"Dr. Laura....My new year's resolution is to be more patient. But when I told my family, they reminded me that I made the same resolution last year. I feel like a failure, even though I know I've become a better mother over the past year." -- ChristinaSource: iStock/Used with Permission
Many people don't make New Years Resolutions, because they find themselves making the same resolutions every year. But that doesn't mean you're a failure. It means you're headed in the right direction, and you aren't perfect yet. (Shocking, I know!)
The bad news is, you won't be perfect this year either. The good news is, you don't have to be! Kids don't need perfection from parents. What they need is a parent who accepts them with all their imperfections, models compassion and respect, and apologizes and reconnects when things go wrong -- as they inevitably do.
This is tough work, because it's about regulating our own emotions. That's why resolving to be more patient rarely works. By the time we're gritting our teeth to stay "patient" we're already sliding into the stress response of fight, flight or freeze.
But if you want to become a more patient parent – and a happier person – it’s completely possible. Here are 5 simple resolutions to support you in creating a home with less drama and more love. Practicing these is the work of a lifetime, so you still won't be perfect in a year -- in fact, you might make these same resolutions next year! But I guarantee you'll be a more peaceful parent, with a happier, more cooperative child.
Remember that discipline is not punishment. Enforcing limits is really about teaching kids how to behave in the world and helping them to become competent, caring, and in control.
1. Resolve to work on regulating your own emotions , so you can be the emotionally generous parent you want to be. Start by integrating daily sustainable self-nurturing into your life: Go to bed earlier so you're better rested, eat healthfully to maintain your energy, transform those inner negative comments into encouraging ones, and slow down your pace so you're not so stressed.
Most important of all, commit to managing your reactions. When you're in fight or flight, your child looks like the enemy and you can't teach well. Just say No to taking any action while you're angry.
Does this sound hard? It is. Maybe the hardest thing we ever do. But that urgency to act is a signal that you're in "fight or flight." Calm your upset before you engage with your child.
Every time you restrain your own "tantrum" you're rewiring your brain. Each time you choose love, it makes the next choice easier. There's no time like the present to begin. And you'll be astonished at how your child changes, as you get better at self-regulating.
2. Resolve to love the one you’re with. The one thing we know for certain about child development is that kids who feel loved and cherished thrive. That doesn’t mean kids who ARE loved – plenty of kids whose parents love them don’t thrive. The kids who thrive are the ones who FEEL loved and cherished for exactly who they are.
Every child is unique, so it takes a different approach for each child to feel seen and valued. The hard work for us as parents is accepting who our child is, challenges and all – and cherishing him for being that person, even while guiding his behavior. The secret? See it from his perspective, empathize with him, and celebrate every step in the right direction. Maybe most important? Enjoy your child!
Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth "talk time" is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it's that "back-and-forth conversation" that improves language skills—much more so than "passive" listening or one-way interaction with a screen.
3. Resolve to stay connected. Kids only cooperate and "follow" our leadership when they feel connected. But separation happens, so we have to repeatedly reconnect.
Remember that quality time is about connection, not teaching, so it’s mostly unstructured. Hug your child first thing every morning and when you say goodbye. When you’re reunited later in the day, spend fifteen minutes solely focused on your child. (What do you do in that 15 minutes? Listen, commiserate, hug, roughhouse, laugh, play, empathize, listen some more. Not enough time? What could be more important?)
Stop working and turn off your phone and computer before dinner so you can focus on your family. Eat dinner together without screens and do a lot of listening. Have a chat and a warm snuggle at bedtime every night with each child.
4. Resolve to role model respect. Want to raise kids who are considerate and respectful, right through the teen years? Take a deep breath, and speak to them respectfully. After all, kids learn from what we model. If we can't manage our own emotions, we can't expect our kids to learn to manage theirs. Not always easy when you’re angry, so remember your mantras:
- "It's not an emergency."
- "I'm the role model."
- "He's acting like a child because he IS a child."
- "Don’t take it personally."
- "This too shall pass!"
Live a little greener. Show your kids how easy it is to care for the environment. Waste less, recycle, reuse, and conserve each day. Spend an afternoon picking up trash around the neighborhood.
5. Resolve to address the needs and feelings driving your child’s behavior. The most important time to stay connected with your child is when she's acting out. All "misbehavior" is a red flag that your child needs your help to handle big emotions or fill unmet needs. Once you address the feelings or needs, the behavior changes. If you can lead by loving example, redirect preemptively rather than punish (“ You can throw the ball outside ”), and set limits empathically (“ I see how mad and sad you are. No hitting; hitting hurts. Let’s use your words to tell your sister how you feel. I'll help... ”) you'll raise self-disciplined kids who WANT to follow your guidance.
Sure, your child will make mistakes, and so will you. There are no perfect parents, no perfect children, and no perfect families. But there are families who live in the embrace of great love, where everyone thrives. The only way to create that kind of family is to make daily choices that take you in that direction. It's not magic, just the hard work of constant course correction to get back on track when life inevitably throws you off.
So don't worry if you're making the same resolutions every year. That just means you're keeping yourself on track by choosing, over and over, to take positive steps in the right direction. Before you know it, you'll find yourself in a whole new landscape. Parenting, after all, is a journey -- not a destination. For today, just choose less drama and more love. You'll be amazed at how far that takes you.
And if keeping these resolutions sounds like too big a lift, that just means you need more support. This is some of the hardest work anyone ever does, and we all need help from time to time.
Remember: Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. But some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. Parents must observe carefully their children's behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including the family pediatrician.
Happily, if you're resolving to be the best parent you can be in 2019, I've got you covered.
- Use these blog posts as your own complementary coaching library to help you feel better, be more patient and emotionally generous, connect more deeply with your child, and coach your child to be his or her best self. Remember, you can subscribe to get them right in your in box.
- Don't forget that the AhaParenting.com website has hundreds of articles about children of all ages.
- Have you taken my self-paced Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Online Course yet? I guarantee that you'll create real change in your family. You still have time to register for the Course that begins in mid-January. This could be the best gift you give your family all year!
I'm honored to accompany you on your parenting journey, and I look forward to supporting you in making 2019 the best year yet for you and your family. May this year be filled with countless moments that take your breath away.