As we enter 2016 and you’re thinking about New Year’s Resolutions, it can be a great time to consider your parenting and look at some strategies for a more peaceful year with your child. Here are five resolutions to consider making to be a more positive parent.
1. Focus on feelings: If asked whether they care about their child’s feelings, most parents would say that of course they do. But does this really come across in the way that you talk to your child everyday? Do you fall into the trap of encouraging your child to feel something different and thus invalidate their feelings. Notice the comments you make throughout the day that might invalidate your child’s emotions: “You can’t be hungry yet…That didn’t hurt…You’re fine…Don’t be so mad. Try to be happy.” Or do you jump straight to problem solving and advice giving when you’re child just needs someone to listen and accept? So, take some time to really listen to the feelings that your child is expressing. It can be a powerful tool to name and repeat back to your child what they are feeling: “You seem really angry right now…I can see that you’re feeling sad…I wonder if you’re feeling anxious.” By acknowledging and validating your child’s emotions, you help them to calm down more quickly, build emotional intelligence, and feel safe talking with you.
2. Give your undivided attention: It’s so easy to get distracted by the responsibilities in our day and forget to ever truly focus on our child. Parents often mistake being around their child a lot with really being present with their child. To make a change, try to give your child at least 15 minutes of your time everyday in which you allow your child to direct the time, whether that’s playing, talking, or doing art. Try to put aside teaching and correcting during this time and focus on responding to what your child wants to do. Even better, plan a special date with your child and allow them to pick the activity. Keep your phone in your pocket and stay engaged in the moment. And when you’re child comes to you with a problem or question, take the time to truly listen and respond without distractions. If you can’t do it then, let your child know that their thoughts are important and you will talk about it later.
3. Model what you want to see: Make an effort to model the behaviors that you want to see in your child. You cannot expect your child to be better than you at controlling their emotions, problem-solving, or getting along with others. Want them to learn to self-soothe and take a break when angry? Do this for yourself by taking deep breaths or letting your child know that you need to take a break when you’re upset. Apologize when you’ve made a mistake. Talk about your own feelings and what you’re doing to cope with them. Sometimes parents worry that they will upset their child by expressing their own difficult emotions, but if you express them in a healthy way and model positive coping, your child will have a powerful example that will allow them to learn to manage their own feelings.
4. Make time for self-care: You cannot be a good parent if you are overly stressed or exhausted. Giving too much to others is not sustainable and will lead to exhaustion and resentment or suck the joy out of parenting. Talk to your partner and kids and set limits if you have to in order to protect some time for self-care. Think about and plan activities that will regenerate your energy: exercise, time alone, reading, art or hobbies, going out with friends, church or prayer, parenting groups, etc.
5. Change your unhelpful thinking: The dialogue and assumptions in your head have a big influence on your feelings and reactions to your child. Try to notice some of your unhelpful thoughts and consciously tell yourself something different. Writing them down can be a big help! Here are some of the big ones to look our for: Expectations that are unreasonable will result in a feeling of failure, making it hard for your child to keep trying. Assuming the worst or only noticing the mistakes lead to discouragement for you and your child. Labeling your child (e.g., poor student, athlete, troublemaker, etc) can lead to only focusing on examples that reinforce that label and can cause frustration for your child when they feel trapped in that box. Even positive labels can be problematic when they get in the way of your child being able to explore other parts of themselves or when your child becomes overly worried about living up to certain role.
I hope that you take some time to think about changes you can make in your parenting approaches and try out some new ways to interact with your child. Problem behavior and conflicts may never go away completely no matter what strategies you use, but positive parenting approaches will help you find more joy in parenting, help your child feel safe and loved, and help your child grow up happy and confident.
Ready to get help and make some changes? Contact me today to schedule an initial session.
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