Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on September 18, 2013.
1. Spend at least 30 minutes everyday with your child doing what your child wants to do. Not something ‘fun’ that you have planned, but join them in their own imaginative play. Or ask them what they’d like to do with you. If you like it too, consider yourself lucky! If you don’t like it, consider it an opportunity to learn more about your child. Try asking them questions about it.
2. Have conversations with your child. No matter how old they are, talk to your child. Don’t be afraid to use big words. This is how children learn to communicate, and children who come from homes rich in conversation have better vocabularies and do better in school.
3. Answer their questions as truthfully as you can. Let them see you write down the questions you don’t know the answers to and seek the answers together.
4. Read together. Studies have shown that young children who come from homes where parents have read to them do better in school. Take them to the library and teach them to use it. Let them pick their own books. Don’t worry if a young child wants to read the same book over and over. That’s normal; routines comfort them. Older children who already know how to read may love for an adult to read a book with them and discuss it.
5. Tell them a story that you have made up. Kids love to hear what you were like when you were a child, or maybe there are some other family stories you want to pass on. Made up stories are good too. It shows the child that you can be imaginative, and there’s no sweeter gift to a child than a story that has been created just for him. Children learn who they are and how to navigate the world through stories, and they will never forget the storytellers in their lives.
6. Spend time in nature. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, has stated: “Research suggests that exposure to the natural world – including nearby nature in cities – helps improve human health, well-being, and intellectual capacity in ways that science is only recently beginning to understand.” Children need to spend time outdoors, playing and exploring. Let them get dirty and discover the creepy crawlies! It develops their minds, gives them exercise, and calms their stresses. It will do the same for you!
7. Schedule unstructured free time for your children. Parents can easily fill a child’s calendar with activities and events, but don’t forget to give them free time to play and learn how to entertain themselves.
8. Create an environment at home that brings out the values you want to see in your child. As Lori Pickert wrote, “Parents bemoan the fact that all their kid wants to do is watch TV and play Xbox. Yet the heart of their home is set up to look like a shrine devoted to exactly those two things.” Devote at least part of this space to creative materials, books and tools related to your child’s interests and see what happens.
9. Watch negative language. Instead of saying, “Why can’t you do that?” try “I know you can do it. You just need some more practice.” Instead of “Don’t climb the tree. You’ll fall and break your neck” try “Hold on tightly. Look where you’re putting your foot. Here, let me show you.” Or “I know you’re good at climbing trees, but it makes me nervous. Please come down.”
10. Tell them “I love you” and “I think you’re amazing” at least once a day, but more than once certainly doesn’t hurt.
What would you add to this list?