While parenting practices differ across cultures and certainly from one family to the next, there are some actions that parents engage in that researchers, psychologists and child development experts agree are outdated, inadvisable or even downright dangerous. Here are 4 such parenting practices that parents should commit to abandoning right now:
1. Not Prioritizing Sleep. Far too often, parents minimize the importance of sleep. Whether due to a lax attitude about bedtime or because of the demands of overscheduling, nothing should get in the way of a child getting enough rest. Getting by on a few hours of sleep won't "toughen up" a child, nor is it an indicator of resilience. Insufficient sleep has a negative impact on behavior; it also compromises mental function, and is correlated with weight gain over time. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a minimum 8 ½ hours of sleep for teens, and a range of 11-12 hours for younger children between the ages of 5 and 12. In real terms, this means that a 15-year-old who must be awake by 7am should be in bed no later than 10:30pm, while a 10-year-old child needs to be in bed by 8pm to be well-rested enough for a 7am rising.
The fix: Create a schedule with your child, one that takes commute time, “down time”, homework time, chores and extracurricular activities into account. If you see that your child’s current obligations are cutting into her sleep time, you must help her to make a tough choice – eliminating an activity in order to buy back some time for sleep.
2. Eating Most Meals Away From Home. Eating out often is bad for family bonding, bad for getting good nutrition, and bad for maintaining a healthy weight. Restaurant environments, especially fast food establishments, often have distractions that compromise conversations and other relationship-building opportunities. And, if the word “food” is rightly defined as a nutritious substance absorbed to maintain life and growth, some of the items on children's menus at restaurants barely meet that bar. Research tells us that compared to meals prepared at restaurants, meals cooked at home are higher in nutrition, which is good for weight management and health.
The fix: An already-prepared dinner will avert the detour parents often make to casual restaurants or fast food establishments before going home. All you need is a two to four hour block every weekend to prep or fully cook 4 or 5 meals to serve during the week. Make a meal plan, make sure the items you need for each dish are available in your kitchen beforehand, and build cooking and prepping time into your weekend calendar. You can build cooking into your routine on Sundays in between relaxing or watching sports on TV. Be sure to stick to your plan each week, and refrigerate or freeze the meals you cook in advance to keep them fresh.
3. Doing Your Children’s Homework. Unlike other practices that may incite parental guilt, moms and dads who do their children’s academic work are often convinced that they are being supportive parents. They are wrong. When parents commandeer their children’s assignments, they rob them of invaluable academic learning and personal growth opportunities. Also, teachers see the gap between the quality of work a child does in school and the work that the child seems to be able to miraculously produce at home, which makes things awkward for everyone involved. For these reasons and more, it’s time to put parental academic interference to rest. Not only does it send a message to children that their parents lack faith in their ability to achieve, but parents’ academic meddling also promotes children’s laziness, often leading a child to shirk his academic responsibilities.
The fix: Before your child begins a challenging assignment, spend a few minutes with him to clarify understanding, and set the stage for him to tackle the task. Then, leave your child to do his own work. If you add a parent-child check-in at the end, use a questioning technique to activate your child’s thinking about the work he produced, rather than giving him specific directives to revise the work. In cases where the assignment is indeed beyond your child’s capacity to complete, don’t do the work for him. Instead, discuss the situation with your child’s teacher to determine why such a mismatch between the demands of the assignment and your child's skill level exists.
4. Spanking. As popular as it may be (most Americans spank or approve of spanking), the presumed benefits of spanking are just not supported by research. It’s true that spanking can curb bad behavior in the short term, but the detrimental downside of spanking is significant. So much so, that for those of us who study global and domestic data on spanking, we can only come to a singular conclusion – spanking is bad for kids. Of course, children need discipline, but a non-spanking parent need not be a pushover, nor someone who doesn't value discipline or structure. "Anti-spanking" does not equate to "anti-discipline"; it is simply a stance that says that inflicting physical pain on children is an unacceptable behavior modification strategy to employ. Children who are spanked are more likely to commit crimes and more apt to be depressed. They are also more likely to be disconnected from their parents, and are more inclined to normalize violence as a way to address problems.
The fix: Begin with expectations and explain your thinking; make sure your children understand the actions you deem acceptable and those that you consider to be wrong. Then, create a discipline plan that delineates progressive, non-physical consequences for various kinds of misbehavior. However, consequences are not enough; make connecting with your children a priority. This is key to helping them to make good choices, and a strong parent-child connection will lead your children to be more invested in your opinions and to adopt your values. Lastly, consider taking a yoga class or a class in meditation, to increase your self-awareness and self-control when your children’s behaviors disappoint you or make you angry.