Want to do your best raising your kids? Start off on the right foot.
1. An Apple a Day
Or, in other words … strive to bring an emphasis on good nutrition to your children. Help kids to distinguish between what’s good for them and what’s not and to understand how our bodies grow strong and healthy with a good, balanced diet and limited sweets. According to Bill and Martha Sears, authors of The Family Nutrition Book (Little Brown; $18.99), the first three years of a child’s life are a window of opportunity for forming lifelong, healthy eating habits. To get your children on the right start from the beginning, get them used to the flavor of fresh before they get hooked on canned, artificial tastes. Taste preferences are learned, the Sears’ say. While all children will be exposed to junk food and want to lick icing off their fingers, if they have a foundation for good, healthy food served in a variety of ways, when they begin sampling junk foods, chances are they won’t go overboard.
2. Early to Bed, Early to Rise
The importance of sleep cannot be underrated, not only for busy time-challenged parents but for children rising early for school and involved in the typical activities kids are a part of today. Research from the National Sleep Foundation shows that most kids don’t get the sleep they need. Meanwhile, the foundation reports that with just one hour less sleep at night, a child’s ability to concentrate in class falls to that of children two grade levels below. Plus lack of sleep has been linked to attention problems, dulled memory, hyperactivity and obesity. Babies need up to 15 hours of sleep a day; children ages 1 – 3 need 12 – 14 hours; ages 3 – 6 need 10 – 12 hours; ages 7 – 12 need 10 – 11 hours; age 13 – 18 need 8 – 9 hours.
Everyone needs time for play – and better still free time outdoors. In the parenting classic, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care (Gallery; $19.99), Benjamin Spock, M.D., advocates for at least one hour outside every day, rain or shine. But in this age of helicopter parenting, kids have a tough time being left on their own. Still, there’s nothing like the benefits of unstructured play, running around, digging in the dirt and yard and just being left alone to dream and use the imagination. It’s good for kids to be on their own and with other kids, Spock says – and also good for parents to let them be without such overbearing parental supervision.
4. Mind Your Manners
“Please” and “thank you,” napkins in your lap and learning how to talk not only to adults but to teachers and friends in an easy way is a big part of a successful life. Parents are wise to start this early with their children. Are sit-down dinners a challenge for your hectic family? Where else are they going to learn not to chomp, slurp and chew with their mouths open? According to Emily Post’s The Guide to Good Manners for Kids (Harper Collins; $16.99), more people today are in need of good manners than ever before. Consider the art of conversation and your child: he needs to show interest, look at to whom he is speaking, pay attention, not interrupt, speak clearly … There’s a lot to getting ahead in life and a lot of it ties in to our manners. Furthermore, a recent Columbia University survey found that sitting together for regular family dinners is linked to better grades for teens. Enough said.
5. Limit Setting
With the era of letting kids rule coming to an end, the tables are turning – it’s OK to say “no” to your children again. Setting limits and standing firm in your parenting is a cornerstone for ensuring kids who know what’s expected of them. According to the book, Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries (Three Rivers; $15) by Robert J. Mackenzie, parents can and should empathize when children begin to buck against household rules, but should still not give in; and parents should always try to give clear, firm, messages that children can understand. Many parents and grandparents of generations past have reared children successfully. They credit limit setting with helping children to navigate through life. In fact, many experts say children actually crave limits and gravitate toward those strong enough to set them.
6. You can’t always get what you want
The age of everything coming easy is over as a paring down is happening across the nation. Many experts say this is actually a good thing for our children. Most kids know that money doesn’t grow on trees … but being young, many of them want what they want when they want it – and some won’t take “no” for an answer without a tantrum. In the book How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents (Sourcebooks; $14.99) by Richard Bromfield, parents learn that children shouldn’t just be given things for no reason, and that what young children really want is to please their parents. Often a knowing glance, smile or a “well done” remark is all that they need. If you can get this right early in your parenting, chances are your child won’t have a serious case of the “gimmies” as he gets older.
A parent’s most important disciplinary rule is consistency. If you say one thing then do another, your children will be confused and eventually stop listening to you. Identify your non-negotiables, Spock says. The more your parental authority is based on wisdom and not on power, the more your children will listen to you.
Susan Day is a mother of four and editor-in-chief of this publication.