I would like to think that the ending of another year and the beginning of a new one fills me with hope, joy and anticipation but if I am being honest, instead, it fills me with anxiety envisioning many unaccomplished goals. It is when this worry, fear and disappointment overcome me that I look to my seven-year-old for inspiration. And I know for certain he will provide it. When I ask, “How are you feeling at the end of the year?” He replies, “It’s the end of the year?” Exactly! He is unaware of the changing of the year because he is filled with the present moment. I realize I can incorporate more of that kind of thinking into my life. “What is important to me today in this moment? How can I focus on the people I love and the work at hand?”
The beginning of the year is an optimal time for reflection, as long as it doesn’t include self-flagellation. Researchers assert that when trying to make any changes - major or minor - “It is the quality of the little things that makes all the difference.” I try and reflect on the bigger picture - my values and beliefs - and how I want to be in my various roles including one of my most important, my role as a parent. One question I ask is “If a teacher or another parent met me on the street and told me something about my child, what would I most like to hear?” You might ask yourself the same question. In fact, I did ask parents from my son’s school this question and some of the responses included that they wanted to hear their children were brave, passionate, hard-working and kind to everyone they met. Perhaps some of these would make your list as well.
Sometimes it’s challenging to make the connection between those qualities we hope our kids develop and our day-to-day actions. But when it comes to steps I want to take in the New Year, I focus on the quality of the little things. I’ve attempted to answer the question, “What little things can I resolve to do in the New Year to promote these qualities?”
Want your child to be brave?
You have to be brave. Acknowledge authentic feelings, your own and your child’s. So often we say “I’m fine,” when we are hurting. Naming your true emotions helps deepen trusting connections. So often we tell kids to stop crying. Shush. Get over it. We may need to move on but we miss acknowledging their feelings. “It looks like you were hurt by that other child. I’m sorry you are so sad.” Learning to be aware of emotions and managing them gives you and your child the chance to feel fear and vulnerability, face it and by doing so, conquer it. This is how your child learns to be brave.
Want your child to be passionate?
You have to be passionate. Does your child see you engaged in any one thing that gives you utter joy? With your child, step out of the way. When she displays a love of something (dance, Legos, animals), allow for joy. Often the best role we can play is in holding ourselves back rather than actively doing something to promote a passion. If you’ve listened to her interests and given her the toys, tools and experiences needed to participate in her interest then let her fully explore it. Pushing, nagging, correcting (“You aren’t doing it right.”) or using the interest as punishment (“No more dance until you are nicer to your sister.”) all take part of the passion away. Feed the flames by stepping back and allowing your child to practice, fail, try again and find her own way.
Want your child to be hard-working?
Does your child get to experience your hard work? Does he get to hear how you haven’t yet reached your goal? Maybe you’ve been rejected but you continue to try again. With your child, notice effort. In our culture we often recognize end products and accomplishments. We rarely celebrate the hard work that goes into achieving any goal. Place your focus on the effort involved and your child will continue to be motivated to work hard. He will come to understand that he can tackle anything with persistence. “I notice you’ve been determined to get all of your worksheets finished for school tomorrow. That hard work is really going to help you learn.”
Want your child to be kind?
Do you notice when your partner does a household chore without prompting? Point out kindness among family members. A friend’s family lights a candle every Sunday night during their family’s dinner. They take turns sharing one kindness they saw someone doing from the week prior. Particularly for siblings, articulating how they show care for one another only promotes more care. And we as parents often show care in numerous ways that go unnoticed. The adults can also benefit from this practice of gratefulness for one another.
I have changed my own thinking about the New Year. Instead of the automatic anxious feeling, I continue to look to my son as a model of being present each day. I recognize my own efforts this past year in pursuing my passion of helping parents feel more effective in their roles and affirm that my persistence is moving me toward the accomplishment of my goals. I will attempt to be kinder to myself and more accepting of where I am rather than solely focusing on where I want to be. And through this acceptance, I feel brave. I will focus on the quality of the little things in the New Year that help me model for my son the values I hold dear.
Jennifer Miller is author and illustrator of the blog, Confident Parents, Confident Kids and writes for numerous publications.