TIME Family

5 Tips for a Peaceful Family Vacation

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Get ready to enjoy your hot dog in peace

No trip is smooth sailing all the time. There are jellyfish stings. Bad weather. Bad moods. But with a few adjustments—some logistical, some attitudinal—you can at least set course in the right direction. Five experts weigh in on how to keep the storm clouds at bay.

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1. Make sacrifices.

My daughter, 29, and I travel a lot together. I finally figured how to make the most of it with less conflict: Do what you hate for love and shut up about it. My daughter is very adventurous, and I never leave my office. A few years ago, we went to Hawaii, and Francesca wanted to ride horses down into a volcano. I wanted to sit on the beach with an umbrella drink. But I forced myself to get on the horse and shut up. It was really, really steep, and I just closed my eyes. Afterwards, I got a lot of hugs and my daughter said, “I know you were really scared, and I love you forever for doing that.” What’s the goal of your life? For me, it’s to make the people I love happy and have a good time with them. —Lisa Scottoline

2. Eat in.

Restaurants can be stressful on vacation. You have to agree where to go and get a reservation or wait for a table. Plus, if you have little kids, they’re tired at the end of the day, so the meal isn’t pleasant anyway. It makes a big difference to rent a house or an apartment or at least get a hotel room with a kitchenette. Last summer, we got a beach house close enough to the ocean that we could even come back for lunch. (And my then three-year-old could have his usual, a cheese sandwich.) Many families have picky eaters—of all ages. A kitchen allows everyone to eat what he wants. And you save money. —Liz Borod Wright

3. Know your limits.

You have to go at the speed of the slowest common denominator. If that’s your toddler or your great-aunt, that’s how fast you’re going to go. You should head into the vacation knowing that. Be realistic. Say, “This is what we’re going to be able to accomplish.” And then give yourself ample time to do each activity and enjoy it. If you overshoot, you’re only going to end up frustrated. —Wendy Perrin

4. Escape each other.

On family vacations, people who don’t normally spend 24 hours a day together are suddenly doing just that. Plan breaks every three or four hours. Find time to read a book, or—even better—walk on the beach alone. Doing something physical will help reset your focus. And attention, parents of teenagers: They can make the entire family miserable if forced to stay close at all times. Give them some freedom. I remember that age. When we feel like we have to be together, we want to rebel. Once it’s not required, we want to stick around. —Jeannie Bertoli

5. Plan for late afternoon crankiness.

There’s always the point in the day when you’ve been to the beach but it’s not time for dinner yet. The kids want phones or iPads, you say no, and everyone’s upset. Have activities for that in-between time, even if it’s just a card game. On a recent trip, I created a scavenger hunt every day at 5 p.m. The kids had to follow clues, and the winner got a prize. Another evening I buried a box filled with candy in the sand. They had to search the whole beach for it, which was great, because it exhausted them and it took forever. Meanwhile, the adults watched with a cocktail. —Ali Wentworth

The Experts

  • Lisa Scottoline coauthored, with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, the essay collection Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? She lives near Philadelphia.
  • Jeannie Bertoli, PH.D., is a relationship and divorce trainer. She lives in Los Angeles.
  • Liz Borod Wright is a blogger at Travelogged.com. She lives in New York City.
  • Ali Wentworth is an actress and a comedian and the author of Happily Ali After: And More Fairly True Tales. She lives in New York.
  • Wendy Perrin is TripAdvisor’s travel advocate. She lives in suburban New Jersey.

This article originally appeared on Real Simple

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TIME Parenting

Take It From Me: You Are Not Sure You Don’t Want Kids

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Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

Present you knows very little about what future you will desire

There has been an avalanche of writing lately from women who decided, often quite young, that they would never have children. What these women fail to realize is that they might change their minds. It’s not because they’re women, and it’s only partially because they’re young. The fact is, men and women of all ages understand very little about what will make them happy.

In his best-selling book Stumbling on Happiness psychologist Daniel Gilbert argues that we assume that what makes us happy today will make us happy in the future, too. We don’t imagine all of the things that may happen to us that could change our perspective. Present you knows very little definitively about what future you will desire.

I have some experience with being unable to predict what will make me happy. I was a serial monogamist in my 20’s despite knowing with great certainty that I would never be anyone’s wife or mother. I never aww’d at babies or daydreamed about my wedding. I pictured myself at 80, alone and fabulous in sequins and false eyelashes, smoking cigarettes at a hotel bar. Become one of those harried moms who yells at little Billy for smearing peanut butter on the wall? No, thanks. The thought of that kind of commitment kept me up at night. I just wanted to be free. I didn’t want that permanence. Tattoos and babies—neither were for me.

What happened next was entirely unoriginal. At 30, after ending a long-term relationship of 6 years with a really great guy because I couldn’t move forward, I found myself feeling something for my closest male friend of over a decade. Conveniently, he was feeling something for me at the same time. It was different than all of my previous relationships, and I was unprepared for how real it all got, and how quickly.

For one thing, we were already together all the time, so I couldn’t pull any of my tricks to keep him at arm’s-length like I’d done to others. There would be no offering to only see each other a few times a week and encouraging him to go spend time with his own friends. His friends were already my friends, too. And I didn’t want to push him anyway.

A few weeks into our relationship we were talking about marriage and children. For the first time ever, this was a conversation that excited me and didn’t make me nervous or uncomfortable. Less than a year later we were engaged, several months after that we were married, and 10 months after that our first baby was born. Our third child is on the way. The big regret is that we didn’t realize everything sooner: Who knows how many little Billys smearing peanut butter we could have had today.

Will a change of heart happen to everyone who makes the proclamation that I made that children were out of the question? Of course not. The “right guy” may have zero effect on a woman who has decided not to have children. There will be people who don’t want children today who won’t want children tomorrow. Humans have an endless capacity for change, and proclaiming something doesn’t mean it will happen. Before making irreversible decisions, we should try to remember that.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

What to Tell Your Kids about Water Safety

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Drowning is leading cause of accidental death for children

Summer means a lot of us will head for the water.

But when we do, says Tom Griffiths, founder of the Aquatic Safety Research Group, and former Director of Aquatics and Safety Officer for Athletics at Penn State University, we need to be alert. Because, depending on their age group, drowning is consistently the first or second leading cause of accidental death for children.

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Most of the wisdom of the past, Griffiths says, focused on paying close attention while kids are in the water. But no parent can be alert enough to fully protect a child. In fact, some cognitive psychologists have come to the conclusion that “lifeguarding is really an impossible task,” he says. A busy waterside, filled with lots of kids, is just “too much stimulus for the human brain.”

His solution?

At all ages, he says, kids should be in Coast-Guard approved life jackets–ones that fit. “No one has ever drowned in a properly fitting life jacket,” Griffiths says. So until they can pass a standard swim test, Griffiths says, kids should be wearing one.

And while parents may worry that kids will resist, his research shows that when pools offer life jackets, attendance actually goes up–probably because both parents and kids feel safer with the extra protection. Even more important, the number of water rescues plummets, by as much as 90%.

In elementary school, Griffiths says, parents should begin by helping kids view life jackets as a standard safety measure, “like buckling up a seatbelt, or wearing a helmet on a bike.” Having to wear a life jacket can also give kids an incentive to learn how to swim, according to Griffiths: “now the prize is they get out of their jacket.”

Middle school kids should be encouraged to do whatever it takes to get comfortable in the water, whether that’s formal swimming lessons, or just spending time in water sports or activities. But Griffiths also encourages parents to help kids avoid risky behavior in the water. One that’s especially popular, and dangerous, is breath-holding contests. Instead, parents can encourage kids to concentrate on breath control and relaxation.

High school kids may get overconfident, Griffiths says. Many teenagers overestimate how good they are at swimming, even though studies show that almost half of Americans can hardly swim at all. That kind of bravado is especially common under peer pressure. So parents can talk with kids about being realistic about their abilities. Another warning Griffiths suggests parents give to older kids: never dive until they know how deep the water is, because “95% of injuries resulting in paralysis are in less than 5 feet of water.”

The good news, according to Griffiths, is that, with the right strategies, “drowning is so easily preventable.” And as more and more parents rely on a combination of life jackets and swim lessons, he believes the rate will decrease even further.

TIME Parenting

5 Lessons I’ve Learned from People Who Stare at My Daughter

They probably don't intend to be rude or mean, so I've learned to give them grace, and to teach them

We knew after our 20-week ultrasound our soon-to-be daughter would have many health issues, but we pressed on.

There were many questions of if there was cleft palate or cleft lip, as well as if her eyes would be wider or nose flatter. We knew to prepare ourselves ahead of time for the questions and stares. We stared ourselves, getting familiar with the intricately woven fabric of her face. Her slightly slanted eyes were wider than most. Her small nose was open on one side due to her cleft palate. She has a wider set chin and neck.

But she was ours and she’s perfect, and we’d tell the world about her and we would be fearless in sharing and teaching others about our daughter.

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It was when I took her to our local hospital for labs with her home health nurse that the stares began. I distinctly remember a couple stepping in line in front of us at the admissions desk, acting as if we were invisible, which was hard to believe considering they looked right at us. As we left the admissions area, the same couple walked past my daughter in her stroller, decked out with a home ventilator, oxygen saturation monitor and numerous other pieces of equipment that made her life at home possible. They gave us a side-long disapproving glance.

I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say or think, but on the inside, I was fuming. Didn’t this couple know all people are created unique and different? That society has placed way too much emphasis on what is considered “normal” by simply judging one’s outward appearance?

I didn’t know what to say that day. And the truth is, I’m still not exactly sure what to say.

What I do know is I’m still struggling myself with what to say to others with disabilities. What I do know is on that particular day, my mama-bear instinct came out and I wanted to lecture this couple on appreciating the beauty in each and every person, regardless of their disability or uncommon features. I wanted to set them straight and tell them their behavior was unacceptable. I wanted to yell at the world for thinking there’s a right way and a wrong way as to how people should look. That it actually is okay to have a cleft lip that’s not fixed yet, and it’s on her to-do list — right behind open heart surgery.

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Jodie Gerling

But over the last few months, as we’ve ventured out more with our delicate daughter, I’ve learned in the beginning that I felt a sense of entitlement. I thought I could tell someone their response to my daughter was wrong and set them straight on how to treat others. However, I’ve since learned some new life lessons as I navigate these new waters.

1. Give them grace.

Know they’ve probably never had many opportunities to interact with children like my daughter. Give them grace that they might not know what to say, or how to look, or if it’s okay to stare. Acknowledge they’re trying, even if it’s not quite what I want to hear. Then give them the grace to walk into an uncomfortable conversation in hopes of bringing comfort to them on this topic.

2. Forgive often.

In the beginning, I took offense to so many things, thinking no one understood. But that’s just it: many don’t understand. And that’s okay. We’re in this together to learn together. Our family doesn’t have this all down, and our family and friends are learning right beside us. Before we had our daughter, we were these people too. People are going to say the wrong things, especially at the wrong times, like after a long day of appointments. But most of the time, they don’t know what they’re saying is wrong, they’re just trying to show support. It’s true many people don’t understand our journey, but that just means it’s our joy to help them understand, not to be offended and shut them out.

3. Be willing to talk.

I’ve learned to be willing to open up and say to a stranger staring at my daughter, “Isn’t she beautiful? It’s okay to stare at beauty like that.” Then I smile and ask if they have questions or would like to talk about her. Be willing to be the one to open the door of communication. Often times others are too scared to ask questions for fear of offending.

We’d rather they say, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to stare,” so we can say, “We want you to take in all of the beauty in her, not to look away as if to say she’s not worthy.”

4. Be ready to teach.

We have this bag we call the “Bunny Bag.” It has a big bunny stuffed animal in it, along with the book “Audrey Bunny” by Angie Smith, about a bunny with an imperfect heart, and a short picture book called “Mattie Breathes” by Tracie Loux, about what a tracheostomy is in children’s terms and concepts. We’ve lent them to friends and to our kiddos’ playmates so they can learn more about our kids’ little sister. We’re teaching our friends, and they’re teaching their friends. Nothing makes our hearts soar more than when our friends say, “Will you teach me about Chloe?”

5. Be courageous enough to keep on keeping on.

At times, we’ve wanted to shut ourselves in and not venture out anymore due to the many stares, the comments and the sidelong glances. But what does that solve? It doesn’t help teach. It doesn’t help our daughter to thrive and grow. It doesn’t encourage our other children that it’s OK to look different. So we keep on keeping on. We continue to share pictures of her and share her life with others.

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Jodie Gerling

We don’t have it all figured out and we haven’t rehearsed some sort of speech to give each person who does a double take on our daughter. We’ve learned it’s not about feeling entitled to correct someone who says something wrong, but more about giving them grace and space to learn how to treat others with differences and disabilities. It’s more about gratitude for their desire to learn than it is about calling them out on the injustice of saying or doing the wrong thing.

Kindness goes a long way, and when it comes to teaching others about disabilities and differences, grace and kindness go much farther in the long road of changing the world’s view of what is considered normal.

This article originally appeared on The Mighty

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Parenting

15 Financial Must Dos for Anyone Having a Baby

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That bundle of love is going to cost you plenty over a lifetime, so start planning now.

Preparing for parenthood isn’t just tiny clothes and heartwarming ultrasound photos; it involves a lot of financial preparation. This guide will lay out the most important financial tasks on your plate from pregnancy to baby’s first years, including:

  • Estimating your medical costs
  • Planning leave from your job
  • Budgeting for the new arrival

Some parenting preparations are best learned on the fly — how to effortlessly and painlessly change the messiest diapers, for instance. But the list of things to do before baby arrives and within his or her first several weeks is lengthy, so tackling certain tasks now is a smart idea.

Pre-Delivery Planning

1. Understand your health insurance and anticipate costs. Having a baby is expensive, even when you have health insurance. You should forecast your expected costs fairly early in the pregnancy. NerdWallet’s guide to making sense of your medical bills can help as you navigate prenatal care, labor and delivery, and the bills that will ultimately follow.

2. Plan for maternity/paternity leave. How much time you and your partner (if you have one) get off work and whether you’re paid during that period can significantly impact your household finances in the coming year. Understand your company’s policies and your state’s laws to get an accurate picture of how your maternity leave will affect your bottom line.

3. Draft your pre-baby budget. Once you know what you’ll be spending on out-of-pocket medical costs, understand how your income will be impacted in the coming months and have prepared a shopping list for your new addition, adjust your budget accordingly. Babies come with plenty of expenses, so set a limit on both necessary and optional buys (like that designer diaper bag or high-end stroller with the LCD control panel), and consider buying used to keep spending under control.

4. Plan your post-delivery budget. Recurring costs such as diapers, child care and extra food will change your household expenses for years to come. Plan for them now so you aren’t caught off guard.

5. Choose a pediatrician within your insurance network. Your baby’s first doctor appointment will come within her first week of life, so you’ll want to have a physician picked out. Talk to friends and family to get recommendations, call around to local clinics and ask to interview a pediatrician before you make your choice. In searching for the right doctor, don’t forget to double-check that he or she is within your insurance network. Ask the clinic, but verify by calling your insurance company so you’re not hit with unexpected out-of-network charges.

6. Start or check your emergency fund. If you don’t already have a “rainy day fund,” now’s the time to anticipate some emergencies. Kids are accident prone, and with the cost of raising a child there’s no telling if you’ll have the disposable income to pay for any unexpected expenses. Having at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses covered is a great place to start.

While in the Hospital

The main focus while you’re in the hospital is having a healthy baby. But there are a few loose ends that will need to be taken care of.

7. Order a birth certificate and Social Security card. Hospital staffers should provide you with the necessary paperwork to get your new child’s Social Security number and birth certificate. If they don’t or if you are having a home birth, contact your state’s office of vital records for the birth certificate and your local Social Security office to get a Social Security card.

Within Baby’s First 30 Days

8. Add your child to your health insurance. In most cases, you have 30 days from your child’s birth date to add him to an existing health insurance policy. In some employer-based plans, you have 60 days. Regardless, do it sooner rather than later, as you don’t want to be caught with a sick baby and no coverage.

9. Consider a life insurance policy on your child. No one expects the tragedy of losing a child, so many parents don’t plan for it. The rates are generally low because a child’s life insurance policy is used to cover funeral costs and little else. When it comes to covering children, a “term” policy that lasts until they are self-sufficient is the most popular choice.

10. Begin planning for child care. Finding the right day care or nanny can take weeks. Get started long before your maternity leave is over. You’ll need time to visit day care centers or interview nannies, as well as complete an application and approval process if required.

Beyond the First Month

You’ll be in this parenting role for years to come, so planning for the future is crucial. Estate planning is a big part of providing for your children, but it isn’t the only important forward-focused task to check off your list.

11. Adjust your beneficiaries. Assuming you already have life insurance for yourself or the main breadwinner in your household — and if you don’t, you should — you may want to add your child as a beneficiary. The same goes for your 401(k) and IRAs. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to make adjustments elsewhere to ensure when and how your child will have access to the money. A will and/or trust can accomplish this.

12. Disability insurance. You’re far more likely to need disability insurance than life insurance. Make sure you have the right amount of coverage — enough to meet your expenses if you’re out of work for several months. Remember, your monthly living expenses have gone up since the new addition.

13. Write or adjust your will. Tragic things happen and you want to ensure your child is taken care of in the event that one or both parents die. Designate a guardian so the courts don’t have to. Your will is only one part of estate planning, but it’s a good place to begin.

14. Keep funding your retirement. When a child arrives, it’s easy to forget your personal goals and long-term plans in light of this huge responsibility. Stay on top of your retirement plans so your child doesn’t have to support you in old age.

15. Save for his or her education. College is costly, but you can make it more manageable by starting to save early.

Adding a new member to your family comes with a lengthy list of responsibilities, so don’t try to do them all at once. Prioritize and tackle the most important items on your financial to-do list first. Because medical bills and insurance claims will be some of the first financial obligations you’ll encounter while expecting, start there. Move on to budgeting for pregnancy and the first several months of your baby’s life.

With 18 or more years until your little one leaves home, time would seem to be on your side. But — as the saying goes — blink and he’s grown. Now is the time to start taking the steps that will set your family up for financial success.

More from NerdWallet:

Read next: 3 Things Dads and Moms Don’t Need to Buy

TIME Maryland

Maryland ‘Free Range’ Parents Cleared of All Charges in a Neglect Case

Danielle Meitiv, Rafi Meitiv, Dvora Meitiv
Jose Luis Magana — AP Danielle Meitiv walks home with her children Rafi, 10, left and Dvora, 6, right, after picking them up at the school bus stop in Silver Spring Md., on June 12, 2015.

This is one of two child neglect cases for the couple

(SILVER SPRING, Md.) — A Maryland couple who advocate “free range” parenting say they’ve been cleared in the second of two neglect cases that began when their children were spotted walking alone.

Danielle Meitiv told The Washington Post on Sunday that she and her husband learned of the decision in a Child Protective Services letter June 13. Officials haven’t commented but recently clarified their policy, noting that the state shouldn’t investigate unless kids are harmed or face substantial risk of harm.

The parents first came under scrutiny for allowing their 10- and 6-year-old children to walk home in a Washington suburb in December. In April, the children were held for hours after they were spotted walking from a park.

Meitiv says it’s a relief that the couple has been cleared in both cases.

TIME Parenting

How to Help Your Kid Make Friends This Summer

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Different ages require different approaches

Summer’s a time to make new friends – at camp, at the pool, on vacation.

And making good friends has big benefits, according to Fred Frankel, founder and former director of the Parenting and Children’s Friendship Program at UCLA, and author of Friends Forever: How Parents Can Help Their Kids Make and Keep Good Friends.

According to Frankel, “friends are unique in children’s lives, because [the relationship] is a choice. It’s a mutual choice. And it enhances self-esteem.” In fact, according to Frankel, friendship improves kids’ self esteem even more than self-esteem training. It also protects kids from bullying.

But making friends isn’t always easy, especially for boys, who Frankel says are three times more likely to struggle with forming friendships than girls, perhaps because boys tend to be more competitive, and less likely to help each other in social situations.

The good news?

Parents can help kids lay the foundation for good friendships in elementary school, Frankel says, simply by setting them up on play dates, and then paying attention: both to the other children, and their own. What parents learn by listening in can help them nurture their own kids’ social skills, and encourage friendships with other healthy kids. Frankel also suggests parents start conversations with kids about the social situation at school. “Instead of asking what did you learn,” he says, try “Who did you play with? What did you do?”

By middle school, kids start to cluster into groups. And some earlier friendships may change or fade away. That can be painful, Frankel says, but it’s important to let them go. And not to get too focused on being part of the ‘right’ group. “Wanting to join the popular group is a big mistake,” Frankel says. “They’re not necessarily nice kids, just dominant kids.” So if kids get too concerned with being part of a particular crowd, says Frankel, parents should help them to refocus on building individual relationships, which is where real friendships are formed.

High school kids connect with each other based on shared interests, which “give them something to talk about,” Frankel says. The important thing, according to Frankel, is to “develop the interest first.” If a kid tries to get into a group that is interested in something she doesn’t really like, she “won’t have anything to share,” says Frankel. Parents can help, not by encouraging kids to make friends, but by encouraging kids to develop interests. Once kids find something they really love to do, Frankel says, the friendships will form naturally.

TIME Family

4 New Parenting Tips That Will Make Your Kids Awesome

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Parenting tips are everywhere but most have zero legitimate research behind them. So what does science have to say? And how can you remember what’s important so you actually use it?

Remember to WACC your kids.

No, I’m not saying to hit your kids. “WACC” is a good acronym to help you keep in mind 4 things that come up in the research again and again:

  • Work on yourself
  • Autonomy
  • Communicate
  • Community

These four things can make a big difference in whether you end up saving college money or bail money.

Let’s break down the how and why on these parenting tips so that your kids end up healthy, smart and happy.

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1) Work On Yourself

This is what many of the parenting books ignore — and it may be the most important.

Want happy kids? Then make sure you’re keeping yourself joyful. Happy parents make for happy kids and parental depression causes child behavior problems.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Extensive research has established a substantial link between mothers who feel depressed and “negative outcomes” in their children, such as acting out and other behavior problems. Parental depression actually seems to cause behavioral problems in kids; it also makes our parenting less effective.

And this is not merely due to genetics.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

…although the study did find that happy parents are statistically more likely to have happy children, it couldn’t find any genetic component.

So other than feeling good about you own life, what’s key here? That ol’ work-life balance.

In fact, what’s the #1 thing kids wish for when it comes to parents? They wish you were less tired and stressed.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

In a survey of a thousand families, Ellen Galinsky, the head of the Families and Work Institute and the author of Mind in the Making, asked children, “If you were granted one wish about your parents, what would it be?” Most parents predicted their kids would say spending more time with them. They were wrong. The kids’ number one wish was that their parents were less tired and less stressed.

Your stress isn’t just your stress — it’s their stress too. When you’re stressed out it hurts your children’s intelligence and immune systems.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

…Studies have shown that parental stress weakens children’s brains, depletes their immune systems, and increases their risk of obesity, mental illness, diabetes, allergies, even tooth decay.

Yup, you are a role model. So the first step to taking good care of your kids is taking care of you.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Studies of young adults find that more than seven out of ten regularly measure themselves against their parents in terms of either their career or relationship status. – Glasman 2002

(For more on the research-backed ways to raise happy kids, click here.)

Okay, so you’re taking good care of yourself. What else do many of the parenting tips miss?

 

2) Autonomy

Tiger moms and helicopter parents: your children thrive when they have some room to be individuals.

Kids do better when they make plans themselves or at least have a say.

You should even allow them to pick their own punishments. It creates greater motivation to obey the rules.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

Scientists at the University of California and elsewhere found that kids who plan their own time, set weekly goals, and evaluate their own work build up their prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain that help them exert greater cognitive control over their lives. These so-called executive skills aid children with self-discipline, avoiding distractions, and weighing the pros and cons of their choices. By picking their own punishments, children become more internally driven to avoid them. By choosing their own rewards, children become more intrinsically motivated to achieve them. Let your kids take a greater role in raising themselves.

Which kids say they like going to school? The ones who get to pick which extracurricular activities they’re involved in.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Children who regularly participate in structured extracurricular activities (including clubs and sports teams) of their own choosing are 24 percent more likely to report that they like going to school. – Gilman 2001

You don’t have to overschedule kids or be involved in every moment of their lives. Unstructured play has huge positive effects on children.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Researchers believe that this dramatic drop in unstructured playtime is in part responsible for slowing kids cognitive and emotional development… In addition to helping kids learn to self-regulate, child-led, unstructured play (with or without adults) promoted intellectual, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Unstructured play helps children learn how to work in groups, to share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions and behavior, and speak up for themselves.

(For more scientific tips on how to make your kids smarter, click here.)

So everybody always talks about communicating with kids… but what’s that actually mean?

 

3) Communication

You know much real conversation happens at family dinner? 10 minutes.

I interviewed Bruce Feiler, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Secrets of Happy Families and he said the research shows most of the talk at the dinner table is “Take your elbows off the table” and “Please pass the ketchup.”

So what’s the best way to make use of those 10 minutes? Here’s Bruce:

So number one, the first big thing to be aware of is that parents do two-thirds of the talking in that ten minutes. And that’s a problem. So your first goal should be to flip that and let the kids do more of the talking. So that would be issue number one. Number two, I would say a great thing to do in that ten minutes is to try to teach your kid a new word every day. There’s a tremendous amount of evidence out there that one of the biggest determinants of success in school has to do with the size of vocabulary.

And I asked Bruce what he would recommend if he could only give one piece of advice.

He said: “Set aside time to talk about what it means to be a part of your family.”

Ask yourself: “What are your family values?” In business-speak: Develop a mission statement for your family.

Here’s Bruce:

Initiate a conversation about what it means to be a part of your family. Sit down with them and say “Okay, these are our ten central values. This is the family we want to be. We want to be a family that doesn’t fight all the time.” or “We want to be a family that goes camping or sailing” or whatever it might be.

Research shows whether a kid knows their family history was the number one predictor of a child’s emotional well-being. Here’s Bruce:

…researchers at Emory did this study that showed that the kids who know more about their family history had a greater belief that they could control their world and a higher degree of self-confidence. It was the number one predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.

Not having family dinner together? You might want to start. It has huge benefits.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

A recent wave of research shows that children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide, and develop eating disorders. Additional research found that children who enjoy family meals have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets, and higher self-esteem. The most comprehensive survey done on this topic, a University of Michigan report that examined how American children spent their time between 1981 and 1997, discovered that the amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems.Mealtime was more influential than time spent in school, studying, attending religious services, or playing sports.

Doesn’t work for your family’s schedule? It doesn’t have to be dinner. And it doesn’t have to be every night.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

Many of the benefits of family mealtime can be enjoyed without sitting down together every night. Even the folks at Columbia University’s center on addiction, the ones responsible for a lot of the research on family dinner, say having joint meals as infrequently as once a week makes a difference.

I know what some of you are thinking: isn’t all that talking going to mean more fighting? Yes. And that’s a good thing.

Moderate conflict with teens produces better adjustment than none.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

University of Rochester’s Dr. Judith Smetana, a leader in the study of teen disclosure, confirms that, over the long term, “moderate conflict with parents [during adolescence] is associated with better adjustment than either no-conflict or frequent conflict.”

When I interviewed Po Bronson, author of the bestseller NurtureShock, he said more arguing means less lying:

In families where there is less lying to the parents, there is more arguing. Arguing is the opposite of lying. Arguing is the way the kid decides not to lie. “I could lie to my parents and just do it. Or I can tell the truth and argue it out.” Those are the choices the teen has.

And what’s a quick trick for getting your kid to be honest? Po has an answer.

Say: “I’m about to ask you a question. But before I do that, will you promise to tell the truth?”

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

In Talwar’s peeking game, sometimes the researcher pauses the game with, “I’m about to ask you a question. But before I do that, will you promise to tell the truth?” (Yes, the child answers.) “Okay, did you peek at the toy when I was out of the room?” This promise cuts down lying by 25%.

(For more on how to have a happy family, click here.)

Final tip. What else do you need to do? Well, really, it has nothing to do with you…

 

4) Community

Tons of research shows religious families are happier. Why is that?

Further study has shown it’s the friends that a religious community provides. A community of ten supportive friends makes families happier.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

The most comprehensive study ever done on this topic, in 2010, gives some clues about why this might be. After examining studies of more than three thousand adults, Chaeyoon Lin and Robert Putnam found that what religion you practice or however close you feel to God makes no difference in your overall life satisfaction. What matters is the number of friends you have in your religious community. Ten is the magic number; if you have that many, you’ll be happier. Religious people, in other words, are happier because they feel connected to a community of like-minded people.

What influences your kids more than you do? Their peer group.

We usually only talk about peer pressure when it’s a negative but research shows more often than not, it’s actually a positive. Here’s what Po had to say:

The same kids who were very vulnerable to peer pressure turn out to have great grades, do well in high school, and go to college. As they get older in life they have great relationships with their best friends, their partners, and their parents. It turns out that thing that makes a kid in seventh grade very attuned to the thoughts and feelings of others around them is what makes them feel peer pressure. It turned out that peer pressure was dragging kids toward risk behaviors but it is also dragging them to do well at school, to care what their teachers thought, to care what their parents thought, to care what the school thought, and to care what society thinks. These kids that are invulnerable to peer pressure turn out to have low GPAs. Their motivation to study just wasn’t strong enough. It was entirely based upon themselves because they didn’t care what society thought.

And your kids need more family in their lives than just their parents and siblings.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Studies of boys and girls find that the presence of a trusted nonparental adult increases feelings of support and life satisfaction by more than 30 percent. – Colarossi 2001

If you had to make sure one family member was consistently there for the young ones, who should it be?

Grandmom. Scores of studies show the incredible benefits that grandmom brings, like teaching kids to cooperate and to be compassionate.

Children who spend time with their grandparents are more social, do better in school and show more concern for others.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

Countless studies have shown the extraordinary benefits grandmothers have on contemporary families. A meta-analysis of sixty-six studies completed in 1992 found that mothers who have more support from grandmothers have less stress and more well-adjusted children… So what are these grandmothers actually doing? They’re teaching children core social skills like how to cooperate, how to be compassionate, how to be considerate. Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah interviewed 408 adolescents about their relationship with their grandparents. When grandparents are involved, the study found, the children are more social, more involved in school, and more likely to show concern for others.

(For more of the latest research on good parenting skills, click here.)

Time to round all this up and add in that last ingredient that makes your kids love you back.

 

Sum Up

Remember to WACC your kids:

  • Work on yourself: Increasing your own happiness and reducing your stress have big effects on your kids.
  • Autonomy: Want them to be successful adults? Make sure they have a say in what they do — starting now.
  • Communicate: Family meals make a big difference. Tell them their family history. More arguing means less lying.
  • Community: Their peers have more influence they you do. Make sure Grandmom is around if you want compassionate children.

One last thing you need to keep in mind if you want a close relationship with the kiddos:

Love. Don’t just be guider, protector and enforcer. Kids are nearly 50% more likely to feel close to those who show them affection.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People are 47 percent more likely to feel close to a family member who frequently expresses affection than to a family member who rarely expresses affection. – Walther-Lee 1999

They’re the next generation. They have the potential to be better than we are, so give them every chance. As Dr. Seuss said:

“Adults are obsolete children.”

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

I Became a Father in an Instant—Becoming a Dad Would Take Years

Harper Collins

Joseph Luzzi teaches at Bard and is the author of the new memoir, In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love, from which this essay is adapted.

Everything I thought I knew about being a father was wrong

On a cold November morning in 2007, my wife Katherine had a fatal car accident. Forty-five minutes before she died, our daughter Isabel was born, a miracle of health rescued by an emergency cesarean. After Isabel defied the odds to make it into the world, I went from taking her life for granted to being unable to look at her without my heart racing. I had become her biological father in a grisly instant; becoming her dad would take years.

I hadn’t reflected on what fatherhood meant before her birth. My preconceived notions of a father’s roles—breadwinner, patriarch, protector—belonged to an outdated playbook, one created in Calabria, an impoverished southern Italian region where my father, Pasquale Luzzi, was born. Drafted into the Italian army as a young man, he barely survived World War II, and immigrated with his wife and four small children to the U.S. in 1956, where he would spend his days doing backbreaking factory work. My father was the kind of man who, as my pregnant mother was delivering his children, stayed clear of the hospital and chose instead to visit the social club to drink wine and play cards.

After Katherine’s death, I relied on my family, especially my widowed mom and my four sisters. This freed me for jaunts to the playground with Isabel, vanilla ice cream with her on the beach, and father-daughter sing-alongs at the local music program. I had been raised according to the gender dictates of ancient Calabria. I grew up watching my mother tend to my father like an aide-de-camp after his debilitating stroke 13 years before he died. I would never have admitted as much, but to me it was taken for granted that my mother would change Isabel’s diapers while I slept soundly.

Yet with each midnight diaper changing that I slept through, with each afternoon nap when I fled the house to play tennis or work on my book, Isabel’s infancy was slipping through my fingers. My mother was devoted to Isabel, but she was in her 80s, and her regime of feeding my daughter consisted of goods that you could pick up at the gas station.

I was living under the spell of what Joan Didion called “magical thinking”: the cool-minded craziness of those who expect their loved one back at any moment. I knew that Katherine wasn’t coming back for those knockout leopard-print shoes she wore the night I met her. Mine was a different kind of magical thinking: the sense that the world began and ended with my own suffering. My grief became an airtight shell, and contrary to my calm outward appearance, my sorrow now defined me.

Worst of all, my sorrow was keeping me from forming an emotional attachment with Isabel. I loved her, but I did not feel that instinctual protectiveness that should have made her needs the center of my world. This was grief’s greatest exile: the separation I felt from my flesh and blood. The smallest tasks associated with her care flustered me. The prospect of arranging her gear for our outings—the network of bottles, diapers, and bibs—could send me into paroxysms of anxiety, as could the slightest outburst of her tears or discomfort. Any time I was confronted with the prospect of long, unbroken hours with my daughter, I ran—literally.

I purchased a little home for us, finally moving out of the apartment I had shared with Katherine. As I slowly joined the living, my own idea of what a father should be started to come into focus. It had little to do with the duties I had originally imagined make a dad: breadwinner, patriarch, roles that my difficult but responsible and loving father played magnificently. My discoveries were much humbler—and in places that my father, with his dashing Old World charm and perfectly coiffed hair, would never set foot in. I loved to take Isabel shopping in the big box stores and push her through the aisles of Target in an elephantine red cart. As I balanced my shopping bags in one hand and hoisted Isabel into her car seat with the other, I felt like more than just her father—I was slowly becoming her dad. The real transition came when my mom moved out of the house, and I began to raise Isabel on my own.

I had imagined that fatherhood meant above all sacrifice, the giving up of the things you love for the one you love, a kind of ascetic affirmation of love in self-denial. How wrong I was. There was nothing of the sense of loss implied by sacrifice, as I slowly organized my days around Isabel’s needs, rather than my own. The love I now felt for my daughter was the most self-satisfying, self-fulfilling I had ever known.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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