Ask kids to describe the month of December, and they will tell you “Christmas,” “Hannukah,” “presents,” “vacation,” “fun,” and other positive words. Ask adults and they will tell you “fun but stressful,” “merry but lots of work.” Research shows that worries about paying for Christmas and the fun of the festive season when it’s over make January the most stressful month. Also, the hidden stressor of New Year’s resolutions implies that to have goals for the New Year we must first identify weaknesses. We greet each New Year full of anticipation of all the big changes that we are going to implement. We think that if we could only lose those extra pounds if we could only land this great job, if we could only secure that promotion, if this, if that, then our life would be great. Would it? Well, judging from my clients and myself, these intentions are good, but not life-altering. Besides, resolutions such as deciding to lose weight, exercise more, etc. often have limited success, as we seem to abandon them after a while when life gets busy again. So, what’s on your New Year’s resolution list this year?
If you are about to list the same resolutions that you had last year, wait! This New Year let’s adopt some dramatically different resolutions. Let’s focus on three specific actions that will make a positive impact on your family life, your kids’ behavior and your peace of mind. I tried it last year, and it worked. Last January, exactly one year after giving birth to my fourth child I was contemplating how wonderful life would be shedding those extra baby pounds, how rewarding it would be to fit in my old jeans and how that would definitely lift my mood. I was devouring diet plans to choose from: the fastest, the easiest, the one with the most long-term results. Then, one quiet evening that I took off from work and was playing with my kids, one of my daughters waved her magic wand: “Abracadabra, I am going to freeze this moment so we can play together and have fun every day!” I was dumbstruck. I thought I was investing time in my family. I thought that all the trips to museums, to friends’ parties, the outings to shows would count toward “having fun together.” It didn’t matter what I thought, what mattered was what the kids thought. What was that secret element that made the experience of playing together at home so much different, or better, or cherished, than all the other scheduled fun activities? I started observing myself trying to find clues: what was my contribution? I was having a good time, feeling relaxed, in a state of flow, enjoying myself and savoring the joy of my kids, mindful of the moment and not worrying what would happen next. Then I had an epiphany- if one fun evening had such an impact to my kids -and me- imagine what a whole year of similar moments would do to all of us! What would happen if I were to invest in my family? And that became my last year’s New Year’s resolution.
New Year’s Resolution #1: Get in the habit of making daily individual rendezvous with each of your children.
Spend precious time with each child individually, even if it is for a few minutes. Make it sound special, because it is special. It doesn’t have to be a glamorous, grandiose outing or scheduled activity. Sometimes the simple “I am going to pick up your sister from soccer. Would you care to come with me? This way we will have our own date all the way to the field”. You‘d be surprised if I told you that my other daughter would drop whatever she was doing just to accompany me. Believe me; there are so many fun things to do on a car ride: tell jokes, talk about our day, listen to music and sing, make silly voices and laugh. Research shows that with this simple action of connecting with their parent individually, children seem to “refuel” emotionally, cooperate better, while at the same time parents get less frustrated and as a result yell less.
New Year’s Resolution #2: Catch your children being good.
Most parents are eager to help their kids become better by noticing what they do wrong and correcting their mistakes. While this seems the obvious thing to do, often it doesn’t work out in the long run. For one thing, it puts you and your child in a negative mindset, where you always try to find fault and correct it. Instead of always noticing your child’s bad behaviors and trying to rectify them, focus on actively looking for positive behaviors. Noticing and commenting even on small positive behaviors helps children do more of that. It also helps you appreciate more your child and see them for who they are. Research on reward and punishment shows that rewarding positive behavior has a greater impact on a child’s life: it teaches the child what’s right and makes it more likely that later on the child will show the desirable behavior independently, without reminding or nagging.
New Year’s Resolution #3: Invest in positivity.
What’s the usual thing that most families do when everybody gets home in the evening? Moan, groan and complain about their difficult day. While this may be true, focusing on the negative fuels even more stress and disappointment. Adopting a different strategy can have a long-lasting effect on the well-being of the family and its members. Embrace the habit of getting everyone in the family to list three positive things that happened during their day. Whether while eating dinner, or before bed, spend a couple of minutes going through your day and noticing three good things, no matter how small they may be. Do it faithfully every day, Encourage your children to do the same. Research shows that building and broadening positive emotions help us feel better, do better and have an enriched quality of life.
P.S. Did I lose these extra pounds? No. Is my family life a lot richer, emotionally connected, calmer and happier? Absolutely!