Let’s be honest: being a parent is hard! And now, more than ever, there is pressure to be the “cool mom” or “fun dad,” putting the spotlight on the parent instead of the child. Having a good relationship with your child is important, but shouldn’t come at the expense of your child’s growing character. Here are some tips for keeping your relationship with your children loving as well as healthy.

Make the Rules — And Stick to Them

If the rule is that your child finishes his homework before playing video games, then that rule should be non-negotiable. Don’t let your child manipulate you into getting out of it by doing something like threatening not to do his math problems, or emotionally manipulating you by saying things like “I hate you.” Setting boundaries like this not only ensures good grades, but also teaches your child the value of responsibility and delayed gratification.

Be Consistent

If you let the rules slide once, you might as well not have any at all. If you don’t enforce your own rules, then your child will lose respect for your rules as well as you. If it’s not okay to play those video games before homework on Monday, then it’s also not okay on Tuesday. Kids are smart and they learn pretty quickly that they can wear their parents down with whining. Consistency is key when setting healthy boundaries.

Pay an Allowance

It sounds like an antiquated concept, but it’s not. Earning an allowance teaches kids from an early age about the value of work, improves math skills and helps them understand the value of their “stuff,” whether it’s toys, books, movies or video games, which will encourage them to take care of their possessions. An allowance can be paid for anything — chores, homework, good grades, or long-term goals (for example, is your child taking piano lessons with the goal of being in the spring recital?) You can even try instituting a “kindness jar” in your home: Every time your child does something kind for someone else, put a dime or a quarter into the jar. Get creative!

Get Involved in Community Service

It is never too soon to teach your child the value of helping others. Find out what your child is interested in and build on that. Is your child a great reader? Take him to a daycare and have him read to younger children. Is your child a musician? Have her put on a little concert at a local nursing home. There are numerous ways to get them involved.

Take the Kids Shopping

Not just shopping for them — shopping for others. Numerous shelters for the homeless, victims of domestic violence, and severe weather victims abound and are often overlooked. Bring your kids with you and shop for non-perishable food items, toiletries and other basic necessities that the less fortunate may need. Don’t just let your kids tag along, get them involved. What kind of food should we get? What color toothbrush? This will help your children realize that they may not always get everything they want every time they want it, but they still have it pretty good.

Don’t Be Afraid To Say “No”

If you give your child what he wants every time he wants it, this will not only wreak havoc at home, but it will also cause poor behavior in school, when the adults’ attention is divided among many children and there is more structure and more “no” than there is at home.

Give Appropriate Consequences

It is true that positive reinforcement works best to encourage positive behavior, but that doesn’t mean that poor behavior shouldn’t have consequences. Also be sure that “the punishment fits the crime.” For example, if your child is picking on another child in school, being grounded for three days probably won’t help him or her understand why the behavior is wrong. An appropriate consequence would be to write an apology letter to the other child. Consequences should help correct unwanted behaviors, not just blindly punish.

Be in Control

We’re all human and sometimes our frustration gets the better of us. There are many heated debates about the pros and cons of spanking, and some parents choose to use spanking as a punishment and some don’t. If this is an appropriate consequence for your child, here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: The first swat is to correct the behavior, and the rest are to make you feel better. Be in control and don’t take your frustration out on your child.

Keep Your Promises

…Or don’t make them at all. To kids, promises are something sacred. If you promise new shoes for getting straight A’s, then you better skip your morning Starbucks for a few days to keep that promise. Breaking promises may seem like no big deal to adults, but they are a big deal to children.

Let Kids Make Mistakes And Fail

If you do everything for your children so they never have to taste the bitter drink of failure, it might protect them in the short term, but does nothing to help them prepare for the long term. If they try something new, offer guidance but don’t do it for them. Encourage them to keep trying and to learn from their mistakes. This is a life skill that will never be obsolete.

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