A New Year is upon us, providing a fresh start and driving many of us to set new goals and rekindle our enthusiasm for making changes in our lives.
While it’s great to reflect on things we want to improve, and set new goals for ourselves, too often we abandon these efforts after a few weeks (or days) because they feel overwhelming as we tackle the day-to-day challenges of life.
Most parents have goals around improving our parenting and strengthening relationships with our children. If you are the parent of a child with challenges, you might have lots of goals you’d like to see accomplished in the realm of better behavior. I’d like to propose that this year instead of setting lots of big goals that feel too overwhelming for you (and your kids), you start with one or two simple steps toward improved health, relationships, and behavior. While it might feel like a small change won’t yield big results, I can assure you that starting small is way better than not starting at all!
To help you consider simple starting point that could make a big difference for your child and family, here are some of the most popular ones I recommend (and have done with my own family):
- Choose one specific unhealthy ingredient to avoid in processed foods – While dramatically decreasing or eliminating processed foods from your family’s diet might be ideal, the reality is that this can feel overwhelming initially. Any change you make toward healthier eating is a win for your child’s physical and mental health! Start by choosing 1 ingredient or type of ingredient to avoid, and learn to read food labels to make choices that don’t include this ingredient. Some excellent starting points for ingredients to avoid include: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), chemical dyes (ex: Blue #2, Red #40, and Yellow #5), monosodium glutamate (MSG),or artificial sweeteners – aspartame, sucralose, etc. – see this post for a list of all the names these go by.
- Focus on the positive with your child at least once daily – Once of the most effective communication strategies to improve child behavior and strengthen our relationship with our child, is to focus on the positive more often. This doesn’t mean we ignore the problems that come up, as those often do need to be addressed. It means we intentionally spotlight something positive we see our child doing, something we appreciate about our child, or something else positive over the course of the day. It can be spontaneous as you notice something during the day (ex: You are waiting so patiently with me in line.) or you can have a planned time each day, such as dinner or bedtime, to share something positive with your child. The goal is to make sure we are having a moment of positive connection with kids each day to strengthen our relationship and support them in developing a sense of competence and positive self-esteem.
- Spend 5 minutes on movement – Kids and adults benefit from moving more throughout the day, but you don’t need to jump right into an extensive exercise or physical activity regimen. Instead, simply start with 5 minutes of movement with your child at some point during the day (right before allowing electronics time is an easy way to remember). You can jump on the trampoline, go for a walk, have a pillow fight, play Simon Says, lift weights, or any other age-appropriate activity that involves moving your bodies. Depending on the age of your child you can make a list of movement options to choose from, or have a jar with slips of paper that each contain an option for a simple physical activity. Start with just 5 minutes each time, and engage in the activity with your child whenever possible.
- Have a device-free meal together – As often as possible during the week commit to sitting down at the table to eat a meal together without the distraction of devices. Sharing family meals together is a very effective tool for strengthening relationships, improving communication, and teaching valuable life skills. Eating together without devices allows everyone to converse together, and to be mindful about each other and the process of eating. Want to get even more mileage out of these meals? Have each person share a success and a challenge from the day to celebrate together, normalize mistakes/problems, and build resilience.
- Get 15 more minutes of sleep each night – Sleep is so important for kids and adults, and even 15 more minutes of quality sleep each night makes a difference! If your kids tend to get to sleep later than you’d like, start the bedtime routine 15 minutes earlier (or 5 minutes of you need an easier starting point) to ensure they get more of the sleep they need to manage their emotions and behavior the next day. If you have a habit of getting to bed too late, I challenge you to focus on getting to bed 15 minutes earlier as a starting point. You’ll feel better (and be better able to parent your kids) for getting even a little extra shut-eye each night.
Did any of these resonate with you? Have another idea for something simple and doable that you could start with right away? Pick one thing that you feel will positively impact your child’s behavior and wellness and start it now. Share the simple step you chose in the comments below so we can cheer you on!