5 Pieces of Advice Parents Should Give Their Child to Lead a Better Life
“Wait one hour after eating before swimming...wear a hat in the cold because you lose most of your body heat through your head...don't cross your eyes or they'll freeze that way.” If you had parents like mine who said these words to you as a kid, you probably lost some faith in them when you discovered their warnings were just old wives' tales. But, along with the bad advice our moms and dads gave us, a lot of what they said proved to be golden and was even backed up by scientific research. Here are 5 things our parents said that were perfectly on point:
1. Write Thank You Notes.
After every Christmas and birthday without fail, my mother put out thank you notes so my siblings and I could express appreciation for the gifts we received. We'd grumble about it but dutifully wrote a few sentences. Our mom reminded us how our relatives (most of them senior citizens) went to a lot of trouble to choose a present, wrap it, and mail it to us. She assured us that a thank you note was not only proper etiquette, but it meant a lot to the recipients.
It turns out parents such as my mother were absolutely correct and for even more reasons than they realized. Numerous studies now show that a spirit of appreciation greatly increases a person's well-being. While we were reluctantly writing those notes, we were actually doing something positive for ourselves--cultivating an attitude of gratitude. According to Dr. Robert Emmons, a leading researcher of gratitude, being thankful increases happiness. People who notice the nice things others do for them are less likely to experience negative emotions such as envy, resentment, and frustration. They're more likely to sleep better, exercise more, possess higher self-esteem, and have more empathy. So even though kids may grumble, moms and dads who insist they write thank you notes are definitely on the right track.
2. Get Outside and Play.
When I was a kid forty years ago (before the onslaught of 24-hour news with its plethora of stories about kidnappings and pedophilia), parents ordered their kids outside to play. When my siblings and I came home from school, we ate a quick snack and then Mom sent us to play in our backyard or at the empty lot on the corner until dinner. Today, when driving through a neighborhood or by a park, one can't help but notice the absence of youngsters. They're all tucked away, safe and sound, at home with their computers, cell phones, and television sets. It's not surprising that, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, almost half of preschool children don't venture outside to play each day.
But, once again, our parents knew going outdoors was good for us even if they weren't familiar with the research that supports it. Numerous studies show kids who play outside are smarter, happier, and more attentive. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) champions unstructured play time for kids, especially when it happens outdoors. Their research shows it reduces stress, promotes creativity, enhances social skills, and improves gross motor development. Spending time in nature is especially valuable today as more teenagers and even young children are struggling with depression and anxiety brought on by too much screen time, cyberbullying, and a lack of fresh air, sunshine, and physical activity.
3. Eat Dinner Together as a Family.
Dinner time was once sacrosanct in America as everyone in the family stopped what they were doing and gathered together. Over the years, however, this evening ritual gradually eroded as other things took priority such as driving kids from one extracurricular activity to another and allowing screens to dominate home life. Now, even when families go out to eat at restaurants, you see parents and kids alike checking their messages and texting friends rather than engaging with one another.
Our parents, though, had it right when they insisted everyone come to the dinner table and talk about the day's events. While they saw it as a time to eat a healthy meal, researchers today have found it has more positive effects than just nutrition. According to a study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), youngsters who regularly eat dinner with their parents are far less likely to use drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. When they have an opportunity to discuss the day's events with their moms and dads, they feel loved, supported, and are more likely to treat their bodies and minds with respect. Girls who eat dinner with their families have a better body image and are less likely to suffer from eating disorders.
Gathering together has the added benefit of slowing down everyone's eating as family members take turns talking about their day. According to scientists, it takes about 20 minutes from the time we start eating for our brains to tell us we're full. Sharing a leisurely meal gives us the time we need to feel satisfied, keeping us from overeating and becoming obese.
4. Say Your Prayers.
Growing up in a deeply religious home, my mother's final words as we headed off to bed were the same each night: “Be sure to brush your teeth and say your prayers!” While I'd always silently recite an Our Father and a Hail Mary, I did it more out of obedience and fear than the belief it would do any good. But, sure enough, mom was right as recent studies show praying, meditating, and having faith in a Higher Power have the potential to improve our mental and physical health.
Much of the research into how spirituality impacts our well-being is relatively new, but Dr. Herbert Benson has studied the subject for over 30 years. He looked at meditation and how it changed the bodies and brains of those who practiced it, leading to more tranquility and less stress. According to Benson, all forms of prayer whether done by Buddhists, Protestants, Catholics, or Jews can promote relaxation and healing. In his provocative book, Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief, he examines how humans are "wired for faith" and how connection to a Higher Power makes us stronger.
Other studies support Benson's findings. Religious people tend to live healthier lives than those with no such affiliation. They're less likely to smoke, use alcohol, and drive while intoxicated. People who pray are less likely to get depressed and become sick less often. So, when parents like mine reminded us to say grace before meals and recite our nightly prayers, they were helping us establish a daily spiritual practice that enriched our lives.
As I grew older, I missed the spirituality I knew as a kid. But, it felt like that ship had already sailed, and I couldn't recapture my youthful faith and innocence. With the help of some very smart and spiritual people such as Dr. Benson, though, I was able to reclaim my belief in a Higher Power. He helped me understand how we humans are wired to believe in something more than the physical world that surrounds us and create a deeper and richer experience for ourselves. This book made me see how much happier and healthier I am when I embrace spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, and time in nature.
When I was a kid, coloring was a big part of my life and that of my siblings and friends. My mom kept a big basket of crayons on the table in our family room along with coloring books, dot-to-dots, and sheets of plain white paper. While watching a favorite TV program, I'd often stretch out on the floor and color as a way to relax and decompress. When my mom took us to restaurants and medical appointments, she'd always bring along some crayons and paper to keep us occupied and relaxed.
While coloring fell out of favorite for many years with parents thinking it had little value, today it's back in a big way with lots of research that supports it. There are even adult coloring books so grownups can enjoy its calming benefits. For preschool children, coloring helps them strengthen their hand muscles and pincer grasp so when they start kindergarten they'll be able to write their names, tie their shoes, string beads, and cut with scissors. Coloring also improves hand-eye coordination, which is necessary for handwriting, reading, building with blocks, catching, and throwing. As young children today spend far too many hours watching screens, coloring is more valuable than ever to promote fine motor skills. Older kids and teenagers find it soothing and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing a coloring project.
© 2018 McKenna Meyers