It’s that time of year again when everyone talks of New Years resolutions. This has been a time-honored tradition dating back to the early 1900s in the United States, and as far back as ancient Babylonia. When I think of New Years resolutions what comes to mind are lofty, far-reaching ambitions that seem more like virtues to strive for rather than realistic, achievable goals. The same ones seem to surface every year, such as exercising more, dieting, saving more, and maintaining a healthier work-life balance. Not that there’s anything wrong with these common resolutions, but it’s always nice to have some variety in life. When it comes to goals we make for our own improvement, it’s also beneficial to make them attainable and measureable. Otherwise, aren’t we just setting ourselves up for failure?
This year, what about making a New Years resolution that focuses on parenting – and not just a generic “strive to be a better parent in 2014”. I’m talking about identifying one or two very specific, measurable, and attainable parent-related goals to focus on during this year. Easier said than done, but here are some steps to get you started.
First, examine and evaluate aspects of your parenting in 2013. Here are some areas to think about and possible questions to ask yourself about your behaviors over the past year:
- Nutrition: What amount and types of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food items did I give my children for meals and snacks? How often did I feed my children fast food? Did I give my children too many sugary drinks? Did I set a good example in what I chose to eat and drink around my children?
- Physical activity: How much outside playtime did I provide my children? How often did we go for a walk, go to a playground, or do another fun physical activity? Did I provide my children with any outlets for indoor physical activity when outdoors was not an option?
- Screen time: How often were my children watching television? How often did they play videogames or other games on a computer, tablet, or another electronic device? What types of material were in their television programs, movies, or games? Were they violent or inappropriate for my children’s ages? Are they mainly recreational or educational? How often have I watched television, surfed the internet, or been on my phone in front of my children?
- Parent involvement: How often did I play with my children? What types of activities did I play with them? Did I choose the activity or did I allow them to choose? How much one-on-one time versus group time did I give to each of my children? Was my time spent with my children more positive or negative? How much praising did I give my children versus correction?
- Discipline: What type of discipline have I been using with my children? Do I think it has been effective at reducing unwanted behaviors and/or increasing proactive behaviors? Did I set clear behavioral expectations and consequences? How often did I follow through with disciplinary actions?
Second, based on your answers to some of the above questions (or alternative questions you have thought of) identify an area of your parenting that could use some improvement during the upcoming year. In what way could you be a better parent to your children this year?
Third, narrow your New Years parenting resolution down to one or two concrete goals. Be specific. For example, if your goal is to spend more quality time with your children, define how much time you want to spend with them, what types of activities you want to do with them, and how much group versus individual time with each of them. Be realistic and set your initial goals at a level that you think you can achieve within the first few weeks. If this level is maintainable, you can reassess at a later date whether you would like to increase your goal.
Fourth, hold yourself accountable for your New Years parenting resolution. Write down your goals and track your progress. Include your specific goals in your calendar. Set reminders for yourself in your phone or on sticky notes on your bathroom sink. Consider telling your spouse, another relative, or a friend about your resolution and ask them to check in with you about how it’s going. Reward yourself in some way for your accomplishments.
Lastly, remember that while achieving the New Years resolution you set for yourself is of value, your motivation and effort in striving to be a better parent for your children is just as important. Keep in mind for whom you are doing this and why. Let that be your inspiration and drive. Happy New Years!