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The Five Best Pieces of Advice for Parents to Give Their Kids (Supported by Research)

When becoming a parent, I received a lot of bad, outdated advice. Now, I want to share sound tips for moms and dads that make a huge impact.

Writing thank you notes not only teaches children good manners, but it's been proven to promote gratitude and well-being.

Writing thank you notes not only teaches children good manners, but it's been proven to promote gratitude and well-being.

Advice That Stands the Test of Time

Wait one hour after eating before going for a swim...Wear a hat in the cold because we lose most of our body heat through our heads...Don't cross your eyes or they'll freeze like that. Many of us heard these things from our parents when we were growing up and then found out later as adults how erroneous and even absurd they were. Yet, mixed in with these falsities that our moms and dads propagated, we also heard many truths that have served us well. These golden nuggets of parental advice helped us lead better lives, are supported by scientific research, and will enthusiastically be passed on to our own kids.

Five Pieces of Parental Advice That Are On Point

1. Write thank you notes.

2. Get outside and play.

3. Eat dinner together.

4. Say your prayers.

5. Color.

1. Write Thank You Notes

When many of us were children, our parents had us write thank you notes to our relatives for the presents that they sent us. We’d grumble while doing it, but our moms and dads would remind us that acknowledging gifts, especially in writing, was simply proper etiquette. Unfortunately, as gift-giving folks can attest, far too many youngsters today are not being taught this practice by their parents. This is tragic not only for the thoughtful people who gave the presents and received no appreciation but for the kids themselves. By not expressing their gratitude, they’re missing out on one of the most powerful ways to promote their own well-being and bring joy to their lives.

Numerous studies show that a spirit of appreciation greatly enhances a person's outlook. While kids may reluctantly write thank you notes, they’re actually doing something positive for themselves by cultivating an attitude of gratitude. According to Dr. Robert Emmons, a leading researcher on the matter, being appreciative increases one’s happiness. People who notice the nice things that 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 moan and groan, moms and dads who insist that they write thank you notes are doing a good thing according to both etiquette experts and researchers.

2. Get Outside and Play

It’s an eerie experience driving through a neighborhood where dozens of children live but seeing nobody outside riding a bike, roller-skating, or doodling on the sidewalk with chalk. Because of the onslaught from 24-hour news with its plethora of stories about kidnappings, assaults, and molestations, many parents now want their kids inside where they can keep a watchful eye on them. This practice has been bolstered by the rise in technology that provides hours of indoor entertainment for kids via computers, cell phones, laptops, video games, and big-screen TV's. Tragically, a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine reported that almost half of all preschool children don't venture outside to play each day. Instead, they remain cooped up inside, missing out on the numerous health benefits of being outdoors.

Countless studies show that kids who play outside are smarter, happier, and have longer attention spans. They prove that outdoor time reduces stress, promotes creativity, enhances social skills, and improves gross motor development. Furthermore, research shows that spending time in nature is especially important today as more children and teens struggle with depression and anxiety. These problems are brought on, in large part, by too much screen time, cyber-bullying, and a lack of fresh air, sunshine, and physical activity.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) advocates that kids spend more time outdoors, especially doing unstructured play. These are activities that youngsters choose themselves and involve using their imaginations, creating their own rules, interacting with one another, or exploring on their own. Unstructured play is the antithesis of adult-led activities—sports, scouting, dance classes, and music lessons for example—where coaches and instructors tell kids what to do.

In this must-see video, Dr. Peter Gray explains why unstructured play is essential for the social, emotional, and psychological development of children.

3. Eat Dinner Together

Dinner-time was once sacrosanct as everyone in the family stopped what they were doing and gathered together. Over the decades, though, this evening ritual gradually eroded as other things took priority, such as driving kids to and from their extracurricular activities and allowing screens to dominate everyone’s attention. Today, when families sit at the dinner table, parents and kids are distracted by technology: checking their cell phones for new messages, texting their friends, and watching the latest YouTube videos. Engaging in conversation about the events of the day has become a thing of the past.

Previous generations of moms and dads, though, were correct to insist that everyone in the household come together for dinner. They saw it primarily as a time to eat a healthy meal, but researchers today have found its positive effects go far beyond 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 time to discuss the day's events with their family, they feel loved, supported, and are more likely to treat their bodies and minds with respect. Moreover, girls who eat dinner with their parents possess a better body image and are less likely to suffer from eating disorders.

Gathering together also has the added benefit of slowing down the meal with everyone conversing instead of simply scarfing down food. According to scientists, it takes about 20 minutes from the time we start eating for our brains to tell us that we're full. Having a leisurely dinner gives us the time we need to feel satisfied, preventing us from overeating and becoming obese.

4. Say Your Prayers

Some of us grew up in religious households and the last words we’d hear from our mothers each night before going to bed were, “Brush your teeth and say your prayers!” We did these errands reluctantly but dutifully, not appreciating how valuable they were to us—not only for our dental hygiene but for our overall well-being. Yet, recent studies show that praying, meditating, and having faith in a Higher Power have the potential to improve our mental, emotional, and physical health.

Much of the research into how spirituality impacts us in a positive way is relatively new. However, Dr. Herbert Benson has studied the matter for over 30 years. He examined meditation and how it changed the bodies and brains of those who practiced it, leading them to experience 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 such studies support Benson's findings. They show that religious people tend to live healthier lives than those with no such affiliation. These folks are less likely to smoke, use alcohol, and drive while intoxicated. Moreover, people who pray are less likely to get depressed and they become sick less often. Therefore, when parents remind their kids to say grace before meals and recite their nightly prayers, they’re helping them establish a daily spiritual practice that will enrich their lives and help keep them healthy.

Parents should never underestimate the therapeutic effects of coloring.

Parents should never underestimate the therapeutic effects of coloring.

5. Color

Coloring was a big part of our lives when many of us were kids. Our parents would buy us coloring books at the grocery store. We’d be handed coloring sheets by servers at restaurants, and we’d do dots-to-dots when waiting at the dentist’s office. Our moms would keep a baggie of crayons in the car so we could draw on road trips. When watching a favorite TV program, we’d stretch out on the floor and color as a way to relax and decompress after a long day at school.

Never in our wildest imaginations, though, did we realize that we were engaging in a therapeutic activity. After it fell out of favor for many years with parents and teachers believing it had little value, coloring is now back in a big way with tons of research that supports it. There are even adult coloring books so grownups can enjoy its calming benefits.

Coloring helps young children strengthen their hand muscles and pincer grasp so when they start school they'll be able to write their names, tie their shoes, string beads, and cut with scissors. It also improves their hand-eye coordination, which is necessary for handwriting, reading, building with blocks, catching, and throwing. As kids today spend far too many hours watching screens, coloring is more valuable than ever to promote fine motor skills. Older kids and teenagers also find it soothing and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes when finishing a coloring project.

What do you think?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 McKenna Meyers