When I was asked to write about New Year’s resolutions for parents, I thought, What? Doesn’t everybody know that they don’t work?
Or, they don't always work. Have you ever set a broad goal—like avoiding yelling, becoming more mindful or creating positive atmospheres at the dinner table—and within no time, you've failed and feel unworthy as a parent? As noble and desirable as these types of goals are, they are not concrete, behavioral or measurable. Most parenting goals intended to turn around negative patterns are really hard.
And yet, the start of a new year is exactly the time when many of us are thinking about making change, striking a better family balance, or tackling problems that have been gnawing away at us.
Parenting, family and personal resolutions can work, if you approach them in the right way, by focusing on positive, specific actions.
If you want to build parenting or family resolutions that stick, here are some guidelines for your consideration:
1. Pick a resolution which is specific, achievable, and something you feel motivated to do, not just a “should.” Examples might be a gratitude ritual or saying grace before dinner, putting a love note on your child’s bed once a week, having a weekly family meeting where everyone's feelings and ideas are heard, or having a weekly date night with your spouse or friend for self-care (yes, that counts as a parenting enhancement!).
2. Make sure the focus of your resolution is your behavior, because the only behavior you can really control is your own.
3. Tell one or two people about your intention. Tell them you will report on your progress and experience. Ask them to support you, avoid giving advice, and encourage you after setbacks (maybe you can do the same for them?). Accountability can be critical for habit change. But nagging or negative feedback should be considered a no-no.
4. Put reminders on your phone or big flags on your calendar so you remember to follow through on your new habit.
5. Expect and accept that life events can derail new habit practices. Forgive yourself and get back on track.
6. Give yourself a reward for completion of the new practice. For instance, let’s say you want to make chores a priority with your kids. You’ve agreed with them that they get extra screen time if they complete their chores by a certain time every day without your nagging them. Your new habit is that you want to follow through on monitoring and doling out (or not!) the screen-time bonus consistently. For every week you follow through, give yourself a treat ($20 extra for your personal slush fund?). Research has shown that rewards for adults trying to initiate new habits can be a critical predictor of success, especially when we’re getting the habit established.
I talk to a lot of parents who tell me that they don’t know where to start to enhance their parenting—that their homes are chaotic and they need a huge overhaul. Start with small, simple and positive behaviors. After all, a positive anything is better than a negative nothing.
Need some ideas?
- If you have a tween or teen, take a look at my Wise-Minded Parenting video series for ideas about exercises you can do to enhance your parenting skills. Maybe you’ll want to try “Supper Club,” “Let It Be Day” or “Glass Half Full Day.” Because they involve your behavior (not changing your child’s) and are meant to be experiments, what do you have to lose? Some are actually fun.
- Because almost everybody wants to increase their fitness, reduce intake of processed food, get more sleep, and reduce screen time to enhance family health, have a parent-summit meeting with your spouse or a coffee klatch with your friends and make a pact on a small nudge in the right direction on these goals. Start small! Maybe you’ll make one super-healthy meal a week. Maybe you’ll start a game night without screens one night a week (a month?). Or maybe you’ll ride your bike to school and back with your kids once a month.With younger kids, spending child-centered time with them can be like Miracle Grow for your relationship quality.Don’t all of us have 10 minutes to create “love in action?” Not only does child-centered time build security and connectedness, but it can also reduce behavioral problems. Study up on how to create this magic in my most recent book, Getting to Calm, The Early Years: Cool-Headed Strategies for Raising Happy, Caring and Independent Three- to Seven-Year-Olds. You let them lead the play, call the shots and monopolize your attention (even if they relegate you to viewer-only status).
Maybe you’ll manage to chat about these ideas with friends and consider the Fourth of July for a start date. Or Valentine's Day. Or any time you feel ready. Many of us get ready for change for a while before we tackle implementation and action plans. Peer support can be critical, so keep talking and connecting with your study buddies. We do the best we can, but we want to do better!