It is easy to get stuck in negative parenting habits. We all know it, and we all experience this to some degree. Are there some things about your parenting that drive you crazy, but are soooo hard to change?
Maybe you feel like a pushover and can’t stand strong when your kids need firm guidance. Maybe you have a short fuse, and the fireworks start before your child even finishes their sassy remark! Or maybe your default is to feel irritated and overly critical, and it wears on both you and your kids. But whatever it is… you feel stuck in parenting habits that just aren’t working for you! And, more importantly, parenting habits that are not working for your kids.
We’re passionate about helping all parents who feel that way. We still remember our early days of feeling stuck in parenting challenges, unhealthy dynamics, and hurtful habits. As you think about having a fresh start to your year, we are excited to share three principles adapted from a research-based book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.
1. Launch new parenting habits from your successes!
Keeping your focus on how to “fix” your failures is discouraging. And discouragement saps motivation and makes change difficult. When you focus on what goes well in your home you jump-start positive change, because you are building on and expanding a parenting skill you already know. Plus, it’s encouraging, which tends to increase your motivation to change your parenting habits.
Look back on the past year, and ask yourself these questions:
- When did I thoroughly enjoy my child(ren)?
- When was I peaceful and wise while disciplining?
- When did I teach a value or skill in a way that my child(ren) enjoyed learning?
Then ask yourself, “How did I do this?” Be as specific as possible about what you did. Your answer is very important because it gives you an idea about what your strengths (giftedness & learned skills) are as a parent. Once you know where you’ve been successful previously, you can be intentional about where you put your energy. Instead of focusing on your bad habits, put the focus on positive parenting habits so that you can grow.
2. Set a small, specific, and practical goal.
Lofty, general goals tend to get lost over time. “Connect more with my kids” will likely disappear from your radar within a few weeks. But scheduling one Saturday morning a month into your 2021 calendar for a date with any one of your children will be doable and easy to remember.
A mom on our Connected Families team recalls how every Saturday morning, for several years, her dad would schedule special time individually with each of the four children in the family. It could be anything from Mcdonald’s to going to a park to play. This built a special and connected relationship she still recalls fondly.
You might have a resolution to “Stay calm when disciplining”. The problem is that this statement is intangible and vague. But instead, you could tell your kids you want to 1) notice when your voice starts to raise, and 2) say, “I’m going to think about this and we’ll talk in a few minutes.”
A small, specific, and practical goal like this is much easier to achieve and easier to develop into a lifelong habit. Moreover, it’s a goal you can invite your family to help hold you accountable. As a side benefit, this kind of vulnerable invitation models for your children both humility and commitment. As they watch you, they will be more likely to learn from your example, and gradually begin to monitor their own raised voices.
3. Make the new parenting habit(s) easy to remember.
Effectively changing your parenting habits, and forming new habits, begins by doing concrete, even visible things in your environment to prompt change.
- An example of more 1:1 individual time with your kids: If your goal is to have that monthly date, and one of your children loves frappuccinos, you could buy a coffee shop card right now and set it on your child’s dresser or window sill as a reminder.
- An example of working towards calm discipline: One mom carried a small lotion bottle in her pocket. She resolved to rub lotion into her hands while she prayed for insight about how to wisely respond to a child’s misbehavior.
- An example of working toward not being big and loud: A hot-tempered dad cooled down a lot after he printed out copies of James 1:19 (quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger) and taped them around the house.
All three of these examples give you, the parent, small but tangible reminders of the new parenting habit you’re focusing on.
To review, remember these three questions to help you develop parenting habits you can keep:
- How can I work on focusing on my parenting success rather than bad habits?
- What is a specific, doable parenting goal I could share with my family?
- What could be a helpful (even visible) prompt to jump-start the new habit?
Change can be difficult, but as you pursue lasting growth in your parenting, claim the hope that is yours as you trust God. Seek the Lord for His powerful, never-give-up-on-you grace — grace for you when you struggle, and grace for your kids when they struggle, and watch the Holy Spirit come alongside to bring that change.
Take a minute to put your feet up. Take a breath. Consider taking 10-15 minutes to take our parenting strengths assessment. It can help bring to light your parenting strengths as well as challenges.
Based on that assessment, ask the Lord right now how He wants to stretch, free, and bless you in your parenting this year. You’ll know you’ve landed on a good goal when, instead of feeling discouraged, you feel eager, even excited to see how God will work that change in your life.