Most parents love their children deeply and want to do the best job possible of teaching and nurturing them. But children don't come with owner's manuals, and beyond caring for their physical needs, many parents don't receive much training about how to raise great kids.
For those parents who struggle with knowing how to improve their parenting skills, here are some simple tips for more effective parenting in 2012.
1. Eat dinner together as a family
Teens in families that eat dinner together at least five times a week are more likely to say they have a high-quality relationship with their parents and siblings, according to a 2011 report from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). In a statement accompanying the report, Joseph A. Califano Jr. — CASA's chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare — said, "Seventeen years of surveying teens has taught us that the more often children have dinner with their families the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs."
Other studies show children from families that eat meals together have lower rates of obesity, better overall health and have better eating habits.
2. Teach patience
In 1972, a psychologist named Walter Mischel conducted a study on deferred gratification known as the Stanford University marshmallow experiment. In the study, young children were given an option to eat a treat immediately or to wait 15 minutes and then receive an additional treat. Study results showed that only one-third of the children were able to wait.
In 1988, a follow-up study showed that when preschool children were able to resist eating the marshmallow, more than 10 years later their parents described them as adolescents who were significantly more competent. A second follow-up study in 1990 showed that the ability to delay gratification also correlated with higher SAT scores. Other follow-up studies showed that kids who waited were more likely to attend college and get good grades, have a lower body mass index, be less likely to commit crimes and earn higher annual incomes.
In an April 2010 address, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said, "Patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can — working, hoping and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well."
3. Give children lots of your time
The CASA research revealed that teens who spent seven or fewer hours a week with their parents were twice as likely to use alcohol or drugs as those who spent 21 or more hours a week with their parents.
Only 5 percent of the teens surveyed said they wanted to spend less time with their parents. Eighteen percent responded that they wished they could spend more time with their parents.
Ellen Braun, who writes a parenting blog at www.raisingsmallsouls.com, wrote, "Our children, for the most part, are unaware of the myriad of things that we do FOR them. However, they are fully aware of the things which we do WITH them."
Braun recommends activities where parents connect directly with their children. "When parents sit on the bench and view their children's gravity-defying antics on the monkey-bars, that is one level of quality time with children," she wrote. "However, a game of tag with children chasing their parents is light-years ahead of just watching children play in terms of the connection that is created by engaging in an activity simultaneously."
4. Get a pet
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