Three Free Ways to Make Your Child’s Life Better in 2012

by Tracy · 2 comments

It costs a lot to raise a child. Between food, shelter, clothing and education, most parents find that there isn’t a ton of money left over each month. The good news is that while you can spend big bucks on classes and activities, some of the best things you can do for your child’s present and future don’t cost very much at all.

Give Them More Time in Nature

In his book, Last Child in the Woods, writer Richard Louv makes a compelling case for parents to make time outdoors a top priority for their children instead of something nice to do if ever there is some time leftover in our over-scheduled lives.

I know firsthand that this isn’t always as simple as it sounds on paper. My own children live in a busy, urban neighborhood and don’t have the same freedom to wander as I did. Every day after school, I take them to the playground near our house that has plenty of open space to play and explore, but that means that after dinner it’s a mad rush to try and get homework done in time for them to get to sleep at a decent hour.

It’s very easy for us to forget about all of the wonderful natural amenities our city and surrounding areas have to offer. There is a wonderful old-growth forest just a few minutes from our house and two vast nature preserves less than a half hour’s drive away. Even our own backyard and city neighborhood offer plenty of opportunities for exploration, that is, when we make the conscious decision to slow down and enjoy them.

This year, I am making a list of all the wonderful ways that we can enjoy nature and making a commitment to give my children the gift of experiencing the outdoors. Not only is it a fun, frugal family activity, it will also help us:

  • Get more physical activity.
  • Unplug from technology.
  • Be more observant of the world around us.
  • Bond as a family.
  • Learn to value experiences over things.

Limit Television and Other Screen Time

As a writer and social media manager, I spend more than my fair share of time looking at screens and have a huge appreciation for the benefits of modern technology. I don’t believe that it’s necessary to completely eliminate television, computers and video games from our children’s lives, but I think it should be limited and balanced with physical play, reading, board games and just plain learning how to deal with being bored.

If you’d like to put stricter limits on your child’s screen time, here are my suggestions as a mother of five boys who absolutely adore television and video games.

1. Be consistent. They will argue, whine and cajole at first, but once they realize what the expectations are, it does get better.
2. Be mindful of your own behavior. If the first thing you do when you walk into the living room is flip on the television or pick up your laptop, your children will almost certainly try to emulate you.
3. Set a good example. This is the other side of number two. If you want your children to read, then they should see you reading. If you want to see them develop their skills and hobbies, let them see you work hard on your hobbies and projects.
4. Make cleaning and decluttering your children’s play areas a priority either before or just after the new year. Kids are just like us, they get overwhelmed and frustrated when faced with huge, haphazard piles and stacks. Once the room is clean and organized, give your children clear instructions on how to keep it maintained.
5. Use a timer to set time limits. In my experience, children are much more likely to cooperate if the timer says it’s time to quit instead of mom or dad.

Teach Them How to Set Goals and Delay Gratification

You’ve probably already heard of the famous marshmallow experiment. If you haven’t, in a nutshell, the children who participated in the experiment were given the choice between one marshmallow now or two if they could wait. The children who were able to delay gratification were found to be more successful in later life.

One of the best tools that parents have for teaching delayed gratification is by giving their children a reasonable allowance. You can help your child decide on a savings goal and show them ways to mark their progress and avoid the temptation to spend now. Many children learn best with visual reminders, so help them to make a chart to mark how much they’ve saved and how far they have to go.

You can also help teach them the value of having a goal, planning and hard work by letting them help you with projects around the house. For example, if you are painting a room, you can show them step by step how you go about the entire process and explain to them why you take certain measures even if they take longer or add to the cost.

Children learn best by experience. As parents, it is important for us to remember this and let them help and tag along even if it is more work for us. After all, that’s one way that we can delay gratification and achieve our ultimate goal of healthy, happy children. Take the time to explain and discuss what you are doing and why. Answer their questions and listen to their suggestions.

It takes more than just sheer willpower to grow up into a successful adult. Children also need to feel valued, respected and empowered to make good decisions. A healthy sense of self esteem and self worth makes it much easier for children to resist temptation and focus on their goals.  It does cost a lot of money to raise a child, but we can give them plenty of love and attention for free.

What are your goals for being a better parent?

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  • Jennifer says:

    We are getting rid of cable. It is a cost savings for one, but two, it is a way to unplug from the world. We have Internet and Netflix, so if we want to watch a movie or TV show, keep up with the news, or read an article, we can still do so. I think we will find, even in a snowy winter, that our time (and money) is better spent on other things – reading, knitting and cross stitch, taking day trips, playing more games and doing puzzles together.

  • Pam at MoneyTrail says:

    What a great article! My younger boys can spend hours outside playing with sticks, digging holes and building forts. I think outdoor play is just as important as the organized sports and clubs that can easily dominate our time.

    I also have our children wait a few days before they make a purchase. Sometimes this waiting period makes the desire for the new toy completely disappear and they save their money for other purposes.

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