1. Troubleshoot Assignments
At work, you may check your colleague’s report for errors before it’s delivered, but you’re not going to write it for him—so why would you do any different for your son? “Wait until your child either asks for help or until you observe that he’s done something wrong on homework,” says Jessica Borelli, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Pomona College in California. “Stepping in before he realizes he needs help limits him from figuring it out on his own.” Work through the problems together if he’s having a tough time: Focusing on effort rather than outcome will set him up for healthy learning skills in the future, adds Borelli.
2. Support from the Sidelines
We know the ump made a bad call—hell, everyone in the little league bleachers knows it. But while you’re trying to win justice for your slugger son, you’re only heightening his embarrassment. “It’s common for dads to become over-involved in their kid’s sporting events, but when you’re in the stands yelling, the child picks up on the stress and it sours his taste for continuing to play,” says Hoover-Dempsey. Offer comments after the game, but drop them if he doesn’t respond. If he doesn’t care that he isn’t the fastest runner, why should you?
3. Keep Your Kids Active
While calculating your kids’ allotted TV time down to the minute may get them away from the screen, it won’t necessarily get them moving. “It’s important to set the stage for healthy habits early in life, and giving children choices can be really powerful here,” says Borelli. Tell your kids you want them to spend time doing something active, but that they can choose between going for a walk, playing soccer, or going to the playground. “This gives your child a sense of control while still accomplishing the goal of getting him to be active,” she says. Children learn best by observing their parents’ behavior rather than by obeying what parents say, Borelli says. Practice the habits yourself and you’ll save having to repeat requests.
4. Don’t Make Dating Dreadful
You may want nothing more than to remain the only man in your daughter’s life forever, but face it: At some point, she’s going to start dating. The biggest mistake you can make is a blanket disapproval of any boy she brings home. “If you’re too overprotective, your daughter will think you don’t trust her,” says Hoover-Dempsey. You don’t necessarily have to have the talk, but help your daughter understand how to choose someone who is good for her. Knowing you taught her how to distinguish a dirtbag from a genuine guy will make her teenage years a whole lot easier on you.
5. Encourage Their Dreams
We all have a vision for our kids before they’re even born: They’ll be the next LeBron, Lennon, or Einstein. But when it comes to taking up a hobby, make sure it’s actually what your tyke wants to do. “Growing up, your children will develop their own sense of self, and parents need to be respectful of that,” says Hoover-Dempsey. Give them options, but remember they’re ever-evolving: Just because your son begged for a guitar when he was 10 doesn’t mean he’ll want to shred forever. Gauge his interest in lessons. If at 12 he’s dreading going to practice, have a conversation about whether it’s a deeper issue, like someone told him he was lousy at the instrument, or if he simply wants to pursue something else.