A Brighter Future: 3 Simple Things Parents Can Do to Make a Difference

A Brighter Future[Editor:  This is a guest post from my good friend Terra.  I’ve know her for–jeez, really–20 years.  If you’re looking for a staff writer, hit her up.  Seriously.  She’s good people.]

Who doesn’t want a brighter future for their child? Book store shelves overflow with parenting advice tomes and how-to guides to make “uber-kids”. Eager parents lap up promises to raise their children’s I.Q., increase their chances to get into college, and improve their social skills.

From books to apps to specialized software, there is a dizzying number of products available to help your child grow into the genius you know he or she is.

But what if I told you that the secrets to increasing your child’s likelihood to succeed in life were absolutely free. Simple things you have complete control over. No batteries or special upgrades required. No matter your income, education level, or what country you live in, these deceptively simple tips offer powerful results.

  1. Make Mealtimes Sacred

Food connects people. From the dawn of time, our species has gathered around the fire, to break bread and share our stories.

In modern times, our schedule can be crazy (between work, social activities, and, you know, life) so having dinner on the table at 6 o’clock every night is not always possible. However, studies consistently show that having a family meal at least 3 times a week has huge benefits for children (from teenagers being less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, to increased academic success, to reduced risk of developing eating disorders or becoming obese, the implications are impressive). And it doesn’t have to be dinner, any meal will work. Consistency is the key.

Far from being boring, children find the predictable routine of family meals reassuring, promoting warm, fuzzy feelings of closeness and comfort (though teenagers will never admit it). Whether it’s take-out or made from scratch goodness, nothing says “I care about you” like sharing a meal.

Quality matters here, so remove distractions during meal time (turn off the TV, ban phones) and focus on each other. Take this time to reconnect and talk about your day and ask the kids about theirs. Make this time sacred. It matters that much.

  1. Hug Frequently

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” – Virginia Satir, psychotherapist

Receiving a loving hug feels wonderful. But beyond feeling “nice”, hugs literally have the power to heal us and improve our lives.

Hugs have superpowers. A hug has the power to release a “happiness hormone cocktail” of oxytocin (natural antidepressant, promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding), dopamine (intense pleasure), and serotonin (elevates mood, negates pain and sadness) in both the giver and receiver. Bonus, hugs are naturally gluten-free, organic, and have no unpleasant side effects.

To get the most benefits, prolonged hugging is recommended, around 20 seconds. A full-body hug stimulates your nervous system while decreasing feelings of loneliness, combating fear, increasing self-esteem, defusing tension, and showing appreciation. However, this hug fest only works its magic if you’re hugging someone you trust. Since children love to be held and cuddled, this is ideal for family bonding. Not so much with that new client you just landed (awkward…).

How does hugging effect children specifically? Children who aren’t hugged have delays in walking, talking, and reading. Hugging boosts self-esteem; from the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. All of those cuddles we give to our children are imprinted on them at a cellular level and will still be imbedded in their nervous system as adults. Hugs today equal the ability to self-love as adults. That’s an awesome gift.

  1. Create a Home Library

We all know how important reading aloud to children is, from infants to teenagers. Reading is one of the most important factors affecting the development of a child’s brain. But reading skills are not hardwired into us; we don’t pop out of the womb quoting “Pride and Prejudice”. Reading skills need to be taught and encouraged.

Parents are a child’s first, and most important, teachers. While children can learn from flashcards and workbooks, nothing is more powerful than seeing your passion for reading. Whether you like it or not, your children are learning from your every move. What you find important, they will find important. No pressure! Teaching reading to your child requires attention, focus, and motivation. It also requires access to books, lots and lots of books.

Libraries are a great resource for developing a love of reading in your child. Most have a thoughtfully arranged children’s area offering story-time and other enrichment opportunities. However, nothing beats having a book to call your own, to hold and cherish, until the edges are worn with love.

Having a well-stocked home library, it turns out, matters. A lot. This study found that having a 500-book library was equivalent to having university-educated parents in terms of increasing the level of education their children will attain. That’s pretty powerful. It doesn’t matter if your family is rich or poor, from North America or Asia, if your parents are illiterate or college-educated, what matters is that you have books in your home.

Don’t’ have the space for 500 books? No worries. Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.

Having a variety of books available makes a difference; especially important are reference books, with history and science texts having the greatest benefit.

No money for books? No Excuse! Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a great resource for free, high-quality children’s books. When you sign up, your child is mailed a new book each month until the age of five, addressed to them (a very special thing indeed).

I hope these tips empower you to take action. Small changes can have a big impact on your child’s future. Just remember, it’s not the money you make or the tutor you’ve hired or the new app you’ve installed that will catapult your baby Einstein ahead in life. It’s the quiet moments with you at home, eating, hugging, and reading that will carry them through whatever life brings their way.

Are these things you would like to focus on in your family? Do you have simple parenting tips that have made a difference in your child’s life?

Terra Fine Bio

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Blacksmithing, or Quality Time With a Teenager

For the past few months, I’ve been taking blacksmithing lessons with my 16 year old son.

Diagram of a coal forge. In the book:

Diagram of a coal forge. In the book:”Practical Projects for the Blacksmith”, it was noted that a forge like this can be made based on a barbeque-pan. This, by adding a hole and inserting a T-junction with a hairdryer (the whole costing about 60 € new, or $5 for both items when obtained secondhand/from the junkyard) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while, but my schedule never lined up with the places that teach near me.

Then I forgot about it.

Last year, the History Channel started a new series called Forged In Fire, that made me think about it again. Better, the boy was interested, too.

If you don’t have a teenager, here’s some interesting information that’s almost universal:  teenagers suck.   You spend a dozen years of your life essentially doing everything for them.  Then one day, they have their own interests and want nothing to do with their parents.  I get it, it’s good for them to be independent and all, but it sucks for the parent who wants to spend time with the kid.

Enter blacksmithing.   I’m interested, the boy’s interested, and I’ve dropped most of my side projects to have more time for my family and myself.   Let’s do this.

Class number 1:  5 miles away, teaches Tuesday evenings at the height of rush hour.  That’s a 45 minute 5 mile drive.  It costs $350 each for an 8 session class, that I’d have to leave work early for and would cut into the kid’s homework.

Class number 2:  15 miles away, teaches full-day classes over eight consecutive Saturdays…for $120 each.  That’s awesome.   Except they book their entire year’s calendar of classes within 3 days of posting the schedule for the year.   When they got my paper registration in the mail(seriously, paper?  In 2015?), they called to tell me we were 6th on the waiting list.

Class number 3: 2 hours away.  Full day classes on Saturdays.  Held every Saturday, so we could come on our schedules.   Cost $100, but $200 total for a class as we want them is way more affordable than the $700 up front for class #1.   I’m sold.

Four classes into it, I find out that that’s the most classes I can pay for.   I’m still welcome to use the facility, but now I have to supply my own charcoal.   From here on out, it’s $50 for gas and $20 for charcoal to forge all day…and still get taught.    If we pass some tests, we can officially join and sell our creations in the gift shop.

Totally sold.

So now, the boy and I are making the drive once a month.   We talk during the drive, we work together on the forge.   I love my kid, and I love spending time with him.  I love making things, and I love sharing that love with my kids.   In a few years, he’ll move out, but he’ll remember this for the rest of his life.  It’s worth every cent.

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