8 Ways to Be a Better Parent

4. Do Nothing

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In fact, let your kids be bored, says psychologist Michael Gurian, author of Nurture the Nature: Understanding and Supporting Your Child's Unique Core Personality (Jossey-Bass). "Their identities emerge when they are left to their own devices. They pick up a pencil and draw or go out in the backyard. They follow their own dreams and thoughts. The activity will be self-directed and will foster self-direction," says Gurian, who adds that this holds true for even young toddlers -- although they will need both supervision and a little support, especially if they tend to fuss and quarrel when they're their own. Set out tools and toys to tempt them: art supplies or a big cardboard box for making a house, for instance.

Mother of two Nina Becker, of Glen Cove, New York, describes the frenzy of activity surrounding the homecoming of her younger son, Kevin, whom the Beckers adopted at 18 months. "At first we were running around with tons of activities," says Becker of her efforts to acclimate Kevin to every aspect of his new environment. "But then it seemed both boys weren't happy with other kids around. I canceled all playdates. I stopped scheduling, so we could all have fun together on our own terms."

A couple of considerations for unplanned, at-home time: TVs and computers should be off-limits. But if your child suggests you play a game together, by all means say yes. "That's child-directed family time, and that's awesome," Gurian says. The bottom line: Strive for a balance between planned activities and downtime, and everyone -- kids and parents alike -- will be happiest.

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