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BUILDING PARENTING SKILLS

NBA stars team up to help call attention to growing epidemic of child abuse.

Child abuse - whether neglect, sexual abuse or mental cruelty - is a tragedy that is reaching epidemic status in this country. April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time when many groups around the country are calling attention to the problem - among them the National Basketball Association.

The NBA and its players have made a commitment on behalf of this issue for the past six years through their relationship with the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. Centers and forwards from around the league have been piling up points, rebounds and blocked shots during February, March and April to help raise funds for the prevention of child abuse.

In addition, the NBA has produced public service announcements to air in games broadcast in April and during the playoffs. Karl Malone, this year's Healthy Families team captain, is appearing in two of the announcements.

And, the NBA has teamed up with Dutch Boy Paints and Kids R Us stores to promote healthy families and present ideas for creative parenting.

"As parents, guardians or caretakers, it's vital for each of us to take time out to nurture our families," says Karl Malone, the father of two young girls. "Children need more than food and shelter, they need love and understanding, too."

Adds Anne Cohn Donnelly, executive director of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, "Being a parent is the toughest yet most important job any of us will ever have. Each day our children introduce us to new challenges and rewards. And every child is different. It is important to remember there is no such thing as the perfect parent or the perfect child."

A booklet called "Building Your Parenting Skills" will be available at Kids R Us stores throughout April, filled with advice and tips for parents. Here's a sample of ways to build your parenting skills:

10 TIPS FOR NEW MOMS AND DADS:

1. Get a much rest as possible. Sleep when the baby sleeps, and moms and dads take turns sleeping late on weekend mornings.

2. Eat nutritious meals. If a neighbor or friend offers to help, ask him or her to bring your dinner or do your grocery shopping.

3. Join a parenting group. You will learn about caring for your baby, and you will meet other parents who share your interests and concerns.

4. Don't expect too much from yourself. Housework won't always get done, but eventually you'll get back to a routine.

5. Call your doctor or clinic with any questions or concerns you may have. This will save you from needless worry.

6. Visitors can be helpful, but don't let them interrupt your rest or your family time together.

7. Fathers, don't let mothers have all the fun. Spend lots of time caring for and playing with your baby. The rewards are great.

8. Be sure your infant receives necessary immunizations and visits the doctor as required.

9. If you have older children, be sure to let them know every day that you love them.

10. If you find yourself getting frustrated and angry with your baby, call for help. Ask a friend, neighbor or relative to take care of the baby while you take a break.

Q&A ON DISCIPLINE

Being a parent is anything but easy. It takes patience, creativity and endless amounts of love. Parents are responsible for teaching discipline to children. It takes time and patience, but it does get easier, as children learn to control their own behavior. Here are some questions parents often ask:

Q. What is discipline?

A. Discipline is helping children develop self-control. It is setting limits and correcting undesirable behavior. Discipline also is encouraging children, guiding them, helping them feel good about themselves and teaching them now to think for themselves.

Q. Is spanking a good form of discipline?

A. No, discipline should help children learn how to control their own behavior. Spanking is used to directly control children's behavior. It does not teach children self-control, as good discipline should.

Q. Won't spanking teach children who's boss?

A. Kids do need to know that an adult is in charge. Spanking can teach children to be afraid of the adult in charge. Good discipline teaches children to respect the adult in charge. Respect goes both ways - treat children with respect and let them have some control - and they will respect you and listen to you.

Q. What can I do to show my children how a person with self-control acts?

A. Children do as you do, not as you say. If you want your children to obey rules, to solve their own problems and to control their own anger, then you must set good examples for them to follow.

Q. What do I do when my children break the rules?

A. Stay calm, and try to do what is fair. Sometimes your children can help you decide what is fair to do when a rule is broken. Do something that makes sense and will help them learn not to make the same mistake again.

WHEN KIDS ARE HOME ALONE

It is generally believed that children under the age of 12 should not be left home alone regularly or for any length of time. When children are home alone, here are ways to increase their safety:

1. Agree on ground rules for times when you are not home (cooking, leaving the house, having friends over, etc.).

2. Assign your children tasks to accomplish while you're gone.

3. Be sure to have telephone numbers posted (where you can be reached, fire and police, neighbor, relative).

4. If they arrive home to an empty house, be sure to call and check in with them.

5. Enroll them in a course on safety procedures for children on their own at home. Their safety is related to their knowledge of how to protect themselves. (Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, a local hospital, church groups or the YMCA may offer such courses).

6. Investigate programs in your area that may benefit your child (grandparent program, check-in program, etc.).

7. Talk to your children about their concerns when they are home alone.

8. Remember, with the proper guidelines, being home for limited periods of time can increase independence, responsibility and confidence in your children.

ACTIVITIES FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN TO SHARE

Make puppets from socks. Visit the library. Tell stories. Take a walk. Draw a picture of your family. Display your children's artwork. Find your city on a map. Jump rope. Make a growth chart. Make lunch. Collect clothes for needy families. Read a book. Let the children plan an activity. Draw a picture. Make a photo album. Put your birthdays on a calendar. Picnic indoors or outdoors. Work on a jigsaw puzzle. Feed the birds. Send a postcard to a friend. Let kids try on your clothes. Have a fire drill. Let everyone tell a joke. Make pasta necklaces. Visit an art gallery. Make popcorn. Talk about safety in the home. Bake cookies. Plant an indoor garden. Invite your child's friends over. Discuss current events. Trace your hands. Make hot chocolate or fresh lemonade. Put together a first aid kit. Visit friends or relatives.

SUCCESS IN SCHOOL

School-age children often spend more time with their teachers than they do with parents. It is important that parents, children and teachers all have a good working relationship. Here are some guidelines:

1. Be aware of difficulties. If you learn about a problem, investigate as soon as possible. Listen to both sides. Keep an open mind.

2. Talk to your child daily about events at school.

3. Be involved in homework. Find out if your child's teacher regularly assigns homework.

4. Make sure your child has a quiet place to work. After dinner, the kitchen table can be a good place to study.

5. Establish a routine at home. Set up regular times to do homework, play and go to bed.

12 ALTERNATIVES TO LASHING OUT

The next time everyday pressures build up to the point where you feel like lashing out - STOP! Try any of these simple alternatives. You'll feel better and so will your child.

1. Take a deep breath . . . and another. Then remember you are the adult.

2. Close your eyes and imagine you're hearing what your child is about to hear.

3. Press your lips together and count to 10 - or better yet, 20.

4. Put your child in a time-out chair. (Remember the rule; one time-out minute for each year of age.)

5. Put yourself in a time-out chair. Think why you are angry; is it your child, or is your child simply a convenient target for your anger.

6. Phone a friend.

7. If someone can watch the children, go outside a take a walk.

8. Take a hot bath or splash cold water on your face.

9. Hug a pillow.

10. Turn on some music. Maybe even sing a song.

11. Pick up a pencil and write down as many helpful words as you can thing of. Save the list.

12. Call for prevention information: National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, 1-800-55-NCPCA.

WORDS THAT HELP

The childhood chant is not true: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Children use it to protect themselves against being hurt when someone is calling them names, but it doesn't work. Words can hurt - and they do. But words can also help. Here are some words to use often:

- I love you.

- That's great!

- I like your smile.

- Let's talk about you.

- I believe you can do it.

- Believe in yourself as I believe in you.

- You're going to be just fine.

- You're very special.

- Good job.