You want your child to be happy, healthy and ready for success in life. But are you doing the right things?
Our Carilion Children’s experts offer this advice:
“Communication is extremely important for maintaining the physical and emotional well-being of your child,” said Lori Dudley, Ph.D., a Carilion Children's licensed clinical psychologist.
“Parents should always maintain open lines of communication with their children,” she noted. “No question, thought or feeling is ‘off the table’.”
Be open to talking about anything with your children, even uncomfortable subjects.
Dudley recommends that parents spend time daily talking with their kids about their feelings regarding their physical and social well-being.
“Even just a few minutes every day goes a long way and prepares children for the time when they may really need to talk to their parents about something very important,” she said.
Remember that kids learn by watching you.
“Parents need to model appropriate ways to communicate their feelings and how to label those feelings, including the difficult ones such as embarrassment, anger, sadness, vulnerability and frustration,” Dr. Dudley added.
Brooks Michael, a Carilion Children’s adolescent health educator, tries to find individual and uninterrupted communication with each of her four children every day.
“It is easy to get distracted trying to balance work, schedules, sports and life, so I am always working on being a better listener,” she said. “I think it's really important to take time each day to sit with them and give them your undivided attention without your phone in your hand or any other distraction.”
Michael finds this to be true for all ages. “My 14-year-old needs this every bit as much as my 3-year-old,” she said.
Tara Mitchell, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at Carilion’s Pediatric Behavioral Health, believes that building confidence is vital for every child.“Whether it is a school sport or an extracurricular activity outside of school such as a special hobby, every child should have something that they enjoy and feel like they are good at,” she said. “This helps build self-confidence and resiliency.”
Encouraging a child’s interest also goes a long way in letting your child know you believe in them. “Every child needs someone to believe in them!” she added.
William H. Craft, Jr., M.D., a Carilion Children’s pediatrician who has been practicing for over 30 years, encourages parents to be clear about what they expect from their child.
“Children develop healthy behaviors and relationships when parents provide clear and consistent expectations for behavior and stick to them,” he said.
If children understand what you expect, it's easier for them to behave accordingly. Develop simple family rules such as what you expect from them on a daily basis or how they should resolve differences or talk to one another.
And don’t forget to praise your kids when they do what you’ve asked. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.
The average American child spends over seven hours a day in front of a screen and only four to seven minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors.
Screens aren't a waste of time—in fact, they're used to communicate, socialize and learn in addition to playing games—so the American Association of Pediatrics recommends engaging together and modeling healthy screen use rather than limiting or banning them.
Dr. Mitchell is a strong advocate for putting down your own electronics and getting outside and enjoying nature with your kids.
Studies have shown that children who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors.
So don’t expect perfection—but do encourage connection!