GOOD PARENTING MATTERS
"Dinnertime is often the only opportunity for the whole family to be together and feel as a real sense of connection." says William J. Doherty,Ph.D. Without frequent reinforcement, that connection can be lost, and kids start to feel isolated. Make the meal special-turn off the TV,light some candles,and do not start until veryone is present.If your teenager is on the phone and you begin without her/him,you have communicated that she is not important enough to wait for. Likewise,everyone should stick around until the last family member is finished,so that dinner is a family event,rather than a rushed experience. If conflicting schedules make family dinners impossible,get creative.One woman,whose husband consistently works late,packs up a picnic and her three kids and takes the family dinner to him a few nights each week. If there is no way to do dinner,breakfast every Saturday morningat the pancake house is a good alternative.Whatever works your family is fine,as long as it is a ritual they can count on. Reading together promotes a lifelong love of books. And it is crucial during the summer,when kids tend to turn into mental couch potatoes. "Kids generally lose between one and three months of learning during summer vacation," says Harris Cooper, Ph.D. "But parents can easily prevent this." Experts agree that parents should try to read nightly to young children and continue even after children can read on their own for older kids, create your own summer reading program. Put your child on a one-book-a-week schedule.Take her/him to the library and help her choose a book on her favorite subject.Then make sure you read it,too,so you can discuss it together at the end of the week. Free reading programs at public libraries and schools are notoriously underused. Find out what is available in your community.And do not forget to let your child see how much you enjoy reading for pleasure. Watching TV together can actually open the door to talking about difficult but crucial subjects with your kids. "Whether your children are preschoolers or teenagers,find programs you can watch together" says Dr. Milton Chen. When you see something you consider inappropriate, initiate a discussion.

Ask your child, "What did you think about what you saw in that show?". It could lead to an important conversation.

Create a balanced TV diet for your family. Look for shows with nutritious content,and positive messages and role models. It may be all right to have a TV dessert-a program watched for entertainment alone- but it should come after the main course. Listening to your kids communicates, in the most forceful way possible,that you value what they say and you are interested in who they are as a people.New research also shows that the number one way to prevent high risk behavior in teens is to have the kind of relationship where they feel can talk openly with you. Resist the impulse to lecture. If you solve all your kidsí problems for them,they will never learn to think for themselves.Instead,ask your children questions that will encourage them to come up with their own solutions. A great way to ensure communication and build family solidarity is to set up a weekly family meeting time.You can use it with kids as young as two to discuss family rules,plan activities together for the coming week,and discuss long-range family plans,such as where to go to vacation. All kids think they want to be in charge,but deep down they really donít. A child without enough discipline worries, "If I am calling the shots, then who is going to to take care of me?"

There are hundreds of angry,out-of-control kids, from toddlers to teens.But the moment parents take charge with firm,loving limits,things start getting better.

Experts believe that many parents unintentionally are too permissive. Parents need to know it is not only OK to sometimes say no to their kids,it is necessary for their healthy development.

When you give in to whining or a tantrum,you are sending your child a message: "Make a big enough fuss and youíll get what you want." If your child is complaining about setting the table and you respond,he will argue for hours. Instead,try ignoring him.Soon,you may be surprised to hear him grouse, "OK, Iíll do the silverware."Then if you respond positively by simply thanking him,youílll probably be rewarded with "OK,Iíll do the napkins and plates"

It is never too late to learn better ways of disciplining your child,and a parenting education program is a good place to start. If you always paint a picture of the world as a cold and a cruel place,children start to lose their natural optimism about life.Kids need to feel good about the world in order to feel good about their own future in it. Help children understand that while there are some very real dangers,the vast majority of life is not a victimizing experince.Of course,if your child is worried about being pressured into trying drugs or sex,you want him to feel free to express that.Ask him what he thinks he could do to avoid falling into that trap.That way he feels empowered to take action instead of being helpless victim. The mayhem and murders that fill news reports are just a small percentage of everything that happens each day,but your child may not realize that. Whatever you talk with your child,try to be more positive than negative. Let him know you are optimistic about life,and he should be,too.