The old joke about children not being delivered with instruction manuals is fitfully funny and painfully true. As a result, we rely on instinct and acquired wisdom when it comes to raising our kids, and, thankfully, very often we get it right.
But it never hurts to have reminders, and it’s often helpful to see what other parents do that works. To that end, we’ve come up with a few things that either you didn’t know or that will confirm what you did. Here, some simple things you can do to become a better parent.
• Teach your child how to read labels. Too many kids are taken in by claims of health benefits in products that have been enhanced by chemical additives, including fiber, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins. The industry calls these “functional foods,” and they sell to the tune of $27 billion a year. “It’s really a junk food dressed up to look prettier than it is,” David Schardt, senior nutritionist for the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest, told The Associated Press.
• Make siblings sing their arguments. Brothers and sisters get into the biggest fights over the smallest things. Defuse the situation by insisting they sing what they are going to say instead of shouting it. More often than not, the fight ends up in fits of laughter.
• Be the “POS.” In case you don’t know, that’s texting shorthand warning that there is a “parent over shoulder,” which is why your child suddenly stops typing when you walk into the room. Respect privacy, but don’t let that stop you from asking questions and peering into e-mail inboxes. And learn the lingo.
• Let them fall down. “Studies on resiliency show that if a child has had to deal with difficult — but not tragic — life circumstances as a child, he or she actually develops better coping styles as an adult,” says Dr. Scott Haltzman, clinical assistant professor at Brown University’s Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. “Kids have to make errors. Parents should be there for support, but not necessarily to break their fall.”
• Catch your child being good! “Researchers know that shaping positive behavior is efficiently done through rewarding positive behavior rather than punishing bad behavior,” says Brown’s Haltzman.
• Lower your voice to lower the boom. If you want to get a youngster’s attention, drop your voice to almost a whisper to make your request. Works on grown-ups, too, says Michele Borba, author of “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.”
• Be persistent with a picky eater. Keep putting lima beans and cooked carrots on their plates, even if they don’t eat them. Make it a small portion, but continue to serve it. Eventually they’ll eat it. Really. How else to explain the popularity of salad bars on college campuses? And don’t hide or disguise vegetables — it only reinforces their suspicion.
• Have clear expectations of your children, and be sure to communicate them. “Research from my new book, ’The Secrets of Happy Families,’ shows that individuals in families who described themselves as believing that children should follow strict rules of conduct were actually happier than those who said children should not be held to rules and guidelines,” says Haltzman. In other words, kids crave discipline. Give it to them.
• Have dinner together. With homework, practice schedules and parental overtime at the office, it’s not always possible to have a sit down, home-cooked meal together every night. Studies show that families who regularly have relaxed dinners together have kids with better grades, fewer behavioral problems (including smoking and drinking alcohol) and fewer eating disorders, Borba says.
• Supervise their Internet use. You can block Web sites with inappropriate content on your home computer, but it seems to be a never-ending battle against a rising tide. SafeEyes is a $50 program that automatically controls how much time your child spends on the Internet, records and lists the Web sites, sends alerts when someone attempts to break the rules, and records and limits chats. See www.internetsafety.com. While you are at it, Google your kid’s name to see what pops up. You may be surprised.