If you are expectant parents or new parents, you’ve undoubtedly been given loads of advice from well-meaning people who “have been there”. Let your baby cry it out, pick him up each time he cries so he feels comforted, feed her on a schedule, let her breastfeed on demand, don’t feed him this, do feed her this, give him a pacifier, don’t give her a pacifier….so much-confusing information! Here is a list of clear, proven parental advice that you can rely on. This parental advice has been tested in the field and approved by experienced parents, so you know you can trust its reliability!
Be clear and consistent in your discipline and limit-setting
It’s easy to want to be flexible or to give in to your child’s demands when you see him making a sad face. But don’t! Explain (in clear and succinct child-friendly language) why they can’t do or have something and redirect them to something they can have or do. For example, you are in the grocery store and your child sees the candy display at the checkout. They want their favorite treat. You know that this is a bad idea—it’s too close to mealtime, or you don’t like to give them sugar, or it’s just a bad idea to say yes to unplanned, checkout temptations. Don’t hesitate or give your child the impression you are considering his request. State “no” firmly, and if you feel like giving a reason, add “we don’t buy things that aren’t on our list.”
This not only teaches your child that no means no but also helps him or her to understand the importance of sticking to a plan (or if he or she is a bit older, the idea of sticking to a budget). Discipline is not punishment. Redirect their attention: ask them to help you unload the grocery cart onto the conveyor belt so you can check out faster.
Do not do everything for your child
Many of us fall into this trap: we think that by doing everything for our child, we are showing them that we love them. But remember: children are not adults. When you do special things for your spouse, they are touched by your generosity and know that these are signs of love. But your child needs to learn their capabilities, and as such, you should request that they put away their toys when it is time to stop playing, help with family chores such as setting and clearing the table and feeding the dog or other pet.
You decide what is appropriate for your child’s age, but even a three-year-old can dust furniture and pull up the comforter on his bed. By teaching your child how to do these tasks early on, you teach a child to be responsible and involved in keeping the house running and tidy. You’ll see how proud they are when you praise them for doing a good job! (The dog will love them, too!)
Let your child learn from her mistakes
Don’t try to fix everything. Empathize, and not rush in to fix, when a child makes a mistake or thinks they haven’t done a good job with something. “I’ll never learn to tie my shoe!” might be met with a kind “It’s hard, isn’t it? Let’s try it again” rather than “It’s ok. I’ll do it for you.” Parents who try and right all the wrongs their child appears to suffer, rob the child of learning the art of resilience and self-reliance.
You want to raise a kid who isn’t destroyed the first time they get a low grade or when they don’t get picked for a team. So let them fail. They will learn that it won’t break them.
Read to your children
Every single day. Make it a bedtime ritual. It’s a wonderful thing to pass along the love of reading to your child. Grown children often remark that one of their favorite childhood memories was the sound of their parent’s voice reading them to sleep. Keep books visible in your home, and have a budget for book buying. Teaching your child the delight of getting lost in a story is much more valuable than teaching them how to play Temple Run.
Reading, and being read to, develops important parts of your child’s brain, and opens up their creative thinking skills. Reading to your child is so much more important than many people think. Research shows that children who are read to develop far better vocabulary skills than children who aren’t read to. Equally important, children who are read to are better prepared for school when the time comes.
Limit their screen time
“The electronic babysitter,” or the television, should be off most of the time. Studies have proven that too much screen time contributes to aggressive behavior, obesity, and poor creative thinking skills. It may seem easier to park your child in front of the television so you can get dinner on the table without being interrupted. A better alternative: set your child up in the kitchen with a box of crayons or felt markers and a coloring book or stack of blank paper, and let them create some beautiful refrigerator art for you.
You’ll be doing your child a favor by limiting their exposure to the screen. The added advantage? They are near to you and watching you “work” to create a nice meal for the family. They learn that food just doesn’t magically appear on the table! This is much better modeling than any television show could provide.
Do not give them early access to any sort of device
Don’t give you children tablets, cell phones, laptops, etc. Don’t even let them sit in your lap while you are using your desktop computer. Study after study says that early exposure to electronic devices is simply not a good thing for the development of the young mind.
Many nursery schools do not allow students to bring anything but a brown bag lunch. Sure, digital literacy is important, but kids will learn this at school—no sense hurrying them along. Sometimes the favorite toys of a child are a cardboard box and some chalk!
Recognize the importance of creating memories through family rituals
Children grow to love family rituals, as they reinforce the unique bond that ties families together. So create your own rituals and involve your children in them. Maybe designate and decorate special King or Queen Chair for the birthday child, or decorations that you bring out only for specific holidays. If you decorate a Christmas tree, do it together, with the same holiday music playing in the background. Do you return to the same beach house each summer?
What about a big family barbeque every Fourth of July? That can become a special memory in the mind of your child. Whatever it is, do it with joy and love as you pass along the ritual to the next generation. Children love repetition, and this gives them a sense of security and belonging.
Get out of the house
If you can afford it, take your children on vacations. It doesn’t really matter where because most children will be interested in new places and faces. You can discuss where you will be going, and point it out on a map, or look at brochures together to pick activities or events you would like to attend. As for traveling, kids love having their own little rollaway bag. One proviso here: under no circumstances let them pack for themselves (you might end up with seven tee shirts and no shorts or socks!)
Do the packing together and discuss your choices. This will help make their anticipation of the upcoming trip even higher and it does not have to be an expensive trip to a foreign country. A trip to the big town one hundred miles away will feel as foreign to a small child as if you had taken him or her to Tokyo or Paris. Remember, everything is new to children. By exposing your child to new places, you are also teaching them flexibility (“Oops, that restaurant is closed. Let’s pick a new one!”), and opening them up to new experiences. Be sure to take lots of pictures, and have them suggest to you when they want a picture taken.
You will have lots of memories to look back on in years to come. You might also want to work with your child to create a small, personalized scrapbook of souvenirs from your outing or trip: ticket stubs, a paper napkin with the name of the restaurant you ate lunch in, a postcard of a bridge you walked across—all will make excellent additions to your child’s scrapbook, and may in fact, be more meaningful in years to come than any souvenir tee shirt.
Age-appropriate activities are generally a good idea
There is nothing more sorrowful than watching a young child have a meltdown while waiting in a line in the hot sun at Disneyland or at another theme park. Experienced parents will tell you that children really do not do all that well in huge amusement parks. First of all, there is just too much sensory input with the crowds, noise and newness of the experience. Secondly, such theme parks are expensive. Save your money and take them to Disneyland once they are school age. At least at that age, they might remember the trip.
They might even call it one of the highlights of their young lives when they reflect upon their childhood in years to come.
Age-appropriate goes for toys too
Do not think that your five-year-old child is mature for his or her years and buy them that microscope which plainly states on the box “For ages eight and up”. Giving that microscope to a five-year-old is a waste of money, and the small parts and glass slides could be dangerous. Your little doctor to be can and should wait for a few years.
Choking hazards abound in the worlds of young children, so when a manufacturer has a label on a toy or game that designates the appropriate age for that toy or game, heed the warning.
Engage with your child
Meaningful interaction can be defined in many different ways at all ages. Talk to your newborns. Research has shown that the sheer number of words babies hear, helps develop the language centre in their brains. This is not a suggestion to read the 21st century equivalent of a phone directory to your infant, but talk and sing to him or her. As your child gets older, ask them questions and ask for their opinions (“Which do you like better, swimming or wading?”) with the follow-up “Why?”
Hide and seek. What’s behind my back? Hopscotch. I Spy With My Little Eye. Cars and License Plates.
All of these interactive games are not only fun for both parents and children; they also can help develop a child’s strategic and sequential thinking and can be beneficial in giving the child some physical activity. As your child gets older, he or she will play the same games with other children and their familiarity with the rules may help their confidence in dealing with their peers, especially if shyness is an issue.