New Year Back-to-Basics Parenting

Happy New Year, Confident Parents! 

We, in the Miller household, are in a very back-to-basics mode starting out this year. It was a renewing break. But we had a few breakdowns toward the end of our time off that focused our attention on household repairs. In addition, we find ourselves shoring up our exercise routines, revisiting our plans for nutrition (after indulging in some serious sugar over the holidays), looking at our connections to nature and our environment, and discussing financial planning. 

In addition to thinking about intentions for healthy, sustainable living, we are dealing with the very practical day-to-day reality of returning to the routine. Getting our teen son to bed at a reasonable hour at night is an adjustment. Getting up and out of the door with a laptop charged, water bottle refreshed, and all systems-a-go is another feat that feels rocky and uncertain. We’ll get there but we clearly are out of practice. Here’s some fuel for you if you too are need of a boost to your family’s wintertime routine.

As we generally are working on our foundational needs, it’s pushing me to ask the question:

What are some of the basics of parenting for and with confidence?

The following are key.

Noticing Outdated Patterns from our Past

We know that every part of parenting from our everyday conversations to our greatest challenges can serve as an opportunity to grow a social and emotional skill in our children and teens and in ourselves. In fact, we have some of the greatest opportunities for growth as adults through the pushes, pulls and difficulties of being a purpose-led parent. If instinct guides our every move and choice in reaction to our children, then we have decided to replicate the training from our own upbringing for better and for worse. Yes, at times, instinct will lead us to act just as our parents did. And we recognize it the minute the phrase comes out of our mouthes… “That’s not me” you think. “That’s my mother (or father).” And at other times, instinct instead may lead us to the opposite reaction our own parents displayed or intended and if that counter-reaction was born out of an act of resistance, it’s likely we will go to extremes. Often neither of these responses lead to confident and competent actions.

Parenting with Intention

And so in order to alter the patterns of the past that we do not want to repeat, we need to become intentional about how we parent. If we have regrets for reactions of the past, that’s a perfect place to begin. It helps to become reflective about the following questions:

– What do I want to replicate from my own upbringing? 

It’s well worth listing these out and then, noticing whether these are already a part of our parenting. They most likely are. If so, this is an important affirmation and validation that these can be checked off of your worry list. You are already doing them – and you have the necessary training to do them well!

– What do I want to change that stems from my upbringing either as a repetition of outdated words and actions or an outdated counter reaction?

– When, where and how do those reactions occur?

Pick one pattern you’d like to change and set a new year’s intention. Maybe you end up nagging at homework time or end up yelling or fighting over getting work accomplished? Write down your intention to formalize it in your mind and heart. Here’s how it might look:

I am confident in my child’s ability to get her homework accomplished. I will set her up for success by co-creating a routine with her and establishing clear boundaries about when, where and how it will take place. I will review these, remind her and support her. If upset, I’ll pull away and breathe before interacting.

Using the Social and Emotional Growth Filter

Our son used a few of his phone filters on photos of us this Christmas and we played with the many distortions and crazy faces it produced. There are always multiple ways to view any one situation. Why not view a thorny challenge with the filter of your child’s growth and development? It can not only alter your reaction, but also it can change your motivation level to work hard to transform the problem into a growth opportunity. 

Imagine in your mind’s eye the scene of challenge. What does it look like? What does it sound like? Now, freeze the scene and ask the question:

What opportunity exists in this moment to build one or more social and emotional skills? 

I notice that when I ask that question, I typically can come up with more than one skill that is being challenged. Let’s use the homework example.

Your daughter may not be self-aware of her procrastination as a sign of a fear of failure when she approaches homework. Opportunity: Self Awareness Skills (identifying her true feelings and how they impact her lack of motivation, knowledge of her strengths, ability to work hard and also limitations where she needs to seek help)

Your daughter may struggle to use her self control when friends are texting and online gaming when it’s time for her to focus on her work. Opportunity: Self Management Skills

Your daughter may not be aware that her neglect of homework has a ripple effect on the rest of the family. It can interfere with dinner and getting to bed at a reasonable time which can impact the next day’s morning routine. Opportunity: Social Awareness Skills (like taking social cues, empathy, perspective-taking)

Your daughter may feel like a victim in this scenario being forced to do hard work when she doesn’t feel capable. Yet the conflict that her avoidance creates between you and her eats away at your relationship since it occurs day after day. Opportunity: Relationship Skills (like communication and constructive conflict management)

Your daughter is not feeling a sense of independence and responsibility for accomplishing her work. Opportunity: Responsible Decision-Making Skills

Our Child’s Behavior as our Report Card

We can use our child’s words and actions as a way to gauge what we need to work on. This report card is NOT ever a pass/fail grade. There is always another chance to learn, to try a new approach and to react differently. Instead this is a measure of progress and where learning opportunities continue to exist — or persist. Our opportunity for growth does not come from one time words or actions. Children and teens (and parents too!) must make mistakes, have accidents, and try and fail in order to learn. But when we catch our children repeating words and actions that do not align with their best, most confident selves – or bring out our own shadow sides – then, we have an opportunity to stop and reflect on the chance for transformative change.

One key foundational principle we can remember and recite is that when adults change, our children’s behavior adapts. We can lead the charge. It’s an empowering start to our new year! How can we be the change we want to see in the world? How can we begin at home? How can it begin inside ourselves?

Here’s to a year of well-being, growth and learning for ourselves and our children!

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