This is an updated version of a 2014 blog. The tips still work. Maybe now more than ever.
Well-meaning New Year’s resolutions typically peter out by January 15th. If we’ve been zigging, it’s hard to start zagging and keep at it. Which is why self-improvement is so hard to do. I’m thinking it just might be easier to stop doing something that’s not working than to start in with a whole new game plan. I asked a bunch of teens what they’d like their parents to stop doing in the new year. Instantly, they came up with these three. I pass them on to you, since we’re all in this parenting trip together and building a healthier relationship with our tweens and teens is good for everyone.
1. Yelling. Parenting can be messy and stressful. With everything that’s expected of us it’s easy to get frustrated or overwhelmed. If yelling has become your go-to place, you need to stop. When you lash out at your kids, your spouse, or your dog, you are polluting your home and hurting your family. If you don’t have at least one healthy stress-management tool that you’d be happy to see your kids emulate, you’ll be a less effective parent. I recommend breathing. Breathing requires no gym membership or special shoes. It’s free and always available. Yes, it’s habit-forming, but in a very good way. Try this 6-step Relaxation Response. It works. Tip #1 – Stop yelling and start breathing and your kids will give you less to yell about.
2. Tuning out. Parents, teachers, coaches… adults in general spend a lot of time telling kids what to do, how to act, and what to believe. When kids take the bold step of opening up to us (because they need to be heard), we often don’t listen… not one hundred percent. When we do listen, we may jump in and invalidate what we hear if it makes us uncomfortable. (“You don’t really feel that way.” “Oh, that’s not true.”) We want our kids to stand up for themselves amongst their peers – whether they’re being overpowered in the kindergarten playground or in a teen relationship. But how are they going to learn to be speak up if we don’t give them practice by respectfully listening to what they have to say?
Tip #2 Stop tuning out and start listening with a more open heart and mind and your kids will feel more confident in themselves.
3. Rushing around. Every family needs down time without distractions, digital or otherwise. Hopefully we all got a healthy serving of down-time during the holidays. Vacations are great, but they’re not enough. Not in the noisy, speedy, aggressive world we live in. Most of us need and deserve daily down time, alone and together, as a family. If your kids are still young enough for bedtime stories, what a great chance to cuddle and reconnect each evening. If your children are past being read to, you can still make it a nightly ritual to check in with them for a quiet talk about how the day went for each of you. This is an excellent way to teach kids that conversations are a two-way street. If you want to raise young adults who are empathetic, show your empathy. When you notice something affecting your child’s behavior you can ask, kindly, “You seem upset. What’s going on?” You can also ask this simple question, “What can I do to help?” That lets a child know you care. It also helps him or her think about what kind of help they need.
And let’s not forget meal time. Maybe you’ve heard this before but the research findings are so amazing they’re worth repeating: Kids whose families sit down and eat dinner together at least three times a week get all kinds of benefits. Have dinner together at least 3 times a week and your kids are more likely to do better in school, less likely to use alcohol or illegal drugs and to engage in other high risk behaviors. They’re even less likely to have friends who do drugs. That’s some powerful mojo.
Tip #3 Stop rushing around and start carving out end-of-the-day time to be together right where you are.
Happy New Year from our home to yours. May 2017 bring you and your family many of opportunities to celebrate life and to help others. World peace begins at home.