The new year gives us a chance to pause and ask ourselves the big questions: “How am I doing? How can I improve?” If you’re a parent, perhaps you resolve to be a calmer one, a more consistent one, a stricter one, a more involved one. Maybe you’re thinking about the gap between the parent you are and the parent you want to be.
Here are four steps for you to effect positive change in your family this year. Many of them are simple to put into place but create change that will last for a lifetime.
Step 1: Reflect on Your Past Year of Parenting
Self-reflection is key to all good relationships, including those with your kids. And the beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect and resolve to make any necessary changes. Here are some important questions to ask yourself, which will help you formulate your own resolutions.
Do I lose it with my kids? Is my losing it more about my own sense of helplessness or lack of effectiveness, tolerance, or patience?
What can—and can’t—I expect of myself as a parent? What are—and aren’t—my responsibilities?
Do I do for my kids what they can already do for themselves? Am I over-functioning? (And is that why they are under-functioning?)
How is my behavior contributing to any problems that I see in my kids? Is there anything I’m doing that might contribute to their misbehaving or their not listening?
Are there things that I nag or criticize my child for that I need to improve on myself?
Is being with me a good feeling, or do I spend most of my time criticizing, correcting, and being negative?
Would I like to have myself as a parent? What would be positive, and what would be most difficult?
Do I carry enough compassion for myself when I’m parenting? If not, what can I do to develop more of that for myself?
Step 2: Resolve To Stay Calm This Year
A common resolution parents make at New Year’s (and all through the year) is to yell less and be less reactive. Staying calm with your kids is one of the best things you can do to model behavior and build positive relationships. Remember, anxiety is contagious—and so is calm. Here’s what you can do to help keep your cool this year:
Realize what you have control over. Recognize you have control over your response to your child’s actions, not over the decisions they make. Give yourself the time to breathe and get the adrenaline down to get the thinking part of your brain engaged. Before you respond, spend time thinking about the most effective way to respond to your child’s behavior. Make sure you’re calm when you speak to them about their behavior and the consequences you might be giving them.
Work on your triggers. Try to be aware of what triggers your anger with your kids. Although you will hold your kids accountable for inappropriate behavior, also recognize that much of their behavior is just kids being kids. Don’t be mad at them for going through their natural developmental stages. Young kids have lots of energy and often use it to get into everything in sight. This is necessary and healthy for kids, as aggravating as it is for us. Older kids explore the boundaries and take risks in order to individuate from their parents—another necessary step in their development, although it is scary, worrisome, and aggravating for parents to witness.
Practice good self-care. Do what you can to calm and soothe yourself. Get enough rest, take care of your health, work on your adult relationships, pursue your goals and interests. The more you care for yourself, the more resilience you will have, and the more your children will not have to emotionally fulfill you.
“Name that stressor!” Manage your distress by acknowledging it and naming it. You can say something like, “I’m feeling annoyed right now. I’m going to take my own timeout, breathe, and think about how I want to address this problem.” By doing this, you will be calming yourself down and modeling for your children how to regulate themselves better.
Look at the big picture. Remind yourself that the most influence you will have with your children is in building a positive relationship with them. All of our interactions create a relationship over time. Think about how you want this relationship to look in five years, ten years, twenty years. In the moment, try asking yourself, “What can I do now, in this interaction, to hold my child accountable and develop a positive relationship?”
Step 3: Stick To the Resolutions You Make
You might be saying to yourself, “Okay, now that I have my resolutions, how can I keep them all year and make them a habit?” Here what you can do to make sure they stick:
Commit to change. The only way for you to follow through on a resolution is first to decide that you will. When you realize your decision to do something differently has meaning, importance, or value to you, it gives you the motivation and power to keep going. Only then can it become the commitment and priority that it needs to be.
Work on yourself. When you make this commitment, you’ll also recognize that working on yourself rather than your kids creates great and lasting relationships with them. And remind yourself that your improvements will be helping your kids grow to be self-reliant, caring adults.
Do whatever it takes. Put up reminders on your bathroom mirror. Ask your mate to gently remind you about your commitments. Come up with a code word or signal. Do whatever it takes to keep your commitment to changing.
Step 4: Incorporate More Positive Parenting
As you move forward in the new year, try these positive parenting tips to help guide you and to strengthen your relationship with your child:
Have two positive interactions for every negative comment. For every reprimanded correction or criticism you give your children (a necessary part of parenting), add two positive interactions. They can come in the form of a hug, a compliment, acknowledgment of something well done, a smile, or having a fun time together. Remember, the brain remembers negatives very well but has a much harder time holding onto the positives. That’s why you need to make a conscious effort to include two positives for every one negative.
Ask, don’t tell. Make a conscious effort to ask, not tell, when your child shares something with you—particularly your teen. “It is so unfair that the teacher did not give us more time for the research paper.” Your response: “Is there something you want to do about that?” Versus: “You should speak to the teacher about it.”
Be separate from your child. The best gift you can give your children is some space. When you know how to stay separate and not micro-manage your child, you will find yourself staying calm, worrying less, and keeping your cool. When you are separate, you will naturally allow your child to own their life. It will be their disappointments, their frustrations, their mistakes, and their struggles. You will acknowledge this without getting into their head or letting your worry get in their way. You will know these are their problems, not yours. It will be clear what belongs in your box and what does not. Look at it this way: you have your own disappointments, struggles, and goals to work out. You can be there as your child’s guide and leader, but you can’t be the owner of their life. The way to be truly connected to your children is to be truly separate from them.
Here are three different scenarios that show how you can be a more separate parent with your kids:
If your adult child is still living at home and sleeping until noon every day, instead of thinking of them like a sloth and telling them what they should do with their life, stop having an opinion and get interested and curious about them. Find out what is making them tick or not tick. At the same time, be honest with them. Let them know what you expect of them while living at home or whether you are still willing to have them in your home six months to a year from now. Sit down and make a plan together.
If your child picks a fight with you every time they’re about to do something they don’t want to do, don’t engage. This way, they can wrestle with their own discomfort rather than deflect the responsibility by wrestling with you.
If your child is hysterical about whether or not they will get the job they desperately want, stop jumping in with reassurances or taking on their pain or worry. Stand by their side rather than jumping in their box. Tell them you understand how crummy it feels to have to wait when you want something so badly. Be next to them instead of on top of them.
Above all this year, always resolve to ask yourself: “Who owns this problem?” If you are the owner, work to solve it. If you are not the owner, stay out of your child’s way and give them the space to own and figure out their own problem. You can stand nearby in case they would like your guidance, but don’t stand on top of them. By doing this, you will be giving yourself a lot more time and space for your own life, which is the best thing you can do for your child and yourself.
Wishing all parents and families out there a happy and healthy new year!
For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.
Responses to questions posted on EmpoweringParents.com are not intended to
replace qualified medical or mental health assessments. We cannot diagnose
disorders or offer recommendations on which treatment plan is best for
your family. Please seek the support of local resources as needed. If you
need immediate assistance, or if you and your family are in crisis, please
contact a qualified mental health provider in your area, or contact your
statewide crisis hotline.
We value your opinions and encourage you to add your comments to this
discussion. We ask that you refrain from discussing topics of a political
or religious nature. Unfortunately, it's not possible for us to respond to
every question posted on our website.