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How bad is it? Common parenting slipups analyzed

  • Story Highlights
  • Letting the kids watch TV all day isn't so bad; just keep an eye on what's on
  • Using treats for rewards is OK, but try not to bribe them with food too often
  • Relocating can be tough on preteens and teens, but overall kids are resilient
  • It's natural to pay less attention to second children; don't worry too much about it
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Real Simple

(Real Simple) -- How bad is it if you bribe your child with treats or let him watch TV all day? Here, experts assess your actions so in four scenarios you can make the right choice.

Letting your kids watch TV all day won't do long-term harm, but don't let it become a regular event.

Letting your kids watch TV all day won't do long-term harm, but don't let it become a regular event.

In the following scenarios, the oops! ratings are based on a scale of one to five, with five being the most serious offense and one being the least serious.

You let the kids watch television all day
Oops! rating: 2
You won't do long-term harm to your kids. Just make sure it isn't a weekly event, and check on your couch potatoes. "Anything over two hours could be considered excessive," so don't use it as an all-day babysitter, says Cathryn Galanter, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University in New York.

But you should keep an eye on the channel. What they are watching, like violent or scary content, could be more harmful than how long they sit on the couch.

Damage control: Select appropriate movies for them to watch on a rainy day. And don't assume that tuning in to something like Nature on PBS is inherently safe -- carnivores in action can be pretty rough stuff.

You bribe your child with treats
Oops! rating: 1
"There's nothing wrong with positive reinforcement," says Galanter. "You can motivate a child by offering a reward or a low-cost present for good behavior." But there's a fine line between positive reinforcement and bribing, says Susan Heitler, a marriage and family therapist in Denver, Colorado. Don't overdo it.

Damage control: Make everyday activities fun and satisfying -- by singing, for example (think of the "A Spoonful of Sugar" scene in Mary Poppins) -- suggests Heitler.

Opt for nonfood treats -- activities, games, toys, books -- since teaching kids to reward themselves with food can set up unhealthy eating patterns.

You move cities several times
Oops! rating: 2

"Moving is one of the most significant life events to a child," says Chris Lucas, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the director of the Early Childhood Service at the New York University Child Study Center in New York. It tends to be tougher on preteens and teenagers, who are more connected to peer groups and may have trouble breaking into established social circles.

Overall, though, "kids are pretty resilient," says Heitler. "There are many instances when a move is the best thing that ever happened to a kid -- if she's moving to a better school or to a place where parents are happier." It can also mean a fresh start for a child struggling in school or with friends.

Damage control: Prepare children well ahead of time by familiarizing them with the new place and giving them an opportunity to say good-bye.

With younger children, explain what moving does and doesn't mean, reassuring them that they can take their toys or will still be able to see their grandparents.

Help kids establish new friendships. Research after-school programs, and plan activities at home that other new kids they meet can partake in.

You "neglect" your second (or third) child by not giving him the kind of attention that your firstborn enjoyed
rating: 1
"Obviously, younger children do get less attention, because parental attention is divided among more than one person," says Lucas. "But the research is fairly mixed on whether this has a significant impact." While younger siblings get less individual attention, they benefit from having more competent parents, who have worked through their rookie blunders with the firstborn.

In addition, younger children get the support of older siblings, which seems to be beneficial for their emotional health. Younger siblings also learn a lot from observing big brothers and sisters and modeling their behavior. Having an example of someone they can relate to helps them develop many skills at an even earlier age compared with the firstborn.

Damage control: Don't obsess. Equal attention is impossible to attain, says Lucas, so assess each child's needs and meet them as well as you can.

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