A new year seems to be a natural time for thoughtful reflection on the past that often leads to motivating resolve to do better and be better. While immediate focus might be drawn to reducing our waistlines, boosting our budgets, or clearing out clutter, a thoughtful reflection and resolve to buoy up our parenting practices might just be the most rewarding decision you could make for 2021.
But, where to start? Reflecting on our own parenting often seems like a bumpy road trip down memory lane, highlighted by scattered successes and mingled with many reminders of where we could’ve and should’ve done better. If that’s the case for you, know that you’re not alone. Perfect parents don’t exist, but consistent efforts at proven parenting skills can make a big difference.
Consider these simple strategies to create a warmer relationship with your child:
Be curious and open to understanding what makes your child ‘tick’. Often we assume, or at least falsely hope, that our personal interests, tastes, and even approaches to life and problem solving are automatically woven into our children as part of their DNA. Taking a step back to observe what makes our children light up and making a conscious choice to speak to them from that point of reference can go a long way. I learned this recently with a toddler grandson . My default way of interacting with him was to immediately pour my attention on him with direct acclamations of his awesomeness. While I expected him to smile and come running to my arms for more connection, his reaction was the opposite--turned head, recoiled body language, and rejection of more interaction. So, I tried a new approach. Understanding that this kid was infinitely more interested in his dad’s toolbox than warm hugs, I tried very softly asking him about his train set, or picking up a screwdriver and asking him what it was used for. Immediately, he would light up and start engaging in the cutest toddler-speak conversation. What makes your child light up? What makes him or her feel the most seen or heard? Find that, and you’ve found a gold mine for future connection.
Find a skill that your child is interested in, and become their trusted mentor. Human development is markedby the reaching of new milestones of growth and accomplishment. Even as adults we seem to be happiest when we are facing a new challenge and learning new things. Talk to your child about something they are curious to learn, or a new skill they would like to acquire. A five year old might love to learn to help make cookies in the kitchen. A twelve year old might be eager to know how to mow the lawn, or you may notice a fascination with art, music, or sports that is unique to their personality. Once you’ve identified what the area of focus is, become their trusted and dedicated mentor in acquiring that skill. Maybe it’s something you model and teach them directly or maybe you find someone else that can do it. Either way, staying involved in the process and encouraging them along the way will help your child know they can trust you to help them grow and reach their goals.
- Recognize and reward successes of every size. At the core of what your child needs most from you is consistent recognition that what they do, what they think, and what they desire is not just deserving of being seen and heard, but celebrated. Take the time to reflect on what your child is doing right and give them sincere and specific positive feedback. To the child that learned to make cookies, you might comment on their specific ability to be patient with the process. For the child that’s learning to mow the lawn, you might compliment their attention to safety and sticking to the task until it is complete. Whatever the situation, find a way to give specific positive feedback and you’ll find that they are more open to learn new things and even more open to your constructive feedback for improvements as well. Celebrate the wins, big and small.
With all the unexpected twists and turns life brings us, remember that it is often the simple things that matter most and help bring increased stability to our homes and families. As you turn the page to a new year, embrace opportunities to connect to the young people in your life in a meaningful way. The rewards will bring immediate and future dividends.
Heidi Dutson is a Certified Prevention Specialist, currently employed as a Regional Director for the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. Heidi formerly oversaw prevention efforts through the coordination of a Communities That Care Coalition in Tooele City. She helps to advise the Parents Empowered Underage Drinking Prevention Workgroup, the Utah State Epidimiology Outcomes Workgroup, and the Utah Faith Suicide Prevention Worgroup.
Heidi is passionate about helping communities collaborate to make the best use of resources and partnerships to synergize prevention efforts around substance abuse and mental health issues.