The Doctor Is In Top Ten list for Practical Parenting by Loretta Cody, MD. Article Source-The Magazine for Greenwich Hospital
Parents come to me for advice about their children all the time. And I’m happy to share whatever I know. When it comes to straight medical guidance about a condition or medication, I rely on my professional training and 26 years of experience. But, for the most everything else, my recommendation come from a combination of my professional knowledge, insights from family and friends, and my own personal observations from raising my two sons who are now 22 and 16 years old.
Raising kids can be challenging. Just as no two children are the same, advice for one child may not necessarily work with the other. But there are a few tried and true words of wisdom that I’ve learned over the years I can pass on to you. So, as David Letterman has done so brilliantly all these years, here’s my “Top Ten” list of things every parents should know.
- Don’t Overschedule
Most children these days are committed to too many extracurricular activities – sometimes more than one in a single day. It is wonderful to be involved in one or two after school activities a week but spending every afternoon racing to different classes and sports can be too stressful-for you, the parent AND for your child. In my experience, over scheduled children get overwhelmed and unhappy, but they don’t always know how to express it, particularly if all the other kids seem to be doing the same thing.
It’s Important to remember that doing nothing is not a waster of time. Children of all ages need time to just “chill” It’s the time they get to recharge their batteries and process all that has gone on in their day. Children can explore the world at their own pace, discover what makes them happy, hobbies that might interest them, and learn how to sensibly manage their own time.
- Sleep and Proper Diet Do Matter
Never underestimate the importance of a well-balanced diet and a good night’s sleep. Healthy habits like proper nutrition and plenty of rest give your child the physical and mental strength he or she needs to grow and develop to their full potential.
We’ve all had to deal with a picky eater from time to time, but try your best to keep snacks healthy and introduce a variety of fruits and vegetables at every meal. Avoiding sugary fruit juices, processed foods and high fat treats will go a long way to helping children develop a healthy approach to eating for the rest of their lives. But be careful not to go overboard with it. Many nutritionists recommend the 80-20 rule; eat healthfully 80 percent of time and eat other foods you enjoy the remaining 20 percent of the time.
When it comes to sleep, every parent knows how difficult it is to function without enough. The same holds true for your child. Sleep needs vary according to a child’s age. As a rule of thumb, infants need between 14-15 hours of sleep, while toddlers and preschoolers need 12-14 hours and kids between the ages of 5-10 years generally need to sleep at least 10-11 hours. Teens, despite sports and homework demands, need to be sure to get at least 8 ½- 9 ½ hours of sleep to perform at their peak.
- Listen to Your Gut
Parents are the best at knowing if something is wrong with their own child. Your instinct is usually spot on. If you know your child is not quite acting like him or herself, try to get to the bottom of it. Children-even teens-cannot always articulate what is wrong, so it’s important for you to pay attention to the cues that something may be amiss. As a doctor, I always respect when a parent says “something just does not seem right” and it helps me to evaluate their child.
- Wash Your Hands!
The Key to preventing the spread of many illnesses may be as simple as washing your hands with soap and water. Let your child see how often you wash your hands and even do it with them when they come home from school, a play date or sports practice, for instance. It’s important to get your hands good and sudsy with soap and warm water, and lather the soap all around with attention to fingernails for 20 seconds-about the time it takes you to sing one round of Happy Birthday-before you rinse. Hand sanitizers may help in a pinch- be sure to use it liberally and let it air dry- but best bet is good hand washing, especially before meals and after using the bathroom.
- Remember, Generations of People have been Parents
When parents come home from the hospital with their first child, they are usually a bit frightened by this little human being they have created. I remember feeling that way, but one day it occurred to me that generations of people have been bringing home babies and probably without all the extra conveniences we have today. They seemed to manage just fine and so did their children. There are many books, experts and theories about perfect parenting, but sometimes all they do is make you feel stressed about being a perfect parent. I’ve found that most important key to enjoying parenthood is to relax about doing it right. You are doing just fine.
- Follow Through
When parents tell their child there will be consequences to a certain action, then they need to follow through. This is especially true during the teenage years. If your teen breaks curfew and your rule is an earlier curfew, then stick to it. Don’t be persuaded to change your mind. Children need rules from their parents. It is a sign to them that they are cared for. Even if the child doesn’t acknowledge it, he surely feels it and will appreciate it in time.
- Let your Child Be Who He or She Wants To Be
Embrace your child’s individuality. Don’t try to mold your child into something you have always wanted them to be or what you think the should be to fit in and get ahead. Give them the room to find their own passions. If you are lucky enough to have a child who has a true passion and pursues it in some form, you are giving them the gift of fulfillment for their lifetime.
- Be Nice To Everyone-Your Child is Watching
In the world of bullying that we live in, the best thing we can teach our children is just to be nice to one another. Teach your child to be respectful of his or her classmates and teachers. If we as parents are respectful, polite adults our children will follow. It’s important to let your child know that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
- Enjoy The Journey
Sometimes it seems that parents are in a race for their children to get to the finish line-if they just get on the varsity team, if they just get into the “best” preschool, grade school, college-then they will win. If you do that, their childhood will be over in a flad and you’ll have been too busy to savor each and every new stage of their development. We all need to slow down and enjoy the journey. It’s not a competition.
1.Make “Special” Moments Happen
As I watched my oldest son graduate college this year, I was reminded of how quickly time goes by. I know that the moments with my children I cherish the most are the simple ones we shared- making the lopsided snowman with the pathetically small head-running through the fallen leaves together on a crisp autumn day-picking the first tomato on a homegrown tomato plant (okay, we only had one tomato but i never said I had a green thumb!)-playing hundreds of games of hide and seek (maybe we could have played a few less-only kidding guys)-those are the simple moments that bring the most the joy and ones you’ll never forget. So be sure to make those moments together. You’ll have them forever, long after your child is all grown.
Loretta cody, MD, has been a practicing pediatrician at The Children’s Medical group of greenwich for 26 years.