Teach them how to be, not just how to do—that’s what they really want from us, suggests Kyle Pruett, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry and nursing at the Child Study Center at Yale University and the author of Fatherneed.
“[Parents are like] a vaccine for the infection of an unhealthy world,” says Dr. Pruett. “They have the opportunity to teach children to be nonviolent, to be problem solvers, to handle bullying and being insulted, to make a good decision when they’re handed a bag of marijuana. Right or wrong, children look to men for the code of how the world really works. They’ll ask, ‘Is that fair? What happens if you cheat? Why can’t I wear this belly shirt to the first day of sixth grade?’ These are teachable moments. Try to explain the values behind your answers.”
Here are some other things that can have a huge influence on kids’ emotional development, according to Dr. Pruett. And for great ways to communicate with your kids, here are 40 Words People Over 40 Wouldn’t Understand.
Read good books to them
Some titles that Peter Glassman, owner of New York City’s Books of Wonder, recommends include:
Half Magic by Edward Eager. In this 1954 tale, four kids find a slightly worn-out magic coin that delivers only half a wish–asking for a trip to a desert island lands them in a desert. “It’s the book that turned me on to reading,” Glassman says.
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders. This deliciously twisted allegory shows kids just how much an individual’s actions affect others. A particular delight is Saunders’s heroine, a young lady named Capable, a grrrl-power role model for the preteen set. “It’s as much fun for adults as it is for kids,” says Glassman.
Form an alliance with their mom
“When your wife says your son can’t play Xbox until he cleans his room, you may be tempted to cut him some slack. You need to support your partner’s disciplinary action, Dr. Pruett says, because children need to know there’s a unified front that sets boundaries.
Develop a common passion
“I dreaded the teen years because I knew my son would drift away like all kids do,” says Tony L., the CFO of a lighting firm. “So when he was 12, we both started taking guitar lessons. I figured it was something we could do together, since music bridges the generation gap. He’s 18 now, and it’s still how we connect.”
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