Little things make a big difference. As you begin your new year, think about ways you can be a better parent.
Every parent I know including me can make some slight changes and do a better job. Think of the ways you can be a better parent.
• Listen to your child — especially your teen. Be patient. Let him talk through his thoughts and feelings even when you are busy tired or disagree. If he tells you he just wants you to sit with him in his room or outside, do it. This means he has something he needs or wants to talk about.
• One gift you can give your child that doesn’t cost you is time. He needs to feel you are available. If you aren’t available, he will go somewhere else. You don’t know where (and with whom( somewhere else might be. Studies show parents have the biggest influence with their children, even in their teens.
• Talk with him about the problems associated with drinking alcohol. People who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence during their lifetime than those who begin drinking later than age 21. (National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions)
• Encourage him to pick up a good book and read each day. Have him do it where you can see what is happening. It is easy to set a book down and pick up a cell phone in its place. That doesn’t help him read.
• Think about the responsibilities your teen has. Besides getting to school, does he have any specific responsibilities? Does he clean up the kitchen after dinner? Does he take care of pets? Does he help with the housework or outside chores? Is it his responsibility to pick up his room regularly? Is dinner ever his responsibility? It can be a hassle to get your teen to take on responsibilities, but it is well worth the time and effort to make this habit work. Responsibility is easier to learn at home than on your own. Learning this kind of skill will make him feel good about himself.
• At least once a week, do something fun together (like a sport or game) that allows you to have a chance to talk and have fun together.
• According to a news release from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, only one in four teens report regular parent-teen discussions about the dangers of drugs. Is your family the one?
• All kids need praise, but praise has to be not only honest but also specific. Don’t try to bluff praise, because your teen will pick up on it right away. Would you rather hear someone tell you, “That’s nice,” or would you rather hear, “I like the way you wrote the opening paragraph for your essay — that’s a real grabber”? When your child knows exactly what you like, he wants to repeat it because that is the best kind of attention.
• Don’t just talk about your child’s successes; talk about his improvement. Figure out ways to have positive things to discuss with your child. No matter what his age, he still needs this family connection.
• Set a goal to have dinner together with all screens off at least three times each week. You will see the payoff. Make sure everyone talks at dinner. Ask questions that bring out what all has been happening in each child’s life.
• Remind your child that the semester is coming very soon. Is there any kind of work he should be doing to prepare. A friendly reminder from someone like you helps him be ready.
• Fifty years ago, parents spent an average of 3-4 hours per day interacting with their children. Today’s children only receive about 15 minutes, and 12 of those are in a setting of critique, instruction or criticism. (Josh McDowell, How to help Your Child Say “No” to Sexual Pressure)
• Don’t forget the importance of hugs and telling your child you love him.
Being a parent involves a lot of things, but easy is rarely one of them.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. To reach current First Teacher Executive Director Nicole Brewer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-681-2250.