Today begins a regular series of No Regrets Parenting Questions and Answers. These are excerpted and modified from “Ask the Experts” live media chats I regularly do for Parents magazine, Children’s Hospital of Colorado, 9News, and other media outlets. I hope you find these relevant and helpful for your own parenting. The first 3 deal with video games, a child’s parental preference, and homework.

Question: I would to like to ask a question about recommended use of educational video games. Do you feel these are good for children?

No Regrets Parenting: Video games are a mixed bag. They have become so integrated into our kids’ lives, either on computer monitors, TVs, or mobile devices, that they are hard to ignore. The educational games are the best of the bunch, but I prefer human-human contact to any of the video offerings. That means no video games in the car or during family time when actual conversation could be taking place instead. Video games don’t qualify as play dates with friends if you can avoid it. Learning opportunities from non-video game sources are plentiful – including reading with parents, and board games played on the kitchen table. Finally, time limits should be put on all video activities (including TV).

Question: I was wondering if you had advice on dealing with parental preference. My wife is a stay-at-home mother for our 3 and 1.5 year old children, which is wonderful for our children, but as the father, I often feel left out of things and then saddened when my kids prefer to do certain things with their mom instead of me. I try to spend as much time with them when I’m home as possible, and my job doesn’t require me to travel, so I’m home quite a good bit. Yet there are still many things that they won’t do with me and just prefer to do with her. I don’t want to discourage this at all, and we are all so fortunate that my wife can stay home with them and provide all the love, support and nurture they need, I just sometimes feel like an outsider. Thanks!

No Regrets Parenting: What a sweet question! I love hearing from dads who care as much as you do about their kids. Firstly, let me tell you that it is totally normal for kids to “prefer” the stay-at-home parent (or the stay-at-home nanny, as the case often is). They are accustomed to unfettered attention and access from mom and, as you so nicely stated, that IS great. But, there are ways for you to feel like less of an outsider. Establish “daddy time” each night when you come home. It may only be 15 minutes before dinner (or before bedtime if you get home late). During this time, you and the kids do something special just the 3 of you – read together, play a game, perform a puppet show (for lots of ideas for special moments with your kids, see On weekends, divide and conquer. Each parent takes a turn with one child for an outing, and then everyone gets together for a family outing (or dinner or family movie night). Things the kids prefer doing with mom needn’t be changed to accommodate you in mom’s place (unless they start to like the idea) – rather, develop new activities mom doesn’t do with them as special daddy fun.

My daughter and I went to the bookstore and sat in a comfy chair and read together. My boys and I played ball. A lot. Mom was happy to have the reprieve, and the kids were delighted to expand their repertoire.

Question: Our daughter is 6, in 1st grade. Our son is 8 in 2nd grade. Homework is a struggle. Mainly our 8 year old does not want to do his homework. It has become a battle. How do we get our kids to want to do their homework and be more self-sufficient?

No Regrets Parenting: Homework is a complicated issue. There may be medical reasons – does he have trouble concentrating or focusing? Has his vision been checked recently? How does he do in school – have his teachers noticed problems with learning or paying attention? Assuming it’s behavioral and not medical, here are some tips: establish a quiet work space with sufficient lighting and few distractions; establish a specific time each evening – optimally before any fun stuff like TV, video games, or playdates, but you may have to allow some decompression time right after school. and before dinner. Finally, and, perhaps most importantly, show him that homework matters to you. Here’s how.

“Help” them with homework every night – BUT, that doesn’t mean you do it for them. It means you answer the tough “how do I do this one” questions, and you look over their work when they’re finished. You’re not reviewing their work to catch small errors, but to show them their work is important to you, you are proud of what they are doing…and to make sure they don’t stray too far from the right concept required by the assignment. Motivation and problem-solving skills come from you role-modeling for them in this way.

And, when the battle starts, attach positive homework behavior with positive reinforcement (which always works better than punishments). Doing a nice job on tonight’s homework earns an extra 30 minutes of TV time or video game time – something important to your child. Weekend trips to the ice cream store for a good job with homework during the week also help.

Tell me what you think about these issues by submitting comments on this post or contacting me through the contact page on this blog.

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