Ask Your Family Therapist

Ask Your Family Therapist

Happy New Year?
As a child, a student, and a parent, the ‘new year’ did not start with January first, but many months before with the first day of school. In preparation, I would notice how my son had matured over the summer, grown out of his shoes, made new friends, and developed new skills. I would hope that I was up to the challenge this next stage would bring. Since we are approaching the start date for school, I would like to offer my four best resolutions for your ‘new year’ as a parent and encourage you to use them to create your own.

1) This year I will commit to spending as much time as possible ‘being’ with my children.
While we all benefit from the gift of entertainment and the connection of the internet, you need to give your children the gift of your undivided attention. Be in the moment with them. Toddlers do something we call parallel play when they are active in the same room but immersed in their own activity. Often they do not acknowledge the other’s presence. This is because they have not yet developed ‘social skills’. In the electronic age, we often revert to this early stage and forget to relate to others around us. You can increase time interacting as a family by having a time each day that TV, computers, and electronic games are quiet. Tell jokes, stories, take a walk, star gaze, build something, play an instrument or sing together. Have a family meeting and decide together what new activities you can plan that are signal free.

2) This year I will allow my children to make mistakes and take risks without rescuing them.
It is hard to not want to be a ‘helicopter parent’. Yet no one ever really claims that title. It is just that we love our children and want to protect them from the pain of life. While this is important to do in some situations, doing it all the time means that they are not developing resilience, learning how to work through frustration and creating new survival skills. Let your children fall down, miss a play in sports, have a problem with a friend, get a low grade in a class and question authority respectfully. Involve them in activities that take practice to master. Try some new experiences yourself so you can model that life is about learning.
3) This year I will be more authentic with my family. I will share more of my history and present challenges.
Often we are so afraid to worry our children, we share very little of ourselves with them. For example, telling a specific story about your own problems making friends as a child is a great way to encourage your child to share that they are being bullied. While it is inappropriate to talk about specifics of financial or marital problems, that does not mean we don’t talk about the realities of our life. In order to prepare our growing children for life as an adult, we need to let them in on the challenges we face. So open up with more specifics about how you deal with a too talkative co-worker, a boss who is confusing, or your insecurity about how to ask for a pay raise. Admitting the hurdles in your life outside the family will let your child know that mastery of your environment is a work in progress for everyone.

4) I will find ways each day to appropriately physically touch my children.
It is a challenge as kids grow up to stay in physical contact. We know that babies will die without human touch. I think that spirits die of loneliness, feeling unlovable and a hunger for touch. So add hugs, kisses, handshakes or high fives to your daily contact with your children. You can make it part of a daily ritual, like never saying goodbye without a hug. Touch can be asked for or given, but should never be withheld as punishment.

You can use these resolutions as a starting point to create your own. Have a family meeting, review what did and did not work last school year. Create achievable long and short term goals that will support everyone’s commitment to making your family’s new school year the best possible. And remember to end the meeting with a great big group hug!

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