According to Heather Miller, parents of an elementary or middle-school child should put their phones away every weeknight from 6-8 p.m. and devote those hours to their children.
Ms. Miller, a education professional, has written a guide instructing parents on how to make nighttime rituals more meaningful. The plan, divided into four 30-minute blocks, is detailed in her book “Prime Time Parenting: The Two-Hour-a-Day Secret to Raising Great Kids.”
“Two hours is both long and short,” Ms. Miller, who grew up splitting time between Greenport and New York City, said. “Parents ask me, ‘Are you saying I can only spend two hours with my kids and be a good parent?’ And in a weird way I kind of am … You don’t need to spend every minute of the day with your kids and you don’t need to spend every minute of your day with your phone.”
Designed for parents of children aged five to 13, the guide describes each 30-minute block. The first is called “Prime Time Parenting,” and involves getting kids started on their homework and cooking dinner.
It is here that Ms. Miller’s favorite tip lies — using a timer to motivate children to concentrate on their homework.
A parent would first set a timer for five minutes and tell their child they have to work during that time and not ask the parent any questions. Once the timer goes off, it’s break and question time. She suggests setting the timer for longer as they become accustomed to it to continue developing those skills.
“Try that and you’ll see the child actually does really well and there’s a theatricality to being timed that makes it easier for them to concentrate,” she said. “Also, children have a tendency to ask questions without thinking first. We need them to be independent problem solvers, so this builds those problem solving skills.”
Next is the “Power of the Dinner (Half) Hour,” which details the difference between just sitting at a table together and really engaging with your children during mealtime. From 7 to 7:30 p.m. is “The Homework Hustle” and is focused on answering homework questions and getting your kids through the final stretch.
Then comes the last screen-less half-hour — “Bed, Bath and Beyond.” Lastly, the book also gives pointers for “You Time” and unwinding after putting the kids to bed.
Ms. Miller, 46, began her career in children’s publishing at Scholastic and eventually moved into their maturity program, working with inner city schools. After her experience there she shifted into educational publishing where she created reading programs.
While attending graduate school at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology she was introduced to educational technology, and later did educational technology work in China and France for the United Nations and in India for the National Science Foundation.
Ten years ago she started her own company, LePage-Miller, an education firm based in New York City. She is also the mother of a 25-year-old son, whom she raised as a single parent while attending graduate school.
She said she used a structured process when her son was little, and through her interaction with students in classrooms learned the importance of structure, sleep and decreased screen time.
“Developmentally, routines are critical for small children,” Ms. Miller said. “When children feel they know what’s happening next — this is true all the way from babies to teens — it makes it easier for them to learn because they’re not worrying about what’s happening next. When they have a firm sense of what’s happening next, it frees the brain to focus on other things.”
Photo caption: Heather Miller, a lifelong summer resident of Greenport, recently published a parenting guide. The book details how to make the most of after-school time with your children. (Courtesy photo)