By Michelle DeRamus, Ph.D.
At the start of a New Year, many have extensively planned rigid weight-loss diets, to spontaneously eradicate unhealthy habits, to achieve personal greatness or to conquer the world in 2015. The sky is the limit. While intentions may be pure, inevitably many of the difficult benchmarks set on January 1st are long forgotten by February. Parents, particularly, tend to make unrealistic resolutions centered on their children. They may be planning to never argue with their children in the coming year, to give their children everything they ask for, or to push them beyond their comfort zones to make straight A’s, to get onto all of the sports teams, or to get into an Ivy League school. Again, these may be great goals to strive for, but may prove to be unattainable in the long run. Parents and children may end up feeling high pressure and a sense of failure when they don’t measure up to the proverbial bar.
Instead, I encourage both children and adults to take a step back and reflect on all aspects of their lives during 2013 to determine the areas that they would most like to improve upon or change. Then, create realistic shorter-term goals to be carried out throughout the year. An important factor is finding accountability for meeting these short-term goals through a spouse, a friend or a co-worker.
In my office, I sometimes hear from parents who want to develop an entirely different approach for parenting their children but simply don’t know what or how to change. Because many look upon the New Year as a clean slate and a chance to start fresh, I have devised a list of my “Top 5 Parenting Resolutions for 2014.” You won’t become Super Mom or Dad overnight, but committing to LEARN throughout the year may help you to develop a more positive and open relationship with your child(ren) gradually.
(L)isten – really listen – to your child(ren).
Families are busy and constantly rushing from work to school to extracurricular activities. Sure, parents want to spend more one-on-one time with their children, but many believe there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Commit to giving your child your undivided attention for a period of time every single day.
Make sure that you allocate a realistic amount of time for each child. As little as five minutes each day can go a long way. This time can be spent at the dinner table, playing a game together or during bath time. It can be in the morning, in the afternoon or at night. The when and where don’t matter so much as the fact that you are making it a habit to talk with your child and to listen to the things that they think are important, worrisome or exciting. You are teaching them that what they have to say is valuable. In turn, by taking the time to listen to your child, your child may also be more likely to listen to you.
When you’re busy trying everything and nothing seems to be working, frustration can build for parents and children.
Decide on a comprehensive parenting strategy and discipline style and implement it throughout your day-to-day interactions with your child. Make sure that other key people in the child’s life are on the same page with this strategy, such as your partner or the child’s grandparents.
If you feel that you don’t have a solid approach for adopting an overarching parenting strategy, break it down. Choose one new technique to test. You could select a discipline strategy to implement, such as time out, taking away privileges, or positive reinforcement. You may also create a sticker chart to track rewards for good behavior. Stick with whatever strategy that you choose for at least two weeks so that you will see if it works well for you and your child. Research shows that it takes a full 30 days for a new habit to stick. If the strategy that you chose seems to be ineffective after the trial period, try something else for two weeks. Eventually, you will discover the strategies that you believe will work toward your long term resolution.
(A)djust your expectations.
No, your five-year-old won’t be able to write that college level essay. And, your teenage daughter (believe it or not) probably won’t want to come home right after school to do her homework. It’s normal.
Discover age-appropriate “norms” that may help you to understand your child better. Correlate your expectations for their behavior with their stage of development. Become familiar with your child’s personal strengths and weaknesses.
Short-term steps: (Pick any of the following options):
- Observe your child’s class at school and see what the other children are doing. Are they following directions properly? Do they know how to sit in their seats quietly, or are many children up and running around? If you are not typically around other children, you may not know what is “normal” and what’s not.
- Read an article or book, if you are an avid reader, on the stages of child development .
- Subscribe to websites like babycenter.com or healthychildren.org, which will provide you with periodic updates on child development stages.
- Ask your friends or your parents what their children were doing at certain ages to get a better handle on whether your child seems to be doing things at a similar pace as other children. They may also be willing to share ideas for rewards and punishments that worked for their family in a particular stage
- Take an hour and watch your child at play without trying to direct his/her play. See what your child is naturally drawn to and where he/she excels. On the other hand, you may observe areas of weakness and learn where you can support your child.
- Seek counsel from a psychologist if you are struggling to set age-appropriate goals and expectations. Your child’s teacher can also be a great source of information about age-appropriate goals.
(R)emember to follow through.
A classic example is when Mom says, “Clean your room or Santa won’t come to see you this year.” What really happens? The child doesn’t clean his/her room out of defiance, but Santa comes anyway with lots of toys for the child. The child has just learned that he/she doesn’t have to clean up because the threatened consequences were not implemented.
Follow the age-old saying “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” This goes for both positive and negative interactions with children. Follow through on threats for punishment as well as promises of rewards.
Take it one day at a time. When you wake up in the morning, decide to be mindful of what you say that day, including any promises or threats that you make to your children. When children see that you follow through, they are more likely to trust what you say and to listen to you more often. When parents don’t follow through on what they say, kids may eventually learn to tune their parents out.
(N)otice the good.
Families often come to my office because they need help dealing with a difficult problem or situation. Sometimes parents spend too much time and energy telling their child over and over again about all of the negative behaviors that need to be changed. However, research shows that positive energy is better for the relationship in general and may go a lot further in helping a child to overcome a difficult situation.
Improve your relationship with your child while simultaneously building up your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem.
Acknowledge one good thing that your child does every day. Mix it up by praising them privately and in front of others, such as extended family or friends. Acknowledgement for positive behaviors each day can make the behaviors more likely to happen again and will boost your child’s confidence that he/she can make good choices in the process.
Parents, as the New Year rolls in, don’t forget to LEARN. These parenting recommendations require dedication and commitment, far beyond January 1st. Know that it’s OK to break these up into even smaller steps, such as committing to following one letter of LEARN each month.
And, as with any New Year’s resolution, please recognize that it’s OK to mess up, and that inevitably you probably will mess up at some point. Treat each new day as a fresh start, and try again. As an added bonus, you will be modeling goal-setting for your children throughout the year. Encourage them to set their own New Year’s resolutions. It’s OK to think outside the box and get creative here. You can help them to break bigger resolutions down into smaller, more manageable goals, so that you may LEARN together.
I wish your family a safe and Happy New Year.
Dr. Michelle DeRamus is a child psychologist at Phenix City Children’s. She specializes in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and also helps kids with depression, anxiety, anger, ADHD and more.
This blog was first published on http://www.muscogeemoms.com