Melissa Arca: Learn to limit your worrying

01/03/2013 12:00 AM

01/02/2013 4:22 PM

When you're a parent, worrying comes with the territory. We worry about our picky little eaters. We worry about the quality of the food we serve our children. We worry about their safety when they're away from home. We worry. We're parents. The worry never goes away.

But as with most things, too much fretting about our parenting skills or about the day-to-day health of our children could actually backfire. No one wants to go through life with their children constantly second-guessing themselves. It can rob us of the true joy found in our small moments with them.

How do you rein in the worry and instead focus on what really matters?

Admittedly, it isn't always easy. There are days I'm consumed with worry and guilt. Typically it's the days when I feel disconnected and rushed with my children. Worry seems to take advantage when we find ourselves in a parenting funk.

So as you enter this new year, think of your top three parenting and/or health priorities and focus on those. Give yourself some wiggle room on everything else and remember to keep the big picture of parenting and your child's health in mind.

For our family, my big three are moderating screen time, making sure everyone gets the sleep they need, and eating together as a family on most nights.

Screen time: At the ages of 5 and 7, my kids are fully engulfed in mobile media. It kills me when I realize we are all together in the living room, but each of us is separately engrossed in our own hand-held gadgets.

So, for me, moderating our total screen time (which includes TV, computer, iPad, iPhone, and hand-held gaming devices) is extremely important.

Our iPads and iPhones are a welcome reprieve on long car trips, but they're also incredibly easy for them to just hop on at a moment's notice. My hope is to stay firm on our screen time rules, which include no electronics in the car unless we are traveling a long distance, no TVs or other electronic device in their bedrooms, no TV on in the background just because, and taking a digital break after 20-30 minutes of screen time.

Sleep: I've long touted how sleep is the cornerstone of children's health.

Too little and they're prone to meltdowns, infections, obesity, and behavioral/cognitive disturbances. And yet, reining in our bedtime is something I struggle with daily. There's always something else begging our attention and it's easy to let adequate sleep fall by the wayside.

Remember that school-age children need 10-12 hours of sleep per night.

Family dinners: With work, school, homework and a plethora of after-school activities, dinnertime is often rushed or on the go. When we do have time to sit together and eat as a family, I feel we are more connected – even if our children still proclaim they're finished five minutes after sitting down. It's getting better as a time for us to talk about our day and get a glimpse into each other's daily lives after having spent most of it apart.

Your big three may look a lot different than mine depending on the ages of your children and your particular family dynamics. Perhaps you need to jump into social media like Facebook so you can monitor your teen's usage. Maybe setting aside some one-on-one time with each of your children on a daily basis will top your list. Or this year could be the year you stop smoking once and for all – for your health and that of your family.

Whatever you put at the top of your parenting to-do list for 2013, be mindful to worry less and enjoy the small moments more. Here's wishing you and yours a healthy and fun-filled new year.

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