While some of us watched the ball drop in Times Square and set New Years resolutions to lose weight or eat better in 2010, others undoubtedly resolved to be better parents. After all, parenting is the most important role many of us will ever have. But how many of us achieve success and see real changes in our families? And how many of those New Years resolutions are we willing to actually keep?
Here are a few simple, practical resolutions to raise happy, healthy kids this year. Worried about sticking to them? Here's a good tip: Choose only one or two resolutions to increase your chances of success. Then, use the same strategy consistently every day, even for just a few minutes at a time. Your resolutions will become a family routine, and will greatly improve your relationship with your kids. Of course, these ideas are just to get you thinking. Adapt them, or come up with better ones that will work for your family!
1. Resolution: To find more time for to be with your child.
Solution: Identify the time and place your child is most receptive to listening and talking and plant yourself there each day. In my house, it was 5 pm around the refrigerator. (That's where my youngest was at that time of day--so that's where I'd be). Another way to find time: Utilize the car pool. Turn off the radio and talk.
2. Resolution: To find more quality time to be with your child.
Solution: Research has shown that our kids are most receptive to us five minutes before they go to sleep. Create a bedtime ritual, and use that time to convey your love for your child. You could review the day or hold a "strength talk" where you hold your child's hand and tell him five special things you love about him--one for each finger.
3. Resolution: To manage your schedule better so you can be less stressed around your kids.
Solution: For parents who always say "I don't have enough time to get everything done" or "I feel like a taxi service," here is a quick solution. Write the following on an index card and tape it to your phone: "Say no to any requests, or say, 'I'll get back to you.'" This gives you time to check your calendar, and consider whether the request is worth your time and energy. Say no to commitments that don't directly involve your family or that you know will boost your stress. This tip really worked for me. It got me in the habit of not being so quick to agree to every request.
4. Resolution: To send kids off to school on a positive note.
Solution: Parents often say that mornings are the most stressful time of the day. Identify your one recurring stress trigger (or pinpoint the time you are most likely to lose patience around your kids) and then come up with a simple solution. For example, let's say that you lose your car keys every morning and go bonkers trying to find them. Put a hook right by the door and always leave your keys there. If your kids are forever misplacing their homework or school supplies, put a catch-all box by the front door where they place their backpacks, and anything else they need for school. Make sure they do this the night before--not in the morning. Or have your little dawdler lay out his school clothes the night before, and teach him to set his own alarm clock.
5. Resolution: To put an end to sibling bickering.
Solution: If you're always playing negotiator between your squabbling kids, teach them simple strategies to work out problems on their own. For example, if your kids have trouble taking turns with toys or video games, teach them how to use a stop watch or your kitchen timer. When the timer goes off, the child pass it to another sibling, who then sets it for the same amount of time. It keeps you out of the argument and gives your kids a strategy to use with their friends, too.
6. Resolution: To reduce parent-kid stress.
Solution: Is your family on edge because you just can't find time for exercise or relaxation? Find one activity to do with your kids each week or each day. Put your infant in a stroller and walk, ride a bike with your preschooler, do an exercise video with your teen daughter, shoot hoops with your son, or start a book club with your child. The trick is to do it together.
7. Resolution: To wean kids off of rewards.
Solution: Is your kid always asking for praise or approval--or worse, presents? If so, put away your wallet and just change your pronoun in your praise from "I" to "you." For instance, instead of saying "I'm really proud of you" change it to "You should be really proud of yourself." That simple switch--consistently verbalized--puts emphasis on the child, builds his internal motivation, and weans him from always needing your approval. Love that one!
8. Resolution: To reduce family yelling or bickering.
Solution: Start a no-yelling policy in your home. The second anyone's voice goes up a decibel, use a designated time out signal to show that your little screamer needs a minute to get himself under control. Everyone in the family must respect the signal. The family member can then walk away until he's calm enough to come back and talk. This one will take consistently, but it really helps to restore family harmony. Don't give up!
9. Resolution: To find time to connect as a family, despite your hectic schedules.
Solution: We all know those family meals are important, but sometimes it's impossible to gather everyone around the table. Set a time each evening when everyone stops what they're doing and takes just 20 minutes to connect in the kitchen (or another part of your home). The whole family can touch base, have a snack, debrief the day, and say goodnight. It may be the alternative you're looking for, particularly if you have teens.
10. Resolution: Nurturing your children's self-esteem.
Solution: If you've noticed that you're getting into a bit of a negative rut around your kids (which we all do), then it's time to focus on the positives. Research shows that random, sugar-coated praise does not work to increase self-esteem. Specific praise does help, so your child understands which of his actions deserve approval. Acknowledge one thing each day that your child did well. Point it out, but also use the word "because." That single word takes your praise up a notch and makes your statement more specific. The child understands what you approved of, and is more likely to repeat the deed. For instance, you should say something like, "You were so kind because you shared your toys with your friends."
All the best in 2010!
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Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including her latest, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. She is a leading educational consultant, national parenting expert, contributor to iVillage, adviser to Parents magazine, regular guest on NBC's Today show, and mom of three.