Resolutions parents can make for smarter, safer, happier kids

By Sarah Mayberry, M.P.H. - Producer

DETROIT - Most New Year's resolutions focus on self-improvement, but parenting experts say there are changes you can make that can also improve your child's life dramatically.

Where to begin?  Start by setting down your cell phone and picking up more books.

Resolve to spend more time reading with your children.  It will make a difference.

Numerous studies show reading aloud with your children helps boost their vocabulary, attention span, memory and confidence.  Experts say it's never too early to start.

"Babies can actually pay attention as parents are reading to them. They may not understand what the parent is saying, but they're actually laying down circuitry in their brain to start learning how to speak and use language and that's the fundamental that children need in order to become successful readers," said Dr. Elaine Schulte, a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital.

Schulte said 20 minutes of reading to your child every day will help teach the fundamental building blocks of reading and writing.

"If a child is not read to, they start falling behind very, very early, and if nobody pays attention to that they lose so much as they start getting into school," said Schulte.

Resolution No. 2: Focus on family dinners

Many adults resolve to eat healthier in the new year, but why not extend that idea to the whole family?  Studies find when families eat together, they tend to consume more fruits and vegetables -- and fewer fried foods.

Experts say family dinners can also lead to better grades and reduce the risk your children will smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs.
Resolution No. 3 may be the toughest one to keep.  Resolve to stay off your cell phone when you're with your children.

Experts worry smart phones and social media have created a generation of distracted parents.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds nonfatal injuries to children under age five rose 12 percent between 2007 and 2010.  Some emergency room doctors believe cell phone distractions are partially to blame.

Beyond the safety concerns, experts say constantly checking your phone when you're doing things with your children sends a strong message -- that what's happening on Facebook or Twitter is more important to you than what's happening with them. 

Experts say if you can't quit your cell phone habit "cold turkey," start by putting your phone away during dinner, bath and bedtimes.

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