A Different Kind of Parenting Resolution
This new year, resolve to give yourself a break and think small
What if, this year, you didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to be more patient as a parent, didn’t promise to be more attentive, or didn’t vow to be more (insert here whatever you’re feeling most remorsal about not being)? Many moms and dads make a sweeping resolution to be better parents at the start of each new year. However, if you forgo this tradition, then you will likely be doing yourself a favor by saving yourself from guilt later. Why? These are resolutions you probably can’t keep—not just because you decide to, anyway.
In my years as a parent coach, I’ve learned that being a more successful parent is complicated and requires more than simply deciding to make a change. As with most self-improvements, whether it’s losing weight, curbing procrastination, or putting an end to gossiping, there are two key elements you need to make real change: an understanding of why the undesirable or ineffective behavior exists in the first place, and an ability to keep at a new approach over time until it successfully becomes a habit.
Take the excessive yelling-at-the-kids problem, which many parents repeatedly resolve to end. If you’re screaming, it’s probably because your kids act like they don’t hear your or ignore what they’ve heard. You probably wouldn’t be yelling if you knew of a better way to gain their compliance. Modifying a child’s behavior first requires an understanding of the underlying reason for the behavior. Despite what it seems, the behavior isn’t just about your kids pushing your buttons.
Next, parents need an effective strategy to address the cause. Regardless of the root issue, parents should feel no shame about seeking information (which, by the way, we’re not born with) from experienced parents that you view as role models, by attending workshops, reading parenting books, and seeking out reliable information from research and professionals. A nation-wide study commissioned by Zero to Three, national organization that works to improve the lives of infants and toddlers, found that the majority of parents have misconceptions about children’s capacity for emotions and self-regulation, and how early experiences impact their development. In short, being a parent doesn’t make you an expert in parenting. An accurate understanding of behavior helps parents figure out appropriate responses that have a positive long-term impact on healthy social, emotional and cognitive growth.
Even armed with the latest research on child development, how can you stick to trying new skills when parenting is so overwhelming, you’re exhausted, and there are so many things you want to do better? Trying to consistently apply many techniques at the same time until they become habit is not only challenging, it’s nearly impossible. You can easily become discouraged and tempted to throw in the towel. However, I have come to realize over the years that dealing with just one challenge at a time allows for focus and consistency, and better motivates parents for the next challenge. As one mother told me, “Seeing the payoff of each small success in my parenting gives me the confidence to learn about and apply another skill.” Even though none of us is ever going to be perfect, every new competency we conquer does have a long-lasting impact on our children, from understanding how to teach children self-control, to helping them gain confidence, to learning how to gain their cooperation (so we don’t resort to yelling).