Skipping family dinner and talking about money in front of your kids are nothing to feel guilty about, says Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families. Let's move on from these supposed mommy-musts. By Ava Feuer, REDBOOK.
Parents should devise punishments
You're the adult, and you're in-charge, but that doesn't mean that families should be dictatorships. "There's abundant research that shows nothing is run top-down anymore - not companies, not sport teams, nothing," says Feiler. When children pick their own rewards and punishments, they learn to take ownership over their actions, which is ultimately what you, the parent, want. Feiler's family holds a weekly meeting at which they vote on a few things to work on during the week ahead. Recently, they decided that everyone should get a reward for not yelling - more minutes of iPad time - and a punishment for not listening - less iPad time. "Our kids are actually stricter than we are, and that's a common thing," he says. "We're dialing them back because they're so happy to be the disciplinarians."
To teach a lesson, take something away
When your son doesn't come home in time for dinner, or your daughter refuses to clean up her toys, you may be inclined to withhold dessert or confiscate those playthings. But, you'll likely have better luck assuming the kids will do the right thing. "People hate loss more than they desire gain," says Feiler. Hand over $10 for your son to spend at the movies, but tell him that if he doesn't make curfew, he must return the money. It sends a message of trust, and makes kids want to be responsible.
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Families should eat dinner together every night
Everything you've heard is true: having dinner as a family is great. However, with extracurriculars, work schedules, and the slew of demands we face, it's also unrealistic to assume everyone will magically appear at the table at 7 o'clock each night. "There's only 10 minutes of productive time in any family meal," explains Feller. "You can take that 10 minutes any time." You can just as easily get the benefits of family togetherness at breakfast or at bedtime. What's important is what you talk about, so ask your kids to teach you a new word every day and do the same for them, or tell them stories of their extended family, which will help them better handle their own setbacks.
Allowance should be tied to responsibilities or chores
There's a downside to the policy that so long as your children keep their rooms clean, they earn $15 in spending money per week. "They only do it for the money as opposed to because we're a family, and there are certain things that need to get done around here - the table needs to be set, the laundry needs to be folded, the bed needs to be made," says Feiler. Tying financial rewards to basic responsibilities means that money is constantly on people's minds, and there's evidence this makes them more selfish. Instead, hand over a crisp bill, and give your children the freedom to make mistakes. "It's much better to let them drive into the ditch with a $6 allowance than $60,000 in loans," says Feiler.
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Don't talk about money in front of the kids
There's no need to sound the alarm, but if times are tight, keeping it a secret from your children may not be your best bet. "Eighty percent of people have never had a conversation about finances with their parents," says Feiler, who spoke with Warren Buffet's banker on his quest for family financial wisdom. Children don't learn about how money is made, what it's spent on, and where to invest it at school, from their friends, or via religious institutions, meaning that if you don't start those conversations, no one will.
Stay out of fights between siblings
The last thing you want to do is referee a fight about who gets to go on the computer first, but doing so may be in everyone's best interest. "I thought I was being smart letting my twin daughters work things out, but until a certain age, they don't really have the skills to do that," says Feiler. Start by separating dueling siblings, and give them some time to cool down. Then, ask everyone - you, your husband, and each child - to come up with three alternatives, and discuss the options. "This breaks the dynamic so it's not either-or," says Feiler.
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Have the sex talk
Instead, have a series of conversations, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. According to the American Pediatric Association, parents should start speaking with their children when they're as young as 18 months by using proper names for body parts. As kids grow up, avoid statements like, "to date my daughter, you'll have to get past my shotgun," which stigmatize sexuality. "It's much easier to be in a flow of conversations with an eight-year-old than a 13-year-old, at which point they're in puberty, and parents are the last people they want to hear it from," says Feiler.
Stand above children when disciplining them
When you're looking to get across the message that what they've done is very wrong, you likely stand over your kids, perhaps even wagging a finger. Instead, have a seat in an upright chair with a cushion as a less rigid position will actually make you - and the situation - less tense. "You don't want to be in the power position," says Feiler. "You want to be on equal planes. Everyone will be more accommodating."
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