How to Be a Great Dad: Ages 6 to 12
Raise well-adjusted tweens by following these simple rules.
Between the ages of 6 and 12, your child is in school all day, in an environment you basically have little control over. Teach him to be nonviolent, to be a problem solver, to handle relationships with other kids, and to make good decisions while he still thinks you have all the answers.
Show Him How to Resist Peer Pressure
Think of role-playing as character-building karaoke — perfect for helping teach your child strategies for resisting harmful peer pressure. Make a family night of it: Order pizza, get all the siblings in on the game, and hand out the parts. Then take these steps.
• Let your kid be the bad guy. Have him offer you drugs or an invitation to an underage kegger. Teach him to “know his no’s.” Answer his invitation in four different ways. Aggressively: “No way! Are you nuts?” Passively: “Uh, I dunno. Not really.” Judgmentally: “No, and you shouldn’t either.” Assertively: “No. I don’t want to do that.” Ask your child which would work best. The answer is the assertive response, because it puts an end to the pressure. If your child responds, “I don’t think I could say that,” ask what he could say or do.
• Have him model you. Prop up a full-length mirror. Present the bad habit and have him watch himself say no. Encourage him to stand up straight, make eye contact, say it quickly, and end with a disarmingly positive spin (“No. But I’ll see you at the game, right?”).
• Suggest a follow-up. Teach him to follow “no” with creative alternate activities.
Correct Without Criticizing
If your kid is blowing off her math homework, it might be because she’s lazy. But don’t tell her that. “Criticism can destroy relationships,” says Larry Koenig, Ph.D., author of Smart Discipline: Fast, Lasting Solutions for Your Child’s Self-Esteem and Your Peace of Mind. “When you’re trying to correct a behavior, you need to stick to the facts and keep your emotional judgment in check.” With that in mind, your script might sound something like this: “I notice you haven’t done your homework.Is there a reason? Can you help me think of a way that you can get your homework done? Rather than alienate your child, you’ve shown her that you are paying attention and care.
Engender Respect for Tradition
Teaching your child to respect the possessions you give him can engender trust and help seed family pride. The best tool: a collection of stamps, coins, or baseball cards. Start small, and make it fun. Try to collect the quarters of all 50 states, or cards for the players on your kid’s favorite baseball team . Show him how to store and care for the items in his collection, and explain that they can grow in value over time. Allow him to add more precious items, until you almost feel as if you could trust him with that prized Jackie Robinson autographed card your dad gave you, or that 1899 Liberty Head silver dollar on your bookshelf from your granddad. Almost.
Stay Connected Even When You’re on the Road
Some tasks of fatherhood are tough; this one is easy. Skip the extravagant gifts, which only put you in the impossible position of outdoing it on your next trip. More important is to make a habit of touching base once a day. “You don’t have to say a lot,” says Anthony Wolf, child psychologist and author of Mom, Jason’s Breathing on Me: The Solution to Sibling Rivalry.
They can more easily make a connection when they know a child’s tendencies, traits, fears, likes, and dislikes or how the child is affected by life circumstances, such as having an ill sibling or an elderly grandparent living at home. They will be more patient with “slow” starters; more tolerant with “curious” questioners of the rules; more effective in channeling “energetic” kids into productive activities; better able to convert “stubbornness” into perseverance; and more likely to refrain from unwittingly turning “shy” kids into fearful adults. Inform his teachers of significant life events and academic problem areas you notice.
Teach Him to Avoid a Fight
Role-playing gives your child the tools — and the words — to lower the boiling point of playground bullying. Find a time when you and your kid can act out a few ugly situations. Here’s a checklist.
• Crack a joke. Humor defuses many bullying situations, but you’ll need to work through the lingo gap that exists between you and your kid’s peers. Suggest a few funny comebacks, and let him translate to kid-speak.
• Fine-tune body language. Getting upset fans a bully’s fire, but you can’t simply admonish a tenderhearted preteen to buck up. Show your kid how to deep-breathe; it blunts an emotional response to aggression. If your kid doesn’t crumble at a taunt, it can make a bully rethink an in-your-face strategy.
• Make a statement. Work up a few ways to tell a bully that you don’t want to fight (such as “One of us is going to be suspended — I am not going to fight you”). If nothing else, witnesses can attest to who was the aggressor.
• Dissect conflict. Talk about past times when your child has been taunted. Listen to the stories from the beginning, without interrupting. Then help your child see where these tools could have been applied.
• Build confidence. Get him martial arts lessons. The true power behind martial arts such as karate and kung fu comes not from a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus (however handy) but rather from their philosophies of non aggression. “They teach respect,” says Koenig. “Research shows that, in so doing, martial arts improve a child’s self-esteem and the way he carries himself — two weaknesses a bully homes in on when selecting a target.” In fact, a Florida Atlantic University study of 189 children ages 7 to 13 found that those with high self-confidence were less likely to be picked on than their less confident peers.
Teach Siblings to Work Out Problems on Their Own
You look right down at your 8-year-old who is complaining about how his mean older brother is dangling his robot dog out the window and say, “Wow, that sounds like a problem for the both of you.” And then walk away. You’re not listening to any sides, and you’re not acting as moderator. Unless one of your kids is being dangled out the window, you’re not saying a word, because as soon as you become involved, they’re no longer interested in finding a solution, they’re interested in getting you on their side. If they keep pestering you, tell them if it gets out of hand, you’ll step in and they might not like what you decide. Stick with your vicious neutrality, and they’ll soon learn that pleading their case is fruitless. One disclaimer: This approach will not end the fighting within your home. You’re stuck with that. Stay strong, and you’ll just reduce the stress of being stuck in the middle of the throw-down.
When it comes to an unknown like death, your kids are going to take their cues from you. “Don’t make it this big tragic mystery,” says counselor Naomi Aldon, Ph.D., author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. “Keep it open and honest and benign.” That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grieve, but you might also try holding a celebratory ritual to honor the life of the departed, whether it’s Grandpa or Gregory Goldfish.
Answer His Questions about Sex
Start by asking your son what he already knows, says Justin Richardson, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and coauthor of Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know about Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask). The point of these talks, after all, isn’t to inform kids about the basics of sex-film , television, and commercial, advertising do much of that for you. The point is to fill in the blanks, and that’s where many parents go wrong. “They’re afraid to answer their kid’s questions for fear of provid ing too much information too soon,” says Mark Schuster, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at UCLA and Richardson’s coauthor. “But if you ignore their questions, they’ll learn to get answers elsewhere-from their peers and the Internet-and they might not come back to you with critical questions during their teenage years.” A preteen probably won’t ask too many questions about intercourse. “The big issue for that age is puberty,” says Richardson, adding that you’ll want to explain such issues as erections, ejaculation, wet dreams, and why he’s suddenly sprouting hair all over the place. Your son probably won’t ask about it directly, though, so it’s up to you to raise the topic. It’s also important that you not focus solely on the potential consequences of sex-disease transmission, unexpected pregnancy, and so on. Although these are important to emphasize, it’s equally important to reinforce sex as a positive experience, says Richardson. “Kids are going to hear how good it’s supposed to be from their friends, so if you only explain the negatives, you’ll lose all credibility.”
Teach with an Allowance
The best way to learn about money is to gain experience with the real thing. For most kids, that means an allowance. Instead of simply forking over the Friday cash, turn it into a teaching tool. Set a time and place for the transaction, say, Friday, 6 P.M. sharp, at the kitchen table. An appointment underscores that this isn’t a frivolous matter. Give a specific amount every week, and ask for a weekly accounting of your kids’ finances. How much is in the piggy bank? How much was spent over the past week? Where did the money go?
The point is to teach your children how a firm grasp of personal finances, no matter the scale, can increase purchasing power. Have them set savings goals for down-the-road purchases-a new iPad, a wakeboard-and keep written accounts of how much is saved and how much more is needed. Consider setting aside a weekly percentage for charitable giving — to a church, a soup kitchen, an environmental group, perhaps. Steer the results — you shouldn’t let an empathetic child earmark half the allowance for the local animal shelter — but give them plenty of real decision power over their personal finances.
Don’t Spoil the Child
Dads want the very best for their children, but often they go overboard in their ambition and get it very, very wrong, argues David J. Bredehoft, Ph.D., chairman of the department of social and behavioral sciences at Concordia University, in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Parents who spoil their kids mean well, but they just give too much: too much stuff or too much love or too much freedom,” says the coauthor of How Much Is Enough?, a book about balancing love and discipline. “Spoiling our children doesn’t make them happy; it makes them very unhappy.” Kids who are well rounded and content have parents who are firm but democratic, says Bredehoft.
Overindulged kids don’t learn many of the life skills they need to become fully functioning, happy adults. They tend to have an increased sense of self importance, while at the same time, they have money-management issues, relationship problems, poor conflict resolution skills, trouble taking responsibility for their actions, and problems making decisions. And it’s cyclical: When an overindulged child becomes a parent, he believes that he can’t control his kid’s behavior and that he’s not responsible for it. He feels incompetent as a parent because he lacks the skills to parent effectively.
The biggest problem seems to be overnurturing, which is when parents give their children too much attention and do things for them that the kids should be doing for themselves, says Bredehoft. For instance, parents are not only signing their college-age kids up for classes but also sitting in on interviews their children have with recruiters. The other type of overindulgence is soft structure, which is when parents don’t have rules or don’t enforce rules, such as a curfew, and don’t allow kids to learn skills by doing chores.
Ask yourself four questions: (1) Does what I’m doing interfere with my child’s development? (2) Does it cause a disproportionate amount of family resources (money, time, attention) to be spent on one or more of my kids? (3) Am I doing it to benefit me, the adult, more than my child? (4) Could it potentially harm my child or others, including myself? Any “yes” answer suggests that you may need to make some changes: Put a time limit on TV. Make the child pick up his room instead of doing it for him. Establish rules for how things will be dealt with, rules that have consequences. A balance between structure and discipline is the key to turning out a well-adjusted person who can handle life’s challenges.
Manage Weekend Discipline
“Divorced parents are often too afraid to discipline their kids for fear of damaging their connection with them, says Valerie Maholmes, Ph.D, a program official with the Child Development and Behavior Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “But taking a hands-off approach is a mistake. If your kid never learns appropriate social behavior, that inadequacy can carry over into adulthood.”
The key is to strike a balance, one in which the punishment both diminishes the allure of the offense and reinforces your bond with your kids. If your daughter is an hour late, talk to her about why she’s late and what message her behavior is sending. Then sentence her to an hour of yard work — as your helper, of course. That last part is key. “Misbehaving is often a child’s way of responding to feelings of alienation from a parent, or from the divorce in general,” says Maholmes. “But taking the time to connect with her and establish ground rules will keep the lines of communication open.”