Q: The TV is always on at our house! I like to do other activities with the kids, but I just can't pull everyone away from the TV. What is the appropriate amount of time to spend watching TV each day, and how can I get my family interested in other activities?
Jim: The solution to your dilemma can be summed up in three words: Turn it off! Countless studies testify to the detrimental effects of too much TV exposure, especially on children. It places them at higher risk for obesity, smoking, learning difficulties and being bullied. I could go on ...
And I will! There's also the issue of content. Whether through advertising or depictions of sex and violence, it's likely your children are receiving messages that you don't want them to hear.
Television isn't inherently evil, of course, and I'm not suggesting that you make your kids quit "cold turkey" (although many families, including my own, have made their homes largely TV-free, with no regrets). Considering the steady diet to which they've become accustomed, your children will likely balk at the thought of curtailing their TV intake.
Your family can go outside. In the warmer months, your family can play miniature golf or visit the local swimming pool. You can get involved in charity work as a family.
Your kids will likely relish the opportunity to engage in physical activity as a family and will thank you in the long run.
Q: My father died this year, and our young son has been asking questions. He wants to know where Grandpa has gone and whether he's become a "guardian angel." What's the best way to talk about death with a child?
Jim: There's no one better qualified to answer this question than Focus on the Family's executive director of parenting and youth, Leon Wirth.
Leon: We'd encourage you to be open with your son about his grandfather's passing. Death is a part of life, and it's important for children to understand that. So be honest when you talk about it. Say, "Grandpa died," not, "He's gone away," or, "He went to sleep." These phrases can lead to confusion and might even cause your son to wonder if he'll die when he goes to sleep!
Look for teachable moments and opportunities to talk about what has happened. Parents often avoid this subject to protect their kids, but we can use everyday occurrences - wilting flowers, changing seasons, even the death of a pet - to help them understand the reality. Perhaps most importantly, remember that when a death occurs, our kids will take their cues from us and react in great part based on how we react.
Also, help your son feel comfortable sharing his feelings. Let him know that you miss Grandpa, too, and that it's OK to feel sad when we lose a loved one. Part of this process might involve recalling good memories of special times with Grandpa. Look through photo albums and tell fun stories from the past.
Be sure to use age-appropriate language. Most young children don't have the capacity to grasp abstract concepts such as death and eternity. Depending on his age, there's a chance your son will not fully understand what has happened to his Grandpa and won't be able to appreciate the permanence of death. So keep the discussion simple, geared to your son's level of maturity and insight.
For more on helping your son process this time of grieving, seek out a copy of H. Norman Wright's book, "It's Okay to Cry: A Parent's Guide to Helping Children Through the Losses of Life" (WaterBrook Press, 2004). It includes a number of practical suggestions for helping kids cope with the death of a loved one.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.