habits will feed their good eating habits, just like your good exercising (um, “playing”) will encourage their good health.
6. Just sending them on their way
We’ve all had quite a few days together. So don’t just send the kids out the door as vacation ends, as you would if they had been in school yesterday.
“As a goodbye on the first day back to school or work, be sure to smile and tell your child that even though you won’t be together (or you’ll miss each other) today, you’ll still be thinking about him and you know he’ll be thinking about you,” says Beth Griffith, a D.C. -based child and adult psychotherapist.
After a long break from school, one that included lots of overstimulation, fun and major changes in routines, children who tend to be anxious may have a tough time transitioning back and separating from their parents.
Think about it: It’s hard even for many of us adults to return to our early wakeups, deadlines, jobs and schedules.
“When one’s parent isn’t beside her, a child has to find a place in her mind where she can recall a picture of mom or dad,” Griffith says. “Simply verbalizing that can help both parent and child manage the missing and can reassure your child that you’ll be internally there even if not physically present.”
Helping your child to internalize loved ones and to use language to help think about and understand those feelings “are two of the most crucial developmental coping skills you can help your child gain,” she says. “Plus you’ll be sending the message that you’re confident in his ability to use those coping skills.”
This first appeared on On Parenting Dec. 31, 2013.
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