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Resolutions for a New Year

It’s that time of year again! As we reset our calendar for 2015, change is on the minds of many, in hopes of improving physical and mental health, finances, and relationships. The parent-child relationship, in particular, is deep and vast. In my work with families, it’s always been my perspective that parents know their children best. It’s the “how to help” part that is often most challenging. With that in mind, and in honour of the new year, here are a few suggestions for parenting “resolutions” for 2015, in keeping with the themes of many of our past psychology blog posts. Finding ways to integrate one or two of these resolutions into your parenting practice is a great goal for the new year.

1. Practice being present. (Blog: Becoming a Mindful Parent – Part 2)

  • Put down the phone. Actively place it out of reach (i.e., in a different room) during mealtimes and family time.
  • Play together. On weekends, reserve at least 30 minutes of time for uninterrupted one-on-one play time. Treat it like an appointment that takes place no matter what (i.e., regardless of any challenging behaviours that might have taken place earlier in the day). Let your child take the lead in play; let him decide what he is going to do.
  • Talk about your day. At mealtime or bedtime, highlight the day’s events, getting your child’s input on what he enjoyed, what went well and what he is proud of. For difficult events, use the recap as a way of acknowledging emotions (see below).

2. Enhance your child’s ability to regulate emotion. (Blog: 10 Ways to Foster Healthy Emotion Regulation)

  • Model flexibility and good coping. Choose to do things differently, and show your child that success and happiness is not an all-or-nothing scenario. When faced with frustration, disappointment and anxiety, narrate your own problem-solving, by sharing how you can resolve or negotiate unexpected obstacles.
  • When helping your child get used to new situations, act like a tour guide. Describe what is going to happen, what might be expected. Provide options for how they might be able to get comfortable.
  • Build and strengthen emotional vocabulary. Choose books that help your child recognize facial expressions, predicaments and ways of coping. Bring your child’s attention to the feelings of others, on TV or in books, in social situations, and when experiencing big emotions themselves.
  • Advice starts to feel like criticism, the more times it’s offered. Just like adults, kids may feel that their emotional experience is being minimized when parents are quick to tell them what to do when they are feeling upset, disappointed or frustrated. Acknowledge the emotion and validate their experience. Sometimes it helps to sit in the “mud” a little while before trying to pull the child out of it.

3. Avoid praising how “smart” your child is; praise effort and approach rather than intelligence. (Blog: A Personal Perspective on Parents’ Praise)

  • Pay attention to your child’s hard work, persistence and how she tackled difficult problems.
  • Encourage your child to think about strategies for learning, as well as her interests. As Joanne Foster, Ed.D. writes, “Reassure her that she can confront challenges, stretch her boundaries, and know that she’ll still garner positive reinforcement, encouragement, and support.”

4. For parents of teens: Embrace adolescence. Think about adolescence as a time of incredible opportunity. (Blog: Teen Brain Development)

  • As described in his book Brainstorm, Dr. Daniel J. Siegel emphasizes that the “work of adolescence” sets the stage for the development of traits and interests that may define the individual throughout their life. With that in mind, parents are encouraged to change their mindset about what adolescence is about, to recognize its complexity, and its essential aspects of “emotional intensity, social engagement and it’s creativity” (pg. 4).

5. Try “Time-Ins” rather than “Time-Outs”. In his book, Time-In Parenting, Dr. Otto Weininger advocated for parents staying close to their child through angry emotions, instead of leaving them to cope with these emotions on their own.

  • Look for the emotion behind negative behaviours and try to make sense of it. Unfortunately, this is often the component that gets missed when using the time-out method. A time-out may make it clear that a certain behaviour is unacceptable, but does not necessarily clarify for the child how to regulate (or cope with) big emotions. This is where kids tend to need a great deal of help, and parents are the best people to provide that “co-regulation”. Kids need limits, but they also need parents to attune to how they are feeling. This attunement and connection tends to de-escalate the behaviour.

6. Get reading and get inspired. Pick up one of these books at your local bookstore or library for more information on the importance of brain development, emotional attunement, and mindfulness when parenting children and adolescents.

  • Brainstorm: The power and purpose of the teenage brain – Daniel J. Siegel
  • Time-in Parenting: How to teach children emotional self-control, life skills, and problem solving by lending yourself and staying connected – Otto Weininger
  • Connected Parenting: Transform your challenging child and build loving bonds for life – Jennifer Kolari
  • Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for raising happily productive kids – Dona Matthews & Joanne Foster
  • Mindful Parenting – Kristen Race
  • Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child – John Gottman
  • Attachment-Focused Parenting – Daniel Hughes
  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk – Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
  • How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk – Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
  • The Whole Brain Child – Daniel J Siegel

Try not to become overwhelmed by this list and these ideas. Incorporating one or two into your parenting practice is all that you should aim for. Good luck and Happy New Year!

Meredith Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych.

About Meredith Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych.

Meredith A. M. Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a clinical psychologist with extensive experience in psychological assessment and treatment of children, youth and their families across a range of developmental and mental health conditions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), anxiety and mood disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, disruptive behaviour disorders, adjustment disorders, learning disabilities, and parent-child relational conflict. She brings exceptional skill to the provision of care for children and families and strives to collaborate with clinicians across disciplines, to best support the complex needs of her clients.

Learn more about Meredith Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych.

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