Here are 5 do-able resolutions that can help you and your family make the most of the coming year.
1. Ambush Your Kids With Something Positive Every Day
I was recently speaking at an elementary school when one of the parents asked about consequences for bad behavior. I thought about it for a moment and then realized that I preferred to give and receive consequences for good behavior. Most of us are in the habit of telling our kids what they’re doing wrong, but it’s just as easy (and more effective) to bath our children in positive reinforcement rather than negative. Not only does this tell your children what pleases you, but over time, it becomes a habit and tips the scale toward more positive conversation and less criticism.
Try some of these phrases: “I like the way you are sitting quietly.” “Your teeth look really good when you brush them.” “Sometimes I just love hearing your voice.” “It makes me really happy when you are polite.”
2. Review Your Family Tree.
Having a family, no matter how complex yours might be, gives our children a foundation. One of my grandfathers emigrated from Russia, through Canada to Detroit. My other was born in Decatur, Illinois, where his family had a dry-goods store. My wife’s family came from Poland through Ellis Island. Each of them had multiple brothers and sisters and, as a result, our extended family is sometimes hard to understand – but always interesting. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that over the years our children have repeated family lore to their friends (calling us for confirmation) and grown to take pride in their own family history.
Today, the Internet offers a variety of tools for building and tracking your family tree, but telling stories about our family and reviewing old photographs often reveals a passion that really captures the interest of our children.
3. Do Nice Things Without Expectation.
By returning someone else’s grocery cart, holding a door, or picking up a random piece of litter, we are showing our children that we have a responsibility to help take care of other people in our world – even, or especially, when no one is asking us to. I try to explain to them that doing good deeds makes me feel better about myself – just for me. By modeling these behaviors, and occasionally enlisting the help of our kids, we are giving them a chance to do nice things for other people – which is better for all of us.
4. Avoid Creating Feelings For Your Children
I was coaching AYSO for my daughter’s U6 (under six years old) team when it occurred to me that my young players didn’t really care about whether they won or lost. In U6, the emphasis is on positive coaching, good sportsmanship, and player development – it’s not on winning – and the kids seemed just fine with that until their parents started telling them how to feel. “You played well, but you don’t want to be a loser do you?” Last I looked, that little girl was indifferent about the result of the game, she was just wanted to go get an ice-cream, but according to her well-meaning mom she was now a loser.
None of us can be sure what our kids are thinking or feeling. We often think that the way we would feel is the way they’re feeling – but that’s not always the case, and it’s something for us to be aware of. Things like “You must be sad because Jonah didn’t invite you over to play.” are complete projections of how we feel as opposed to how our child is reacting. It always makes sense to be compassionate and ask our children about their feelings – but it’s better to let them define those feelings themselves than to tell them what we think they might be. In my book I call this “Leading the Witness”.
5. Verbally Express Gratitude Each Day
I was about thirteen when a homeless person approached my father and asked him for some money. My father gave him a quarter and then said to me “There but for the grace of God go I.” I never forgot that phrase or that feeling.
Early in the development of our family, I was working six, twelve-hour, days a week. After about a year, JoAnn “suggested” that I be home for dinner at least once a week and work only one Saturday per month. At that weekly dinner, we’d go around the table and individually define at least one thing for which we were grateful. Week after week this dinner offered us an opportunity to share our feelings and remind our children how lucky we are to have each other, to live in our house, to have food, school, pencils, television, friends, etc.
Expressing gratitude doesn’t require a formal occasion, it’s as easy as looking out of the car window and saying “Isn’t the world amazing?” or “Aren’t we lucky to have a car – what if people still had to ride horses everywhere?”
…and speaking of gratitude…Happy New Year Dear Readers. Thank you for giving time to my blog and for sharing it with others. May 2014 bring you all health, happiness, and simplicity. No matter how ridiculous our lives may seem, we are all truly lucky to be here.
Wedding Photo Credit – Paige Jones Photography