The New Year can be a time for new beginnings. For many of us, it is a time to resolve to do something differently. New Year’s resolutions can be quite important because they can affect mental and physical health, social relations, and our satisfaction with life. You might be thinking about resolving to exercise more, help others, or spend more time with your children. Although the idea of making resolutions is serious and intentional, they sometimes thought of as silly and are rarely kept beyond January. The problem is how we go about sticking to them. To increase the chance of success, resolutions should be made in very small increments toward a goal. The increments should be defined clearly and monitored in some way.
One example to illustrate this idea is about a father and his three year old son, Matthew. The dad told us he wants to read to his son every night, but Matthew has difficulty sitting long enough to finish a book. Once they sit down, he gets up and leaves or just runs around the room. Dad’s resolution is to get his child to sit for 15 or 20 minutes to read a whole children’s book. This is a nice goal to set because reading with your child can actually improve IQ. To attain this goal, Dad should begin by breaking it down into small steps. The next time he wants to read with his son, we told him to say that they are only going to read one page of the book. During and after that one page is read and Matthew is sitting, dad should praise that behavior enthusiastically. Once Matthew is able to sit nicely for one page, the dad can increase this goal one page at a time.
At the Yale Parenting Center, we have been studying behavior change in children, parents, and families for over 30 years. We know that telling a child to change habits or telling ourselves to change our own behavior, is not likely to be effective. Learning new or difficult tasks (learning to swim, mastering a musical instrument) has to be done in gradual steps and the outcomes are surprising. Changes in parenting practices require the same gradual approach. As you are celebrating the beginning of a new year, think about what small first step you could focus on right away.
What’s Your Parenting Resolution?
As the year comes to a close, are you thinking about making changes in your home or parenting practices? Maybe you want to yell less, spend more quality time with your children, or just try to have dinner together each night. How do you go about making these changes? Often it is the small changes can be the best changes to make.
Pick one small step or piece of your goal and start there. Do that one small step every day. Once you are doing it consistently, add a little more. Before you know it you will have made big changes in your family! Here’s an example of a plan for change following this model.
Goal: Dinner together as a family most nights
Step 1: Dinner together on one evening (Sundays)
Step 2: Dinner together on two evenings (Sundays and Wednesdays)
Step 3: Dinner together on 3 evenings
Step 4: Dinner together on 4 evenings
Step 5: Dinner together 5 evenings
Keep adding steps until you reach your goal!
Resolve To Stay Calm
If you are able to stay calm when you are frustrated, you model control for your child. This modeling has been shown to be an effective teaching tool for children. Try walking away, a parent time-out, deep breaths, or tag team with your parenting partner when things get heated. Your child is more likely to remain calm when he or she is upset, if you show that behavior as well.
Resolve To Spend Quantity Time Not Quality Time
Many people believe that quality time when we are completely focused on our child or doing some very special activity is ideal. Actually, it has been found that quantity may outweigh quality in the benefits it provides. The more time you spend just being there makes a difference. Little conversations, vegging together, and sharing day to day life is key, rather than elaborate trips and activities. So, if this is your resolution, aim for more small moments together rather than focusing so much on what is done in these moments.