6 Things You Got Right as a Parent
Your kids used to complain about your parenting style. Now, they're copying it.
(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)
Today's parenting books are full of smug declarations that yesterday's parenting methods have been proven wrong and that new approaches are best.
Not so fast.
Lately, researchers and parenting experts have discovered that, as parents, your generation may not have been so misguided after all. But since we know your children probably won't tell you that you were correct all along, allow us to list six things you got right.
1. It's Good for What Ails You
They're back: Cod-liver and other fish oils, banes of your kids' childhoods, recently invisible in the nation's family medicine cabinets, are now found not only to boost academic performance, but also to help kids with attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia and to protect against heart disease.
There is one improvement from the past, though — now the oils come in easy-to-swallow soft geltabs. Two brands often used by parents are MorEPA Mini Junior and US EFA Blend for Children. Mention these to your kids, but remind them to check with their pediatrician before dosing.
2. Early to Bed, Early to Rise
We know, we know: Working parents try to squeeze in an hour or two of evening time with their kids, but a consensus of researchers now says that the children would be better off if they were put to bed as early as possible. Earlier bedtime appears to be a key to better sleep health, and to happier kids in general.
Research by the National Sleep Foundation has found that most kids today don't get the sleep they need. Just one hour less sleep than kids need each night, the foundation has discovered, can lower their ability to concentrate in class to that of children two grade-levels below. Beyond toddler meltdowns, lack of sleep has been linked to attention problems, dulled memory, hyperactivity and obesity.
3. Go Outside and Play
Dr. Benjamin Spock, author of the best-selling parenting bible you may have referred to while raising your kids, used to prescribe at least one hour outside, every day, rain or shine. Now, even in the age of hand sanitizers and hovering parents, the benefits of unstructured play, running around and digging in the dirt are being recognized again.
"It's good for kids to be on their own and with other kids, without such close parental supervision. Unstructured play builds the imagination," says Dr. Robert Needlman of MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, coauthor of Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, 9th Edition.
Even in winter's chill, children shouldn't get sick from playing outside, he says. "Outdoor play is healthy for kids, whether it's cold or not. In the cold weather, we get sick more often because we are inside, with the windows shut, and so are more exposed to germs from everyone else," notes Needlman.
4. Manners Matter
Remember when families sat down to dinner together each night, used real utensils and kids were told not to slurp or chomp? When children said "please" and "thank you" and had to ask to be excused from the table?
According to Cindy Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute, author of the book Emily's Christmas Gift, more people today are seeking a return to social graces they believe have been ignored too long. And a recent Columbia University survey found that sitting down together for real, regular family dinners has been linked to better grades for teens as well as a decreased likelihood of taking up smoking or abusing alcohol, among other benefits.
5. This Is Not a Democracy
After what many parenting experts have called a generation of indulgence, it's becoming okay to say no to kids again.
Setting limits and standing firm as parents — instead of letting kids set their own rules — is now seen as a cornerstone to ensuring a happy and healthy future for children. And chores are once again being seen as good for the soul.
According to Muffy Mead-Ferro, author of Confessions of a Slacker Mom, for the sake of their kids and for their own sanity, parents need to get back to the art of household management and delegation. "It's painful to watch my kids load the dishwasher," Mead-Ferro says. "Stuff gets broken and I could do it faster myself, but think what they're learning — how to help around the house, how to be self-sufficient, and work hard."
6. You Get What You Get
The Rolling Stones were right, Needlman says. You can't always get what you want. And kids shouldn't.
If there's a silver lining to the current economic downturn, it may be a move away from high-end distractions and back to simple pleasures. "Remember what fun kids can have with a cardboard box?" Needlman asks.
The recent epidemic of "affluenza" among kids and parents alike has even been given a formal diagnosis in the annals of medical science — spoiled-child syndrome. Parents are beginning to opt out of mass-consumption by paring down their holiday shopping lists and teaching kids to ask not what they can get, but what they can do.
According to one Gallup poll, more than a third of families now volunteer together. That's an old-fashioned value every generation can embrace.
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