Three Easy Ways to Put a Spring in Your Kids’ Step

By Marianne Clyde

Every parent wants to be a good parent. Why, oh why don’t kids come with an instruction booklet?!

Mommy Zen: Mindful Parenting, Joyful ParentingSometimes juggling the responsibilities of family, work, finances and life in general can begin to feel overwhelming. Our thinking gets scattered and we go on auto pilot, not really thinking about how each decision, word and action can impact our kids. So here are a few suggestions to help you be mindful about creating a safe, healthy, accepting environment for your children.

Loving Eye Contact

As it is often said, the eyes are the window to the soul. By looking in someone’s eyes with love and acceptance, you convey the belief that they matter; they are important; they have value.

So often in our busy lives, we find ourselves reprimanding, ordering, talking from another room or on the fly without really taking time to connect. Of course sometimes this is unavoidable. Most of the time, however, it only takes a second to connect eye to eye with your child.

Even if you are correcting your child, if you gently insist that he look at you, he will pay closer attention to what you are saying. It is important, though, that what he sees in your eyes is love and acceptance.

Even when you are angry or your child has done something that needs to be corrected, it is important to correct the behavior, not condemn the child.

Children push the envelope. That is their job. They need to know what the boundaries are.

Your job is to keep them safe and help them learn proper boundaries so they can grow up to be a productive member of society. This is not a reason to get angry; you are both just doing your job.

A child should always know that even when he disobeys, he is valued and loved and that is why he is being corrected. It is also important not to use eye contact to convey anger, hatred or disgust. As powerful as eye contact is, this can have devastating effects later, even if it seems to work at the moment.

Teaching siblings to have eye contact with one another also increases the family bond, promoting a sense of belonging and value.

Open family communication

In our “microwave” society where everything is done quickly and efficiently, it’s easy to forget to make time for family communication.

Take care not to “blow off” a child’s comment or opinion because you are in a rush, or you are embarrassed at the inappropriateness of the words. Developing an atmosphere where all comments and opinions are heard and validated takes work.

Remember that validation is not the same a agreeing. It is the recognition that each is entitled to an opinion.

Family dinners are a good time to begin this process. Maybe you can’t all be together all the time; maybe it can’t be dinner, maybe breakfast works better. Either way, it is important to create a time where families can discuss topics in which each member can have an opinion.

Meals are a good place for this. The emphasis in mealtime conversation should not constantly be on food, how much is being eaten, why a child got an F on a test, or how they didn’t do their chores. Stressful conversations at meal time or related to food creates health issues and food issues, which are all too prevalent and increasing among young children in the last few years.

Let mealtime be a fun time for relaxing and enjoying conversation. Maybe someone could read a poem or a short news blurb or a story and each family member can share his thoughts on the subject. It might even be fun to plan family outings this way. All thoughts and opinions are OK; perhaps you could ask the family member to expand on his or her thoughts and explain why they hold that opinion. Just don’t get into the habit of shutting down a comment because it is “unrealistic” or different from yours.

Creating a place where children are heard increases self esteem and helps a child develop critical thinking skills. Home is a great place to encourage this. Sometimes just sitting in the living room making up stories from person to person can create a good laugh and help develop creativity. Try by just starting with an opening line like, “Once upon a time there was a little puppy lost in the woods . . .” then pass it to the next person, who adds a sentence or two, and so on. This fosters creativity and togetherness, as well as a sense of belonging.

Family Outdoor Activities

It’s common knowledge that we need vitamin D. Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D is manufactured in our bodies when we are exposed to the sun. Without adequate doses, we can experience depression, chronic fatigue, weight loss, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis.

Children need appropriate doses of vitamin D to promote normal growth, so it is important to encourage outdoor play, structured or unstructured. Planning outdoor activities with the family is a great way to accomplish several goals at once: promoting family health, family togetherness, and creating a sense of well being and belonging.

There are many free or inexpensive opportunities for outdoor recreation:

  • taking a walk or bike ride
  • hiking on one of the many local trails,
  • climbing one of the many nearby mountains,
  • picnicking at a local park,
  • fishing,
  • rock climbing,
  • tubing,
  • participating as a family at one of the various 5K charity events.

Physical activity and movement reduces stress as well. It is never too early to teach children healthy ways to reduce stress and anxiety, so they can develop a lifelong habit promoting a calmer, healthier lifestyle.

Take Time to Savor the Present Moment With Your Child(ren)

In the whirlwind of the moment, life can seem so overwhelming and sometimes the responsibility can weigh heavily on an over-burdened parent. But time passes quickly and before you know it your children are out of the house and we wish we had done things differently.

Take the time to savor your child’s presence and enjoy the moment. This is a gift that will keep on giving for all of you as your children grow.

Marianne Clyde is a licensed marriage and family therapist, specializing in anxiety, depression, relationship issues and eating disorders. Happily married with a combined family of 8 children and 10 grandchildren, her office is located at 20 Ashby Street in Warrenton, Virginia. For more information, visit: or call 540-347-3797.

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