Tag Archive for: Parenting

Your Ultimate Guide to Screen Time

These guidelines can set you on a path to better relationships.

Have you paused lately to look around at our technological world? From smart home devices to self-driving cars, it’s a lot to take in. And then, we have to guide our children on how to engage with all this – and talk about screen time. It’s overwhelming to hear all the different voices, from professionals to friends, telling us how our kids should use technology. Our kids are growing up in a world where digital identities are just as real as physical ones. And it’s not like there’s a well-laid out manual for helping your child navigate an ever-changing technological world.

You may be wondering, “What in the world do I do here?” 

We can ask a different question, though. It’s this: “How can my family use technology without allowing technology to use us?”

As you make your plan, consider your personal situation. Based on American Academy of Pediatrics research, these general guidelines can help you navigate technology use in your home. 

Screen time: the good and the bad.

Screen time isn’t wrong in and of itself. It’s all about how you use it. There are many benefits to co-viewing with younger children and using technology to promote learning and conversation.

Too much screen time can be linked to:

  • Obesity
  • Irregular sleep
  • Behavioral problems
  • Lower academic performance
  • Violence

Benefits of screen time:

  • Exposure to new ideas and information
  • Connection to family and friends who are geographically distant
  • Co-viewing and co-playing with your child can promote healthy development
  • Digital tools can promote school readiness or enhance learning

Recommended screen time limits per the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Birth to 18 months: No screens, except for video chats with family and friends.
  • 18 months to 2 years: Limit screen time and view with your child. Introduce high-quality educational programming.
  • 2-5 years: Limit screen time to an hour a day (outside of academics) and watch together, if possible.
  • 6-12 years: Place consistent limits on screen time as determined by the family. Ensure that screen time doesn’t impact your child’s sleep, exercise, or behavior.

Tips for setting screen time guidelines.

Be conscious of your screen usage.

The first tip is to look in the mirror. Kids learn from what they see. You may need screen time limits as much as they do.

Create a Family Media Use Plan.

Creating a plan as a family is powerful. Of course, you, as the parent, have to determine how much screen time your child has. But there is power in allowing them to craft how that looks and what other activities they can be involved in to ensure they exercise their physical and creative skills.

Utilize screen time limits on devices.

Most devices have parental controls for screen time usage. Use all the tools at your disposal.

Balance screen time with quality personal time.

Children need parental or caretaker engagement to develop emotionally and socially. Ensure that you’re balancing their screen time with your presence.

Avoid screens at mealtime.

Meals are a fantastic way to connect as a family. Focus the time on discussing what everyone’s day was like or asking questions to spur conversation.

Avoid screens in the bedroom.

A child’s bedroom is a great place to play and rest. At a young age, avoid allowing them to take screens into their room as much as possible.

Turn off all screens during family outings.

Screens can be distracting when the family is engaging in activities together. Turn off screens for all family members (parents included).

Unplug from screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime.

Our brains need time to decompress and rest. Spend this time reading together to prepare everyone for a restful night.

What this means for you.

Your child is going to use screens. It’s how they connect with the world. Do your best to help guide how they use screen time in a healthy way. Sure, you may bend or break the rules at times. You may need to give in to more screen time ‘cause you need a break or have to get something done. That’s ok. Your child will continue to develop and grow. What they need more than strict tech rules is an involved parent. Make sure they are getting outdoors and playing and creating. If you haven’t navigated screens well up to this point, that’s ok. There’s no better time to start than the present.

Other blogs:

Seven Things Every Child Needs to Thrive

5 Ways to Build Teamwork in Your Family – First Things First

How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexting – First Things First

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

Sources:

Children and too much screen time – Mayo Clinic Health System

Physical Activity Counters Impact of Kids’ Screen Time

5 ways screen time can benefit children and families – Child Trends

Physical Activity Counters Impact of Kids’ Screen Time

Guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep

Media and Young Minds | Pediatrics

Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents | Pediatrics

Hey, Mom or Dad! If you’re like me, managing screen time for your kids can be a struggle. How much should they have? What impact is that tiny screen having on their development? What about when they’re on screens at school? I get it. The questions about screen time limits can be overwhelming.

There are countless articles addressing screen time for kids. 

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has several age-specific recommendations in Media and Young Minds. To name a few, they recommend no media for children 2 and younger and only one hour per day for children ages 2 to 5. Well, I’ll be the first parent to raise my hand and admit I dropped the ball there. 

Maybe you’re right there with me. If so, don’t feel bad. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting over the past nine years, it’s that we need to give ourselves (and our kids) a lot of grace. We didn’t get a parenting handbook the day they were born, and they didn’t get a child handbook, either. We’re all learning as we go. 

Now back to those pesky screens. They’re everywhere, and they’re part of everyday life. So, we need a plan to use them (and not let them use us).

Limiting screen time is very important for your child’s development, but limiting your own is just as important. 

Oh no, he didn’t just say that! 

Yes. Yes, I did!

You want to be a good parent. You know that the best way your child learns is through example. Your kids learned to walk and eat by watching you do it. Whatever trait they’ve learned, they learned from someone. Technology usage is no different. 

And this isn’t just about teaching your kid how to use technology effectively. It’s about you using it effectively and managing your screen time.

Setting downtime from screens has many benefits

Here are just a few:

  1. It improves your physical health.
  2. Frees up time to play.
  3. Allows you to make better social connections.
  4. Boosts your mood.

Those benefits are for you, not just your kids.

I know I’m asking a lot. Don’t worry, I’m looking in the mirror challenging myself here, too. I need to set better screen boundaries for myself. 

So, where do we start? 

Here are a few ways you can help set limits for the entire family.

1. Create tech-free zones in the house.

Talk to your family and create some tech-free areas or times at home. The dinner table is an excellent place to start. Make a rule that while you eat dinner, no phones or TV. But what are you going to do? I’m so glad you asked. Take this time to ask questions. Check in on each other’s days. Grab a list of random questions and work through those.

2. Establish tech-free times. 

Maybe you can have a weekly game or movie night. A movie involves a screen, but you can put all other devices on airplane mode or away while the movie is on. Implement those movie theater rules. Set aside times for you and your partner to be tech-free after the kids go to bed. Be intentional about your time together.

3. Turn off notifications.

Turning off my notifications was one of the best things I ever did with my phone. The only notifications I get are messages and the weather. When your notifications are off, you choose when you use the technology. You don’t let the little ding dictate your usage. Researchers have even proven the little notification ding gives us a shot of dopamine.

4. Track screen time.

This one is for everyone. Most phones or devices have screen time or screen health settings. Track the usage for the family. Set sleep times for all devices and limit screen exposure before bed so it doesn’t interfere with sleep quality. Monitor what you use your device for and when. 

Modeling healthy technology use for your kids will help them in so many ways. Remember, not all screen time is bad, and there are plenty of creative ways to use technology as a family. Just being intentional about your usage and setting some limits can create positive change now and in the future. 

Other helpful blogs:

5 Ways to Build Teamwork in Your Family – First Things First

When (and How) Should I Give My Child A Cell Phone? – First Things First

How to Create Social Media Rules in Your Marriage – First Things First

Sources:

https://ifstudies.org/blog/is-our-addiction-to-pleasure-destroying-us

https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/featured-topic/5-ways-slimming-screen-time-is-good-for-your-health

https://www.verywellfamily.com/cut-kids-screen-time-for-health-621154

https://www.verywellfamily.com/kids-and-technology-when-to-limit-it-and-how-621145

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/13/why-you-should-be-reducing-screen-time-and-3-simple-tips-to-do-it.html

https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/138/5/e20162591/60503/Media-and-Young-Minds

What to Do When You Feel Compassion Fatigue

Here are some ways to take the proper steps to care for yourself as you care for others.

Have you ever felt like you’ve cared so much you just can’t anymore? Like you’re exhausted from taking care of others? Even if you’ve never heard of compassion fatigue, you may be familiar with what it is. Maybe more familiar than you’d like.

What is compassion fatigue?

Psychologist Charles Figley says it’s “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress.”

In essence, it’s feeling like you have no more empathy to give.

Compassion fatigue is most often associated with health care workers, first responders, law enforcement, therapists and at-home caregivers. But we’re all at risk of feeling this way.

Let’s face it: Life can be downright draining. 

Caring for sick or aging loved ones may be wearing you out. Perhaps you’re tired of giving grace to your spouse. Maybe you don’t feel like you have anything left to give your kids. The non-stop flow of information about the suffering around the world can overwhelm you. All these things (and more) can contribute to a feeling of emotional exhaustion.

The root of compassion fatigue is in caring for others.

It would be easy to confuse compassion fatigue with burnout, but they’re a bit different. According to the American Institute of Stress, burnout is marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with cumulative stress at work. [Read https://firstthings.org/7-ways-to-prevent-burnout/.]

Compassion fatigue occurs because of the emotional strain of supporting those who are suffering from something traumatic. It is rooted in caring for others. It’s not just a workplace thing, but it can co-exist with burnout, especially for those in service professions.

Look for these symptoms.

Some symptoms of compassion fatigue are:

  • Physical and psychological exhaustion
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or powerless
  • A decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
  • A change in your worldview or spirituality
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • A dramatic withdrawal from social connections

Since compassion fatigue affects your mental and physical health, it also impacts the quality of your relationships with your partner, children, friends, and co-workers.

Remember, caring for yourself properly can help you care effectively for others. So, if (or when) you find that you’ve run out of empathy to give, understanding how to combat those feelings can help you move forward. 

Fighting Compassion Fatigue

Psychiatrist Yazhini Srivathsal, M.D., offers a few ways to combat compassion fatigue:

  • Follow general self-care guidelines – get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and nurture social relationships.
  • Practice gratitude and being engaged in the present moment.
  • Avoid information overload. If too much negative information stresses you out, take steps to decrease how much you consume.
  • Engage in activities that rejuvenate you.
  • Understand that pain and suffering are normal, and you have no control over them.
  • Focus on what you can control, like your thoughts and feelings. You may not be able to control what happens around you or to you, but you can control how you react.
  • If needed, seek professional help.

Helping others is an important component of healthy relationships. Your partner, your children, and your loved ones depend on you, and that can be overwhelming. When you feel compassion fatigue begins to set in, take the proper steps to care for yourself. If you see these signs in your loved ones, stepping in and offering to walk alongside them can alleviate some of their load.

Other helpful blogs:

What to Do When Everything Feels Hopeless – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated as a Parent – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges – First Things First

5 Benefits of Being Thankful – First Things First

Sources:

Compassion Fatigue – The American Institute of Stress

Are You Suffering from Compassion Fatigue? | Psychology Today

Compassion Fatigue: Symptoms To Look For

Are you experiencing compassion fatigue?

Compassion Fatigue: Watch for These Warning Signs | Banner

How to Help Your Teen Deal With a Breakup

Here are some do's and don'ts to keep in mind.

One of the most challenging things for a parent to handle is when their child experiences pain. Whether it’s a scraped knee from learning to ride a bike or a bump on the chin from running around, you hurt when your child hurts. Sadly, you can’t always protect them as they grow up. For example, there’s heartbreak after a relationship has ended. How do you help your teen with the pain of a breakup when all you want to do is stop them from hurting? 

It can be tricky, but these do’s and don’ts can guide you as you try to help your teen deal with a breakup.

Do:

Recognize that breaking up is a process.

Today’s breakup looks different from the old-school breakup, which may have included burning everything tied to the ex. These days, it takes time for the relationship to end.

Empathize with what your teen is feeling.

Say something like, I would imagine this is hard. Or ask, What can I do to help? This lets your teen know that you care and are there for them when they need it.

Try to be a good listener.

Now’s the time to practice your listening skills. Be open to what your teen says. Take advantage of the little moments. When you ask with care and gentleness, they become more receptive and less defensive.

Expect emotions. 

It may sound cliché, but breaking up is hard to do. Your teen may experience various emotions, ranging from anger, disappointment, embarrassment, loneliness, or sadness. Support them as they feel what they feel.

Understand that breakups cause ripple effects in different areas of their lives.

So much of your teen’s life is interconnected, so being aware of how the breakup affects the different parts is huge. School is a prime example. Are they in the same clubs or classes with their ex? Will friends choose sides? And let’s not forget what happens on IG or Snapchat. 

Help your teen process what they learned about themselves from the relationship and the breakup.

The process of dating teaches teens things like:

  • what they like
  • what they don’t like,
  • who is a good match for them and who isn’t 

Your teen also learns what was good about the relationship, what they discovered about themselves from the relationship, and what they would do differently going forward.

Share with your teen that breakups are a natural part of dating relationships.

As your teen continues to date, there will probably be more breakups when at least one party isn’t enjoying the relationship anymore. And since most people don’t marry the person they date as teenagers, lead your child to learn more about themselves and how they will date differently.

Encourage them to get back to their “normal” routine.

After the initial shock of the breakup, encourage your teen to get back into the swing of things. If you loosen the rules about chores or allow them to take time off from their part-time job, they may need some motivation to get back on track. 

Watch for signs that they aren’t bouncing back. Seek professional help when necessary.

Experiencing grief and sadness after a breakup is normal, but be aware if you notice prolonged changes to their regular eating or sleeping patterns. Do they complain of stomach aches or headaches? Avoiding school? Yes, teens have wonky sleeping and eating habits, so it can be hard to tell. This is recognizing changes in your child’s patterns.

Don’t:

Try to fix it.

Accept that you can’t fix this. Support your teen as they go through it. Calling their ex’s parents only complicates things. 

Make it about you.

When talking with your teen, keep the focus on them. Yes, you have personal experiences, but share the lessons you learned without overidentifying. Encourage them to become the best version of themselves, not a carbon copy of you.

Allow them to vent exclusively via technology. (Facebook, IG, Snapchat, etc.)

The internet isn’t the place to air feelings or grievances about the ex, relationship, and breakup. Once it’s out there, everyone can see it – forever.

Minimize the relationship. 

Most teen relationships develop out of parents’ view, either in school or via technological means (e.g., text, FaceTime, messaging, etc.). The relationship may not seem genuine or a big deal to you. However, it’s front and center in your teen’s life.

Don’t bad mouth the ex – even if it’s true.

Saying negative things to cheer up your teen isn’t helpful. (Things like, They weren’t good enough for you, or I didn’t like them anyway.) Teens often get back together. Try to show support without tearing others down.

No matter how much you want to keep your children from experiencing pain, it’s inevitable. Guiding them toward more self-awareness and resilience through the breakup process can help them grow and remember the purpose of healthy dating. Then, you can frame the breakup as a success, not a failure. Dating is about finding a good match. At this time, it wasn’t a good one for them. Dating worked. They figured it out.

Other blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First

8 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Dating Relationships – First Things First

Dating Violence in the Digital Age – First Things First

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

10 Ways to Connect With Your Kids This Holiday Season

Make your time during the holidays together worthwhile!

Staying connected as a family can be challenging during the holidays, especially after you factor in parties, school programs, family celebrations, and the everyday busyness of life. But don’t worry, connecting with your kids doesn’t have to be complicated! 

Here are 10 ways to connect with your kids this holiday season:

1. Play games.

A lot is going on right now, but playing games with your kids is a great way to connect. Mom or Dad, let’s be honest: We can sometimes see this as an inconvenience. Most games are pretty quick, though, and your kids will appreciate the time you spend together. So break out the cards or board games, and let them win a little.

2. Include them in the holiday prep.

If your family is like mine, you’ve probably been going in 10 different directions. That’s a lot for kids to take in. And they want to be helpful. Let them help with baking and wrapping presents. If you’re hosting a party, they can help get the house and food ready.

3. What’s their favorite thing to do during the holidays? 

There’s so much to do and so much fun to be had! Find out what your child loves to do and do it as a family. My oldest always wants to ice skate, so we’ll carve out some time after New Year’s to hit up an ice rink. Our youngest loves Christmas lights, so we take every opportunity to enjoy the lights. 

4. Sing Christmas songs together. 

Nothing says holidays like music. Let everyone pick out some songs and sing them together. Let the kids take the lead. Create a playlist for car rides. Maybe you can even go Christmas caroling!

5. Watch holiday movies together.

Grab some popcorn, ditch the electronics and watch some holiday classics. Maybe let each member of the family choose a favorite. A fun idea is to let everyone write movie titles on a slip of paper and drop them in a jar. Then you can randomly select and enjoy them together (without fighting over who goes first).

6. Try hot beverages together and teach them how to make their favorite.

You know what’s good on a cold day? A hot drink! Introduce your kids to a few different hot drinks and make them together. My 9-year-old loves to make hot chocolate with mini marshmallows and a candy cane. Get creative and help them discover what they like.

7. Set aside time to check in on them. 

The holidays are hectic for everyone. Rushing from work parties to social parties to school events can be exhausting. Your kids feel it, too. Set aside some time to talk and see how they’re doing. Listening can help you connect deeply with your kids.

8. Make something special for others.

Our family has two holiday traditions that we look forward to every year. We make peppermint bark for our neighbors. The kids have transitioned from just delivering it to helping make it. They love to give. We also bake cookies for first responders on Christmas. They love to deliver these to the local fire or police department. Ask your kids what you can do as a family to give back to those around you.

9. Serve the community.

The holidays are a terrific time to give back. Contact local organizations to see if you can volunteer as a family. Try your local food bank, homeless shelter, or the Salvation Army if you’re unsure where to start. Or try one of our personal favorites: Clean up a local park or neighborhood. 

10. Take a family day.

Most kids get a two-week break for the holidays. You may have travel plans and family gatherings that take up lots of that time. But take a day for just your family. Make it an adventure and let the kids help plan it. 

I’ve found that the greatest gift I can give my kids is my time. We love creating memories together. They may not remember the presents you gave them, but they will cherish your presence and attention. 

Other blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

5 Ways to Build Teamwork in Your Family

8 Tips For Setting Technology Boundaries In Your Family

Does Having Kids Make You Happier?

These tips can help you have more joy in your parenting.

Your social media feed is full of birth announcements, and you and your spouse are thinking it might be time to have kids of your own. Then the questions start popping up: How will children impact our lives? What do we have to give up? What will having kids do to our marriage? Will kids make us happier? Or will we just be tired and stressed?

So, you do what many of us do… ask Google. You hit enter, and the results are endless. Where do you begin?

Countless people have tackled this question. 

A large body of research shows that parents are indeed less happy and experience more depression and anxiety. 

And often, they have less fulfilling marriages than non-parents. 

One study involving 22 countries found that the emotional and financial costs of having children outweigh the emotional rewards. Ask any parent, and they’ll acknowledge that having kids is expensive and exhausting. Parents never have enough time, lose sleep often, struggle to find quality child care, and constantly battle work-family balance.

That’s heavy, but it’s the reality of parenting. You may be thinking, “Well, that settles it. No kids!” 

Hang with me for the next few minutes, though. I’d like to offer some hope.

Another study found that overall, people who have kids report being happier and more satisfied, and thinking more about meaning in life than non-parents do. 

Parents also reported more positive emotional experiences and meaning from moment to moment. 

Researchers at Santa Clara University discovered that parents become happier over time than non-parents. Parents experience increased social connection and well-being over time. Having kids may keep parents from experiencing disconnectedness over time. 

So the research is mixed on whether kids make us happier. Some say you’ll be stressed and anxious, and the quality of your marriage will decline. Others say you’ll experience more long-term happiness. 

But is happiness the goal of parenting? 

We’re wired from a young age to do what makes us happy. Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. If happiness is the only measure of fulfillment, parenting may not be the answer. But there’s so much more to life than happiness. 

If we focus on joy and finding meaning, life will be more fulfilling. Happiness is a response to what we receive. Joy and meaningfulness come from what we receive and making positive contributions to others.

Here are a few ways you can find joy as a parent:

Be intentional.

Life is busy. Being a parent takes intentionality. Commit to set aside the electronics and be present from day one. 

Play.

Make time to play. Sure, parenting is stressful, but you can still have fun. Being a parent brings out your inner child.

Know what really matters.

As you think about having kids, you may ask yourself, “How can I do this?” The list of things parents have to worry about seems endless. But according to author and psychotherapist Tina Bryson, the most important thing a parent can do is be there for their child. Just show up, physically and emotionally. 

Find joy in the moment.

Parenting is full of tough times, but don’t let the hard stuff consume you. Focus on the joyful moments. Address the challenges and then let them go.

Take time to recharge and refocus.

Don’t let your kids be all-consuming in your life. If you’ve flown before, you know the safety drill: Put your mask on before trying to put someone else’s mask on. The same goes for parenting. How well can you care for your kids if you don’t take care of yourself?

Build a community.

Your parents or grandparents probably said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it’s true. Build a community of family and friends around you. Find a support network that you can lean on when you need help. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Healthy people ask for what they need, so there’s no shame in asking.

Maybe parenting doesn’t make us happier in the short term. It’s a lifelong journey, and there will be peaks and valleys. Choose to focus on the joy of parenthood. After all, you have the privilege of helping your child learn and grow into adulthood.

Sources:

Herbst, C.M., & Ifcher, J. (2016). The Increasing Happiness of US Parents. Review of Economics of the Household, 14(3), 529-551. 

Baumeister, R., Vohs, K., Aaker, J., & Garbinsky, E. (2013). Some Key Differences Between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8:6, 505-516. 

Nelson, S., Kushlev, K., English, T., Dunn, E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2013). In Defense of Parenthood: Children are Associated with More Joy than Misery. Psychological Science, 24:1, 3-10. 

Glass, J., Andersson, M., Simon, R. (2016). Parenthood and Happiness: Effects of Work-Family Reconciliation Policies in 22 OECD Countries. American Journal of Sociology, 122:3, 866-929. 

Other resources:

10 Questions Couples Should Ask Each Other Before Having a Baby

PARENTING COURSE | Oh, Baby!

Relationships are Key to Happiness

5 Steps I Took to Be a Better Dad

Becoming a stronger father is possible.

Have you ever wanted to just do better as a dad? I mean mentally, physically, and emotionally? I don’t know your situation, but wanting to do better helped me start to become better. 

Some people think that a father is behind on child support because he doesn’t care or doesn’t want to pay. That may be the case for some people, but it was different for me. 

In my case, I cared very much. I wanted to pay. But I had a tough time. 

I wasn’t balanced, and sometimes I had to choose between paying a bill or paying my child support. I wanted my kids to have nice clothes or shoes when they spent time with me, so I chose to put the payment off. 

Now I see that wasn’t a great idea. But I thought money and buying things was the way to their heart, because one thing I could say about my dad is that he always made sure I had decent clothes and shoes. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I thought education and having the right credentials, and finding jobs to make money would make me more successful in the eyes of my kids and family. 

But I realized my kids needed more than that. They needed me.

Here are some steps I took to be a better dad:

1. I had to own some things. 

To become a better dad, I had to understand and start with apologizing for what I needed to apologize for. I had to earn trust again, but getting trust back wasn’t easy. My kids needed to know that I would be there and that I was truly sorry for not supporting them or answering phone calls. Or not having the money to give them when they needed just a little extra to have certain things. But most of all, I wanted them to know I was just sorry for not spending time with them. 

2. I had to start listening to the people in my life.   

I listened to my kids and found out that they didn’t just want me for my money; they wanted me to spend more time with them. Also, I had to learn to control my feelings because others in my life have feelings, and they need to be heard. Fathers, listen: Sometimes your kids just want to be around you or be in the same household with you. Most men I know don’t like being told what to do or how to do it. But if you listen, you’ll learn A LOT. I know I did.

3. I had to accept that everything might not go the way I wanted it to go.

Being in and out of your kid’s life won’t make the kids call you “Dad.” So you have to accept it, and you can’t give up; you have to be willing to fight to become what they need. Show them that you will never give up. I’ll always try to become a better dad, no matter what.

4. I had to stay committed to my goals. 

I focused on staying out of jail by keeping a steady job and paying my child support. It was not easy. Still, I was determined to focus and buckle down because my kids needed the better version of me. I was and still am willing to become a strong, loving father.

5. I had to realize that dads make a difference.

For me, First Things First’s Dads Making a Difference class was very important. It taught me so much about life. I thought I was alone (as many men believe they’re alone in certain situations surrounding fatherhood). I had no idea that help was available to help me navigate the roadblocks and teach me to be a better man/father.

Everyone has their own idea for what it takes to become a better dad. It has been a journey that I am willing to take despite criticism and harsh words. I’m determined to become a better father, and these steps are just the beginning. 

Other blogs:

How Kids Benefit from Involved Fathers

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

DOWNLOAD: 10 Things All Dads Need To Do To Help Their Child Be Successful

As a proud mom of three sons, I’ve made my home more like a locker room than a designer showcase. I made sure there were couches and carpeting to decrease the likelihood of injuries. Despite all of the rough-housing and teasing, I just expected that they would be kind to each other. I never even thought they would need to “learn” to be kind. Instead, I felt they would catch it by watching me and automatically learn to be kind people. That’s not the case. Kindness is a skill that we must teach our kids, but it will last a lifetime.

Here are seven ways to teach your child kindness:

1. Model kind behavior.

I can’t overstate the fact that YOUR KIDS ARE WATCHING YOU. They are watching and listening to how you talk about your boss after a long day of work. Are you kind even when you are frustrated? It’s hard to tell your child to be friendly and thoughtful while your behavior toward others isn’t nice and kind. 

2. Give them opportunities to be kind.

Kindness begets kindness. Say something like this to your child: Hey, you know it’s trash day. I see that Mr. Smith’s can is still at the curb. Wouldn’t it be kind if we rolled it up for him? 

This may be a small gesture for an elderly neighbor, but you are sowing seeds of kindness in your child’s heart. 

3. Develop your child’s emotional vocabulary.

Just like we teach our children words for body parts, animals, and colors, they need words for emotions so they can express themselves kindly. Include a variety of emotions: sad, happy, angry, hurt, or embarrassed, etc. We also have to teach our children to watch body language and facial expressions. Play Emotions Charades with your child so they can learn different emotions and kind ways to respond or show how they feel.



4. Make kindness a habit.

Research has shown that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Create a list with your child of small things that you can do to be kind. Start the conversation with: I know this month we are trying to be kind to others. What is something that you can do daily? Examples include:

  • Smiling when you see someone.
  • Complimenting someone.
  • Saying please and thank you.
  • Creating a Family Kindness month. where your family performs acts of kindness.
  • Organizing a Kindness Club in your neighborhood.

5. Remember that kindness begins at home.

Home is the first place for our kids to learn about kindness. Your children must learn how to interact with parents, siblings, extended family, and family pets. Having specific expectations like not hitting and not yelling at others are ways to start the process. 

6. Recognize when your child is being kind.

Try to “catch” your child in the act of being kind. Maybe they fed the pet when it wasn’t their turn. Perhaps they picked up something they didn’t drop. Acknowledge their kindness by saying, Thank you so much. I appreciate that you ______________.

7. Encourage kindness – even when it’s hard.

It’s easy to be kind to someone you know and like. But how do you encourage your child to be kind if they don’t like someone? Or if that someone has been unkind to them? That’s tough. But you get to set the standard for kindness in any situation. 

You may have to have a conversation with your child to acknowledge that it may not seem fair or right. It might also be helpful to explore what that unkind child may be feeling or experiencing in their lives which may cause them to act unkindly. Lastly, praise your child for trying. 

One of my proudest moments as a parent came when my youngest son was in the 4th grade. His teacher texted me to say that he chose to sit with a new student at lunch instead of his regular friends. She said this student was having some trouble fitting in and the class knew and recognized it. However, the new student immediately became a part of the group through that one act of kindness. 

When we teach our children to be kind, we teach them to see the best in others. It also brings out the best in them.