Working with families over the years in my role as a parenting counselor and coach, several themes have become crystal clear. While I realize that simply reading it doesn’t make it so, I also believe some of us might benefit from seeing these ideas in print in Richmond’s trusted family lifestyle magazine! If you’re searching for goals for the coming year that go beyond the typical, I hope you find that one or two of these parenting resolutions speak to you.
Model the behavior you want to see in your child.
If you want to raise a respectful child, treat others with respect. This includes basic social behaviors, like how we speak about people who are not present. If you want your child to love reading, make sure he sees you read, and discuss books with him that make you think or bring you pleasure. If you worry about all the time your child spends on screens, break your own addiction to constant cell-phone checking. Remember that our children are always watching and learning from our behavior, and that actions do speak louder than words when it comes to parenting.
Make sleep a priority.
Many parents come to see me with concerns about the oppositional behavior they experience with their children: not listening, not doing what they are asked to do, arguing, etc. During the course of the intake, I find that these children are often getting less than the required hours of sleep needed to function optimally. Lack of sleep influences all aspects of a child’s life. If we want children to do their best academically, in sports, and in their relationships, we cannot sacrifice sleep to sports, homework, screen time, or any other activity. Young children need ten to twelve hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep a night, and older children do best with a minimum of nine or more hours. Establish a good bedtime routine that involves children sleeping independently, and stick to it. After the lack of adequate sleep situation is resolved, you would be surprised at how many other issues take care of themselves.
Children spend a lot of their day rushing from one activity to the next. This rushing can lead to anxious, stressed-out kids. Children need time to daydream, have free play time, and to just chill out and do nothing. This allows the brain to clear and make room for new information, or for the more efficient processing of information that has already been stored. Professionals are noting increased anxiety in children of all ages. Much of this anxiety would be alleviated by a slower-paced day.
Our job is to raise our children to no longer need us. One of the ways we accomplish this is to stop doing things that our kids are capable of doing for themselves. Once your child can dress himself, that becomes his job every morning. The same goes for making beds, doing laundry, cleaning up after himself, and doing homework. Don’t underestimate your child’s competence. Parents often expect too little of their child, and when they do, their child comes to expect too little of himself.
Give your child chores to do and hold them accountable.
Even at the young age of three, children need to be expected to help around the house. My son’s first job at this age was to set the table with the napkins and silverware at dinner time. It is important for children to learn that everyone needs to contribute to the well-functioning of the family. My son knew that we did not eat until he did his job. Many parents tell me they give their children chores, but after some time, the children get bored and stop doing them. This is unacceptable. Accountability is a concept that begins at home and serves children well in all spheres of their lives. The sooner they learn this, the better.
Spend one-on-one time with each of your children some part of every day.
Children hunger for alone time with their parent or parents. This allows them to talk about their fears and worries without being judged or teased by their siblings. It also speaks to how much you value time spent with just this child. Spending one-on-one time with each child can go a long way toward minimizing sibling rivalry. It does not have to be hours a day. Even ten or fifteen minutes of quality time can go a long way toward a better family dynamic.
This month, I wish you all a happy New Year and continued parenting progress as you work on the skills that are necessary for what is, arguably, the world’s most challenging job. This year and beyond, try to enjoy every single moment of your journey as a parent.