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6 Ways to Be a Great Parent

1. Play video games

That's right: They're good for something. Wendy Hart Beckman of Cincinnati found that the best way to actually have a conversation with any of her three sons was to do it while they were playing a video game together. The bonding plays out in a different way with each child, she says. With her oldest, the distraction of the game allows them to have revealing conversations that might prove too uncomfortable face-to-face. With her middle son, she uses video games as a way to help him work on social skills. And her youngest son enjoys teaching her how to play new games, so it gives them a common interest. Try it -- you might even be surprised at how much fun you have.

2. Keep a diary

"When things get chaotic, I grab a pen and record what's happened and why," says Christine Louise Hohlbaum of Paunzhausen, Germany, a mom of two. "It often defuses the situation for me immediately."

Writing out the ups and downs of life as a parent can help you vent, problem-solve, and track your child's development. "We get frustrated, angry, and overwhelmed, with little opportunity for an immediate outlet," says Hohlbaum. Give yourself one and -- bonus -- your kid will also see a productive way to handle frustration.

3. Hang out with your friends

With all you have to do for your kids (plus everything else!), it's no wonder friends fall by the wayside. But if you can stay close, you'll be happier -- and show your kids how important friendship is.

"My kids enjoy hearing us talk about when we were kids," says Tami Berman, a mom of three in Newburgh, New York, who's still close to her two best friends from grade school. "And they've made a vow with my friends' kids to stay close, too. It gives them a sense of stability."

Keeping up is hardest when children are small -- but that's exactly when you need friends the most. Set up a bimonthly dinner (families invited, too), then grab a drink afterward.

4. Let your child make her own crazy choices

As a toddler, my daughter was so insistent on wearing exactly what she wanted -- even if that was a tutu and patent-leather shoes on a snowy day -- that I let her. Much later, I realized the value of letting her pick out her clothes, books, room decor: She developed independence and individuality, and was better at making sound choices (about food, friends, activities) than kids who'd had decisions made for them.

5. Say no to your kids

During my first few years of motherhood, my vision of the perfect mom was one who was all-loving, all-giving, all-nurturing, who never got angry or said no. If I slipped up (as I did frequently), I just had to work harder to attain perfection. And if my kid was cranky, unruly, and demanding, that must mean I had to be even more patient and understanding.

I believed this until the day I exploded. When I finally said no, the sun came out. I realized that being a great mother didn't mean endlessly indulging my child but guiding her, acting as her leader.

With my two youngest, I've been more confident saying no, and it's been smoother. They know the rules because I've made them clear, and they also feel secure that yes means yes.

6. Put an end to Candy Land

Most of us believe that good parents are interested in their children. That's true -- up to a point. Around about the 50th game of Candy Land or viewing of Jay Jay the Jet Plane, you may wish your child were interested in your stuff. He can be. "I think there's too much of an emphasis on self-sacrifice in parenting," says Lisa Phillips, a mom of one in Woodstock, New York. So instead of listening to nothing but children's music, they turn on funk and soul. With kids along, hikes might be slower and scrapbooking might be messy. But at least you're not stuck in the Molasses Swamp.

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