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When You Say It Right (But Things Still Go Wrong)

You Allow Stereotypes to Intrude in Your Family

Fathers who won't change diapers and mothers who won't play catch with their kids are not only missing out, they are messing up. It may seem small, but when you limit your activities with a child and let your mate take over, you limit your role in other ways, too. Eventually you will be a two-dimensional parent -- very involved in your area of expertise but uninvolved in other areas. This can have far-reaching effects. One study showed that couples with one child, a girl, were 9 percent more likely to divorce than couples who had only a boy. Couples with two girls were 18 percent more likely to divorce than couples with two boys. Why? Evidently fathers spend more time in child-care activities with sons than with daughters. A dad's greater involvement usually improves marital satisfaction and reduces the risk of divorce. (Another study showed that if a girl had brothers, her father was more involved in her life than if she had no brothers.) While it is true that some parents are better skilled at some child-focused tasks than their mates, the less-skilled parent shouldn't abandon efforts to be useful in those areas.

You Don't Give New Approaches a Fair Shot

Ironically, frustrated parents have a tendency to overuse parenting approaches that haven't proved useful but give up on helpful approaches quickly. For example, parents who have found that taking away privileges from a child doesn't stop some unacceptable behavior will continue to take away privileges. They don't question the technique but just assume that their child is obstinate or extra difficult. But maybe they have misidentified the problem. Maybe the punishment is actually making matters worse. These same parents may try a new approach, but the first time they don't get the desired response, they abandon it and go back to the old standbys. If you have reason to believe that a different approach makes sense, try it for at least two weeks. If there is improvement but no resolution, then there is something about the approach that is working. Don't abandon it.

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