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6 Little Things That Make a Big Difference

Many parents provide their kids with the big essentials: unconditional love, protection, structure, and limits. But as a pediatrician and the mom of five (now grown) children, I've learned that there are also small things parents can do to make a major difference in their kids' lives.

Keep an Eye on the Big Picture

It happens to all of us: We become so preoccupied with the moment-to-moment aspect of child rearing that we lose perspective. When my first baby, Peter, was born, I was a premed student in college. Several weeks after returning to class and caring for my newborn, I became so sleep-deprived and depleted that I recall thinking, "There's no way I can do this for eighteen years!" I had momentarily lost my optimism and enthusiasm about parenthood. Fortunately, I got help from the people around me: My husband, Larry, cared for our son so I could catch up on my sleep at night; my neighbors offered to babysit so Larry and I could go out one evening; and a more experienced mom who lived nearby assured me it got easier as the baby got older. Thanks to them, I was better able to juggle the demands of my newborn with my schoolwork. And, more important, I knew I could ask others to pitch in when I felt overloaded.

Losing sight of the big picture also makes it easier to overreact when your child misbehaves. It helps when you can look at the context of his behavior. A 2-year-old isn't capable of remembering reprimands; despite repeated warnings not to scribble on the wall, he's liable to take a crayon to it again. Try to remind yourself that he's just learning what's acceptable and that most of his behavior is appropriate for his age.

The next time he begins to mark up a wall, say no again, coupled with a brief explanation ("It makes the wall dirty"). Then sit him at the table with a piece of paper. Or buy a kid-size easel if he seems to enjoy standing up when he draws.

Sometimes children have a better sense of perspective than the adults around them. When my niece developed juvenile diabetes at 3, my entire family was devastated. For months we could only focus on the many ways her life would be limited—by the daily testing, the dietary restrictions, and the potential medical complications.

A year later, while we were grocery shopping, she kept pointing at each item that had the sugar-free label on it and saying, "I can eat that! I can eat that! I can eat that!" While the grown-ups around her were caught up in what had been lost, my little niece had already learned to appreciate what remained.