So, moms and dads, what’s on the ol’ resolution list this year: Losing weight? Eating better? Why not also aim for improved parenting skills? That’s not to say you’re not doing a fine job already. But there are things you might never have thought of that can make a big difference in a child’s life and thus offer a sizable return on your investment.
We went to the experts — people who work with kids on a daily basis — and asked them what resolutions they’d like to see parents make for 2011.
Put an end to the after-work grab-and-run routine.
“Take two minutes when you arrive to pick up your child to find out how their day went,” said Barb Gainer, owner of Barb’s Care-A-Lot Day Care and Learning Center in Harborcreek. “What kids need most from parents is time, and that’s hard to do on a weeknight when you have to make dinner and do homework and such. But it’s very easy to take a few minutes to interact with your child before you get in the car and the evening rush begins.”
Gainer said she sees a big difference in the behavior of kids whose parents hustle their children out the door versus those who take a few minutes to look at what their child did that day and meet their friends.
Stop asking questions when there’s only one answer.
“Never ask kids if they’re ready to do something (go home, take a bath, go to bed),” Gainer said. “The answer to that question is almost always going to be ‘no,’ and then parents get frustrated.”
Asking a question for which there is only one right answer is confusing to kids.
“Just say, it’s time to go now,” Gainer said.
Listen to your child. As a licensed Erie psychologist, Janet Pawlowski spends plenty of time listening and she says it is, hands down, the most important thing parents can do to improve their relationship with their child.
“When I say listen, I mean with your ears, your eyes, your heart and your soul,” Pawlowski said. “Not while you’re cooking dinner, not while fixing the plumbing, not while the big game is on, not via text message, but sitting down in a quiet area and talking face to face without distractions, frenzy or pressure. This means you’ll have to slow down, schedule out time for your child, meet them at their level, temporarily shut down technology and cease all judgment,” Pawlowski said.
Take time to hear your child and the benefit to you and, more importantly, them, would be priceless.
Expand your home library. “Collect and expose your child to a variety of reading materials including books, magazines, newspapers, travel brochures, maps and playbills,” said Shelly Bentley, owner of Reading Now, a Millcreek-based diagnostic and instructional clinic for youth.
“Be sure to include lots of nonfiction in your home library,” Bentley said. “Even the youngest readers love to read about real places and things.”
Visit the library or check out dollar stores, yard sales and used-book stores for age-appropriate book bargains for your family.
Make sure your children get enough sleep. Adequate rest is vital for kids of any age, but especially for teenagers who get into the habit of staying up late. You might be surprised at how much sleep children need: 10 to 12 hours for ages 5-12 and eight to 10 hours for teens.
“Every year, I observe students struggling to stay awake through the school day,” said Gary Wisor, an English teacher at McDowell High School, who said the late night hours cause a cycle of problems.
“They go home and take a nap and then they’re not tired at bedtime, so they are up until 2 a.m. Then, they struggle to wake in the morning and often miss breakfast.”
And, as every parent knows, hungry and tired is a dangerous combination. “Some of the most disrespectful behavior I’ve witnessed is displayed just before lunch,” Wisor said.
Wisor, the father of a 15-year-old girl, said he and his wife discovered his daughter was losing sleep because she would get text messages from her friends all night.
“We found out that Verizon offered the option for us to limit usage times on my daughter’s phone, Wisor said. “She can no longer receive messages or calls after 9:30 on weeknights and after midnight on weekends.” Problem solved.
Spend 30 minutes (or more) a day outdoors. “One thing parents can do that is good for them and their kids is to get outside,” said Jeff Natalie, licensed social worker and president of ErieKids. “Here in Erie, we’re all familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder and milder forms of the winter blues, but did you know that a half-hour or so of time outdoors, even on an overcast day, goes a long way to stave off those feelings?”
Take a walk around the neighborhood, go sledding, build a snowman or just toss snowballs at the side of the garage. A little fresh air can do wonders to improve moods.
Turn off technology for an hour each day. Nancy Anne Kalista, executive director of Early Connections, said she has recently observed a disheartening trend of parents paying more attention to electronic devices than their children.
“I’d suggest that parents resolve to put aside all technology for one hour a day and engage with children in an age-appropriate way,” Kalista said. For an infant, that might mean snuggling and focusing on them while you rock them instead of checking e-mail with your other hand. For older kids, it can mean banning cell phones, iPads and all other electronic devices from the dinner table.
Establish — and stick to — routines. “Keep daily life as routine as possible,” said Mary Kaye Pazder, a fourth-grade teacher at Belle Valley Elementary School. “Kids have a harder time adjusting to change or unexpected events than we do, so establishing routines for homework, bedtime, etc., can help alleviate a lot of stress on both sides.”
Avoid weeknight activities. “Overscheduling children on school nights can make for tired kids and a rushed household, where things like homework, bookbags, projects and lunch money can be forgotten,” Pazder said.
Pazder suggests parents spend weeknights doing more “ordinary” things, such as playing games, cooking together, making a craft or coloring.
“Those ‘ordinary’ interactions are really where some of the best memories are made,” Pazder said.
Write down the funny stuff, then share with others. Elaine LaFuria, a gifted-support teacher for the Harbor Creek School District and mother of three, shared this humorous parenting tale on her blog (www.lessonsfromthelamppost.blogspot.com) in a post titled, “Never ask a 3-year-old to make inferences,” about reading “Hey Diddle, Diddle” with her son, Sam.
“After we finished up the book, we focused on the picture. I said, ‘Sam, look, there are two little birds in the tree. I bet they are a mommy bird and a daddy bird. Which one do you think is the mommy bird?’ One bird was a dull brown and the other was a bright blue. He pointed to the brown one. I was mentally dreaming about mortar boards with tassels, scholarships and acceptance awards. I should have stopped right there. But, no, I had to ask just one more question. I said, ‘Sam, why do you think that is the mommy bird?’ He replied, ‘It’s fatter.’”
The lesson here? Parenting can be hysterically funny. Share the laughs with all your friends and family. (And, never ask a 3-year-old to make inferences.)