Another year ends and a new one begins. This is the time of the year that brings so much opportunity for change. A new year for many means a new start. The slate is wiped clean. We won't repeat the bad habits of the past. Plans are made to save more, eat less and put some balance into our lives. At least these are the plans I hear from people around me.
But if you have children, ask yourself: "What will be different this year?"
Will this year bring more of the same for you and your brood, or will you take the opportunity to do some things differently, or even take your parenting up a notch or two this year? If improvement as a parent is important, then consider these 12 ideas that are guaranteed to have you parenting differently in 2017.
1. Let kids out of your sight
Okay, I thought I'd kick off with something controversial. In this current age of anxiety and fear, effective parenting is equated with the constant monitoring of kids' behaviour and whereabouts.
It starts with parents monitoring babies as they sleep as a preventative measure for SIDS. But the monitoring and supervision of kids intensifies as they get older, with technology (mobile phones and tracking devices) making it almost impossible for kids to fall off their parents' radar. This constant monitoring coincides with unprecedented high levels of childhood anxiety, which many experts agree is fed by parents worrying for their children's safety.
Contrary to popular belief, Australia is no more dangerous a place than it was when you were growing up, yet we don't allow kids the same freedoms to explore and wander that we enjoyed as kids. This year, free yourself from always knowing what your child is doing. Give them some space to play on their own, explore their neighbourhood and visit friends without you knowing every move they make.
2. Expect them to earn the right
Do your kids constantly remind you that they have 'rights'? Do they tell you that they have right to (pick any of the following and feel free to add to the list): go where they want / use their mobile phone whenever they want / play in the living room without cleaning up? If so, your kids may be growing up with a false sense of entitlement, which is fast becoming a marker of this generation.
Make this a year where kids earn the rights that they previously took for granted through hard work, responsible behaviour and being cooperative. Let them earn the right to have something by saving, working for it or simply waiting until they are old enough to appreciate it.
3. Be less worried about what others think of you
It's human nature to be mindful about what others think of you. Worrying about what others think of our parenting is a massive driver of parenting behaviours. Few parents I know would even countenance taking their young children to preschool or school in a half-dressed state, even though said children were dragging the chain at home, for fear of what other parents would think of them.
More's the pity, because in the quest to be perceived as being a 'good (coping, calm, cool) parent' in the eyes of others, we run the risk of being doormats to our kids. Add to this the fact that many parents are quick to judge others, negotiating the politics of parenting can be a nightmare. This year try to worry less what others think and pursue your own parenting path.
4. Praise effort over results
If comments such as 'good boy' and 'good girl' trip off your tongue like a nervous tic and your child is over the age of five, then I suggest you change parenting tapes and focus more on children's effort than their results this year.
While children under the age of five have difficulty differentiating between who they are and what they do -- so if, in effect, you praise what they do, you also praise them -- school-aged kids can differentiate between the two and show a clear preference for effort praise over result praise. "Always do your best" is a great turn of phrase as it focuses your child's attention on what they do rather than who they are ("You're clever") as a strategy for success.
So this year, your kids should hear less "Good boy/girl" type comments and more "You're working hard/putting in the effort" type comments from you so they are free to take more risks and they learn that success is more due to effort and strategy than ability alone.
5. Defer more to your partner
If you are in a two-parent arrangement then you'll know only too well that there's usually tension when two people raise their kids. We come to the task with different parenting experiences and differing expectations. And that's before we factor in how our birth order impacts on how we raise kids.
These differences can be draining particularly when one parent is forever saying yes to everything a child asks, while the other always says no. You can prevent this by habitually deferring to your partner, particularly when your kids put pester power to the test. Rather than continually responding to children's requests, say something like: "I'm not sure about that. I'll check with your father/mother and get back to you."
This year, work hard to give your kids the consistency of two partners working from the same songsheet.
6. Set the rules first
Tired of feeling like the family killjoy because you're always taking kids' freedoms away? If so, here's a strategy you'll love. When you give kids something new (e.g. a mobile phone), or allow them to do a new activity (e.g. go to a friend's house) always put a rule or restriction in place. For example: "You can only use the phone in the living room or kitchen." "You can go to your friend's place after school but you need to stay there and don't go anywhere else."
When kids show they can act responsibly, then reward their responsible behaviour by removing the restrictions, thereby granting them greater freedom.
So this year, make sure you put a rule or two in place when kids get or do anything new and be ready to remove them when they do the right thing. It's a far smarter solution than taking away freedoms when kids act irresponsibly or excessively because there were no rules in the first place.
7. Ditch the digital (when you are with kids)
If you're concerned about the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen, it may be a good idea to look at your own screen habits.
A recent US study into technology habits found that, on average, parents spent half an hour more each day on screen media than their tween or teen children. And perversely, these same parents expressed concerns about their children's screen use.
While most parents are aware of the power of role modelling to influence kids' behaviour, it appears to be blind spot when it comes to digital media. If you want kids to reduce, or at least bring some balance to their screen time this year, then consider swapping 'do as I say' with 'do as I do'.
8. Give kids new challenges
Nine-year-old Ella wanted some spending money for her summer holidays. Her parents suggested she think of a way to earn some extra money rather than simply receiving a handout. She rose to the challenge, selling plant cuttings taken from her parents garden at a stall outside her home one weekend. She made enough money to supplement her bank account as well as fund her summer spending.
It's easy to sometimes give kids what they want, but it's better to challenge them to solve their own problems. So this year, do more for your kids by doing less and start posing their requests as problems for them to solve. Confidence comes from meeting new challenges.
9. When kids can, let them
Do you wake your kids up each morning even though they are capable of telling the time and setting their own alarm? Perhaps you think that getting kids out of bed is a parent's job. Maybe you think your child couldn't organise themselves in the morning, let along get themselves out of bed without you reminding them? You may be right. Only you can judge that.
But this year adopt the "when kids can, let them" principle. Identify the key responsibilities that you are taking away from kids, then gradually hand them over to your kids. I bet they'll surprise you with how capable they really are.
10. Praise your kids for managing adversity
It's a parenting truism that what you give attention to expands. Continuing to give attention to kids' poor behaviour and all you seem to get is poor behaviour. Here's a challenge. This year set your antennae to notice when kids cope with adversity and start praising their factors that contribute to their resilience.
11. Create a fight list
If you always fight with a child or teen over seemingly minor matters, it's time for a change of strategy. Here's what to do. Create two lists, one consisting of the issues worth fighting with kids over (e.g you need to be home when you say you will) and one of things that aren't worth fighting over (e.g spotless bedrooms). Then, over the coming year, aim to transfer all the items on the 'worth fighting over' list to the 'not worth fighting over'.
12. Teach them that you know
The art of parenting has its roots in teaching. Mothers and fathers have always passed on their knowledge and skills to their children so that they can learn to function independently in the world. These days, kids get skills and knowledge from many sources including teachers, coaches, peers and good old Dr. Google, so a parent can feel redundant. It's little wonder we do so much for kids. It's the only way to feel like a parent.
This year, don't leave your teaching to chance. Whether it's cooking a meal, sharing your family's history or hammering a nail, look for practical ways rekindle the teacher within. By doing so you'll be developing independence and building a stronger relationship as well.
Okay, so how did you go? You may be already doing some of these, some you might have turned your nose up at, and with a bit of luck there would have been some ideas that interested you. Now your challenge is to put two or three of these ideas into practice. Stick at them for at least a month, which is how long it takes for most new behaviours to become habitual. It's in our habits, not our one-off ideas and strategies, where our real effectiveness as parents lies.
For more practical tips and expert advice, visit www.parentingideas.com.au.