The new year is an opportunity to start fresh and to make some changes that you may have been scared about or that may have seemed difficult. There are many ways to improve your life, but one way is by making even slight changes to interactions with your children. Instead of making the usual new years resolutions, perhaps consider making some new ones to improve your relationship and your interactions with your child or children this year.
1. Spend more one-on-one time with each child
Our lives are busy, and we don’t always have time to devote to quality time with our children, especially if there is more than one child. However, quality time is one of the best ways to make a stronger connection, especially when there are no other people present to distract you. But how you spend this time matters. Instead of questioning your child on their grades, their friends, or school, allow your child to pick an activity that they will enjoy. You may not like that video game they play, the YouTuber they love, that Netflix show they are watching, or their social media accounts, but they probably do. It can be difficult for children to talk to parents about their lives if parents are not interested in what they enjoy or want to talk about. So try learning about what they are interested in or want to do, while allowing them to lead the interaction. If it is a younger child, allow them to tell you how to play and what to do in the interaction, instead of asking them questions or telling them how to do it better. For older children, take an interested and curious approach to whatever activity they chose and learn more about what it is and why they like it. Some teens may not pick an activity they want to do with you, so one way to still spend time with them is to quietly join them when they are engaging in an activity they enjoy, and watch and ask questions. The more willing you are to do and talk about the topics your child enjoys, the more they will enjoy spending time with you and want to do it more often.
2. Validate your children’s emotions more often
Validation refers to the idea of being able to acknowledge and understand someone else’s emotions or behaviors, even if you don’t agree with them. This can be very challenging to do as a parent when you are upset with your child. However, lack of validation can lead to conflict, resentment, or withdrawal when your child does not think you understand them. To practice validating, you might ask yourself these questions when your child expresses an emotion or engages in a behavior that you don’t agree with: “How does it make sense that they feel this way, or that they did this?” “What is in their history that might explain why they feel or did this?” “What is going on today that helps me to understand how this happened?” Simply reflecting their emotions back to them can be validating in itself. Try to avoid adding anything to the validating statement. For example “I understand why you broke curfew because you were having fun with your friends and wanted to stay later.” This does not mean they are not breaking a rule or getting a consequence, but it does allow for more understanding and connectedness without adding a “but” after. Pausing after validation is important so your child knows you truly understand, and that you aren’t jumping to punishment or criticism.
3. Acknowledge your child’s positive behaviors more often
So often we assume that our children are supposed to be following our rules, doing their homework daily, being a good friend, respecting us, and spending a long day at school listening to their teachers. We don’t often take the time to acknowledge the hard work or effort that it might take to do some of these things. Instead, we tend to comment when they do something wrong, criticize them for making mistakes, or tell them how they can do things better. Instead, try noticing even small positive behaviors daily. All people appreciate or enjoy being acknowledged, appreciated, and recognized when they put in effort. This is a way to improve relationships and increase connectedness. Some parents have trouble finding behaviors to acknowledge, so it may be helpful to think of one or two that you know are difficult for your child, and try to look specifically for occasions when your child puts in effort towards doing them. Perhaps this is spending time doing homework in a class that is challenging, doing chores around the house, or facing a tough situation. The more children can feel recognized and acknowledged for their effort, the more they will want to engage in those behaviors again, and the more positive they will feel towards you.
4. Find a middle path with your child more often
So often you may find yourself in the middle of a battle with your child, where you each are on opposite sides. For children of all ages, it may be helpful to work with them to come to an agreement, especially for teens and older children. Take the time to listen to your child’s side of the situation, and explain your side to them in a way they can understand. Check for their understanding to make sure they get your side, and confirm you understand their side by repeating it back to them. See if you can work with them to collaboratively come to an agreement that incorporates both sides, at least a little. You may not want to budge on certain decisions, but whenever possible see if you can take into account your child’s perspective and find something a little closer to the middle. For example, you may want your child to only be on their cell phone after they finish homework and they may want to have full access to it. A middle path might be allowing them some time on their phone when they first come home, taking it away to do homework, and getting it back when they are done. There is not one right middle path, there are many options for any situation.
5. Set clear expectations with your child when possible
Most people do best in situations when they know what to expect. Consider previous jobs you have had, and the ways you have been managed. Most often, we appreciate knowing how we are being evaluated, what the rules are, what is expected of us, and what the day will look like. It’s a lot more difficult to do well when you are constantly guessing what your boss is looking for and then having to adjust after you were told you already did something wrong. Children are no different. If you haven’t, discuss your daily expectations with your children with regard to chores, homework, family interaction, and any other responsibilities you believe they should have. Perhaps add a discussion on phone/screen time expectations. These all should be collaborative conversations so that you can better understand your child’s perspective on your expectations, and perhaps together you can adjust for what works considering both perspectives. If both of you are on the same page, it will be more likely that your child can work to achieve your expectations, and it will also likely decrease conflicts and disagreements.
Trying any of these resolutions will be challenging if you aren’t used to them, so you may want to pick one or two to start with and focus on. Over time and with practice, they will get easier and you will be able to focus attention on a new skill to continue improving your relationship with your child. These skills also require some attention and effort at maintaining. If you suddenly stop attending to your child in these ways, you may observe interactions going back to the way they were before, so it is important to continue these practices to see benefits.
MindWell NYC wishes you a very happy new year! See our parenting page https://www.mindwellnyc.com/parenttherapy/ for information about the parenting services we offer.