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New Year Resolution: New Parenting Style

How to make your parenting resolutions a reality.

Key points

  • To help change your child's behavior, lead by example.
  • Schedule screen time for yourself and the family.
  • Avoid fighting with your ex or speaking badly about them in front of your children.
Source: Lopolo/Shutterstock

Parents always ask: How do I become a better, more patient parent this year? Many of the parents I see want their child’s behavior to change but do not know how to make the change on their end. This year I would like to address some common parenting issues and offer advice on approaching them.

The resolution: I would like my child to spend less time in front of a screen–be it a phone, TV, iPad, etc.

My suggestions: Lead by example. You should be putting down your phone while driving, during meal times, and while spending quality time as a family. Putting phones down should be a requirement of quality family time. If you are scrolling social media and your child wants to read a book or watch a holiday movie (even if you have already seen it four times this season), put the phone down and be totally present with them.

Schedule “phone-free” activities for everyone in the house to participate in. Make a fun trip out to the library, and pick out some new books. Dedicate 30 minutes of the day to reading together as a family. It is important to read real paper books during this time, not a kindle, etc.

Make sure you aren’t implementing less screen time in a way that feels like a punishment. This often has a less positive and productive effect. Instead, be strict on your screen time rules but give days of unlimited screen time as rewards. This will teach self-regulation and allow your child to set their own schedule.

With so many people working from home these days, parents find it difficult to separate homes and work more than ever. Challenge yourself to create a work-life balance that allows you to engage with your family entirely.

I am not recommending that you can’t ever spend time using a screen device with your child. It is good to sit down and learn the ins and outs of all socials and games your child is involved in. Parents should feel no shame about peering over their child’s shoulder sometimes when they are on their devices and asking questions.

Engage with your child about the content they are consuming. For example, how they feel about a particular social media post, if an outfit that someone is wearing is cool or what IDK means. This helps you interact with them “on their level” and gives you insight into how and in what ways the content they are interacting with influences their behavior and outlook on life.

The resolution: I waited “too long” to give the sex talk, now what?

My suggestions: What is the right age to begin to talk to your child about sex? As soon as your child can speak! Rather than being compressed into a single monologue, as in a one-off “talk” that generations before us grew up with, a sex-positive education should begin at birth and continue throughout a child’s life.

This doesn’t mean you describe the nitty-gritty of sex to your young child. Rather, you engage in developmentally appropriate explanations and discussions at different points in their life. My book, No Shame, offers suggestions on discussing sex and sexuality with your child in a shame-free manner.

Most contemporary sexual issues are not addressed in public school sex education programs, and schools vary in their content. By middle school, vast differences in knowledge develop amongst peers due to their parents’ political, religious, and other beliefs—not to mention their fears.

Parents, you need to address consent and pleasure as the main element in sex ed! Children are not born uncomfortable with these discussions, so it is good to take advantage of their openness.

The resolution: Stop fighting with partner/ex in front of the kids.

My suggestions: Whether you are together, separated, or divorced, how you talk to and about your child's other parent matters. I see parents doing the most psychological damage to their children in handling parental conflict. This also affects the children’s romantic relationships in the future. You should never speak badly of the other parent, and if you do, you should apologize immediately.

If you need to vent, do so to adult friends or members of your family, taking great care that your child doesn’t hear you. These situations can do a lot of damage not only to the family structure but to your child’s psychological well-being and may result in long-term parental estrangement.

Divorced parents often say to me, “We need to get on the same page in terms of household rules.” I think the issue here lies within the statement itself. Rules should be consistent within each household, not between the households. Children easily adapt to the need for different behaviors in different settings.

Remember, you can only control your actions. How you speak to your partner or ex in times of conflict will greatly influence the outcome. In high emotion, situations take a step back if you can. I recommended communicating through email to lessen the tension of the interaction for tougher debates.

This eliminates some emotionally driven, knee-jerk reactions. It gives the receiving party time to collect their thoughts and develop an appropriate response. Email is not without its pitfalls, so be mindful not to send messages when flustered. If you are ‘angry typing,’ you are more likely to say something over the top that you wouldn’t say in person.

If you have conflicts with someone you live with, table discussions for when the kids are at playdates or school. Children pay attention to everything we say and do and will notice discrepancies beginning at age eight. If your child asks why you are fighting, give an honest and age-appropriate answer.

For this new year, think of some of the ways you would like to improve as a parent. Resolutions are a great way to usher in new behavior patterns to help you reach your parenting goals. The tough part is doing the necessary work!