January is when I look to the future, reflecting on the positive changes I'd like to make in my parenting. Here are my top 6 parenting resolutions for this new year:
1 - Love Unconditionally
Like many parents, I was raised with a model in which I was given or withheld love based on my behavior. Desired behavior was rewarded, and undesirable behavior punished. While this type of reinforcement is effective with animals, with which these techniques originated, conditional love sent children like me strong messages that shaped their self-image: that love is contingent upon whether I satisfied my parents' expectations.
I want to give my children unconditional approval so that they learn that, at their core, they are loved. Conversations about acceptable behavior can take place without communicating to a child that he or she is "good" or "bad."
With which daily rituals do you communicate love to your child?
2 - Validate Emotions & Experience
Little children experience big feelings. If adults can be overwhelmed by strong emotion, imagine the experience of a child who is just learning coping skills and developmentally has very little ability to manage their emotions.
I have found that I can help my children move through the turbulence of emotion by naming and validating their emotions. By making their emotions both relatable and acceptable, I give my children a safe space within to grow. When children are upset, it's important to help them to first find calm and then to reconnect before talking to them about what happened. A child, like an adult, needs to feel calm in order to fully process the experience.
What helps your child to calm down when angry?
3 - Instruct Using Positive Language
As newbies to our world, children have tons to learn about appropriate social behavior. The word "no" in isolation is minimally instructive, as it provides no actional information about what is desired. Spoken over and over to a baby or toddler, or teen for that matter, I have noticed that "no" can evoke strong frustration in my children.
Practical information about what is acceptable maximizes support while minimizing frustration. For example: "Food is for eating; balls are for throwing." While challenging at first, aspiring to reduce or eliminate use of "no" has been a powerful parenting tool for me. I have found that my child's boundaries can be more effective when the realm of acceptable behavior is clearly defined.
In what ways can you set boundaries on your child's behavior without saying "no"?
4 - Model What I Wish to Elicit
Children learn more by watching what we do, not by listening to what we say if what we say doesn't match with our actions. While's it is tempting to demand respect from our children, I have found that one of the most productive and fulfilling ways to elicit respect from our children is by extending respect to them first.
Try using polite language like "please" and "thank you." This sends a powerful message about love. So does responding to their requests with love and understanding, including when their requests can't be granted, and providing a safe emotional space for our children so they can make and learn from mistakes. When I honor my children as separate beings with equally valid preferences, keeping in mind that it is my responsibility to limit options to those supportive of their healthful development, I have found that this creates a mutually respectful relationship.
In what ways do you communicate respect to your child?
5 - Assume the Best of Intentions
Have you noticed how the world rises to our expectations? Expect to have a bad day, and you'll notice the frustration of your vehicle's almost-empty fuel tank. Expect to have a good day, and you'll pay more attention to that lady who lets you go ahead in line at the supermarket.
I have found that my children are extremely responsive to my moods and expectations. I have learned to avoid potholes in our relationships by refraining from labeling my children; for example: "She's the smart one" or "He's the aggressive one." I can also do my children a huge service by assuming that they have the best of intentions.
Your child wants a strong relationship with you, filled with love, affection, and mutual respect. As long as you assume the best, even when your child is pulling the cat's tail or throwing food, you can educate and nurture in a way that preserves a loving relationship. Remember, we're all students here - including us parents!
What is another way of looking at your child's undesirable behavior? What is a need he or she is communicating?
6 - Learn From My Child
Children come into the world with a lack of inhibition that is tremendously instructive. They show no shame in asking for what they desire, and they act instantly upon their most primal instincts to meet their needs. Ever notice how young children will suddenly start running around or singing at the top of their lungs?
While most adults have learned to repress their desires, children are in touch with their basic needs: food, love, and exercise. I have learned that when my child demands attention, I need to take a cuddle break and relish the opportunity to love and be loved. When your child declares a dance party or initiates a wrestling match, join in! These feel-good games raise my heart rate and release my natural joy. There is nothing wrong with that!
What has your child taught you to help you enjoy life more?
7 - Be Present
So often I get caught up in my thoughts or to-do lists. While we can experience a sense of temporary relief or satisfaction by making progress on standing projects, the high only goes so far.
Children live the grace-filled experience of being in the moment, each and every moment. By letting my agenda go and allowing my children to draw me into their world, I am able to experience the aliveness of living in the present moment and giving my children the gift of attentively joining in their games.
When can you let go of your daily to-do list to spend a few minutes of enjoying the present with your child?