A brand new year is almost here! It’s the time when many of us look forward to a fresh start. A new year brings with it the promise of improvements made and dreams realized. It’s the time when we normally set new goals and focus on what is most important and what we most want to achieve.
But I’ve learned something in my four decades on this planet - rarely do we stick to our New Year’s resolutions. In fact, setting big, long-term goals that inevitably lead to shortcomings leaves us feeling not so good. Like we are always falling short of being decent parents and human beings.
That’s why, personally, I’ve ditched my big resolutions for intentions. According to Elizabeth Sautter, M.A., CCC-SLP, licensed speech and language pathologist, author of Make Social And Emotional Learning Stick, and co-founder of the Make It Stick Program, “Setting an intention for the new year helps us determine how we want to show up. We can come back to them day after day, or even hour after hour, to remind ourselves how we want to ‘be’ with the people we support and love so much.”
I can’t think of a better or more meaningful intention to set in my life right now than building better relationships with my kids.
The last couple of years have been difficult, and many relationships have suffered in their wake. The parent-child connection is more important than ever, and yet with all the trials we’ve faced, including schooling from home, disrupted routines, isolation, etc., it’s not surprising that this very important connection has been strained. I think 2022 offers us a new chance to prioritize our relationships and build strong connections. Our relationships with our children are among the most important in our lifetimes, so why not set these simple intentions to bring you closer than ever before?
The Benefits of a Strong Connection
It’s true, building a strong connection with your child takes work, and during an already busy day, it can be difficult to find the time for focused attention. However, the rewards are great and include a more peaceful and cooperative child who is easier to direct, who respects your authority more, and who behaves better overall. In addition, close bonds improve our mental health and overall wellbeing.
A secure attachment is important for your child as well. Studies show that securely attached children are happier, have better friendships and sibling relationships, do better in school, are better at problem-solving, and have higher self-esteem and confidence.
Three Intentions to a Better Relationship
Are you ready to deepen your relationship with your child and reap the benefits of a secure connection? Make these 3 simple intentions this year:
1. Give positive focused attention daily.
Sure, we give our kids a lot of attention, but how much of it is positive versus negative? Oftentimes, our interactions with our children are reduced to giving directives or simple conversations. “Did you do your homework?” “Clean your room.” “How was school?”
Not that there's anything wrong with these interactions, but they do not offer the positive attention children need to thrive.
Commit to giving your child at least one positive affirmation every day.
- “I’m so glad you’re mine.”
- “Your art is really improving.”
- “You’re a great big brother.”
- “I saw that nice thing you did. Thank you.”
- “Wow, you kept at it and succeeded!”
These affirmations say, “I see you. I appreciate you.”
The quickly growing and changing brain of childhood is the prime time to begin teaching your child about affirmations. As a child’s brain is being wired, planting these positive seeds will bring about abundant growth. Peggy O’Mara said, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” By speaking positive words to our children, they learn to speak positive words to themselves, and perhaps by doing so, they can avoid the harsh inner critic that so many of us struggle with today.
2. Practice positive communication.
Positive communication is essential to all healthy relationships. It builds mutual respect, trust, and connection. The parent-child relationship is our first place for learning about relationships - it sets the standard. Therefore, when we use healthy, positive communication now, children develop skills that will help them build healthy relationships lifelong.
Start by speaking respectfully. If you pay attention to how adults generally speak to children, you may notice a hint (or outright) disrespect, and yet we expect our children to speak to adults respectfully. A good rule of thumb is, if you wouldn’t use that tone or language with anyone else you love, don’t use it with your child. I know it can be exasperating when they don’t listen, and that makes it tempting to bark demands or use a harsh tone, but doing so sets an example for poor communication, and one they will come to use themselves.
In addition, practice active listening. Oftentimes we listen to respond rather than to understand, and in doing so, we may miss what our child is trying to convey. Rather than interrupting or offering your immediate advice, just listen intently and with empathy, really seeking to understand your child’s point of view and experience. This helps your child feel seen and heard, thereby building trust and strengthening your relationship.
Lastly, be assertive, not aggressive. Clear, direct communication allows you to express your feelings, needs, and desires effectively while respecting the rights of your child. Being assertive is a necessary parenting skill. Aggressiveness is alarming and puts children on the defensive. On the other hand, being passive gives children a disproportionate amount of control. When you communicate assertively, use “I” statements such as “I feel upset” rather than “you’re making me mad,” discuss your feelings, and give reasoning for your boundaries or rules
3. Be playful.
Sure, it’s important to play with our children. It allows us quality time with them and shows them that we are attentive and involved, but I’m not just talking about physical play here. I’m referring to an attitude of playfulness. Parents can lose this in the serious day-to-day busyness of raising children for many reasons, such as getting lost in our responsibilities or trying to appear authoritative. Sometimes we fear that playfulness will make us appear too “friendly” or “weak,” and how often does society warn us that we aren’t here to “be a friend” to our kids? But playfulness is a great relationship builder, and a strong relationship will give you more authority, not less.
A study from 2016 determined that shared laughter promotes relationship well-being. Unfortunately, when we grow up, we start to associate play with childishness, but in reality, being playful helps us to make intimate connections, so joke around and be silly!
Practice these three intentions in the new year - positive focused attention, positive communication, and playfulness - to rebuild or strengthen your parent-child bond and enjoy the fruits of a healthy relationship. May the new year be kind to us all!