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Turning things around in 2022

We’ve opted for a positive and optimistic theme for our New Year blog. This is all about preparing for a brighter future in 2022 and finding out how to make family life work for us in the best way possible.

New Year’s resolutions are not new. We’ve been making promises to do (or not do) something at the turn of the year for over 4,000 years. And with good reason – because it turns out that making resolutions is really beneficial for us individually and collectively.

RESOLUTION | intention, decision, aim, aspiration, goal, commitment, pledge, promise

According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, we’re 10 times more likely to change our behaviour when we make a clear decision and commitment to do so. And even though the vast majority (92% according to the University of Scranton) don’t stick to their resolutions, there’s plenty of good reasons to make them.

That’s because there’s a story or process behind each resolution that matters as much as the resolution itself.

Setting a resolution means we have to be honest about our current situation and also think clearly about where we want to get to.

The last couple of years have been disruptive for families. A survey by Live Healthily found that 80% of people in the UK have developed unhealthy habits as coping mechanisms or stress-relief during Lockdown, including a poor diet, less exercise, more screentime and irregular sleep patterns.

But how have your parenting habits shifted?

We’ve heard a variety of stories from families in Lockdown. Some parents have told us they feel they’re shouting and nagging more and they have become more reactive to challenging behaviour. They’ve observed behaviours in their children that concern them and they’re at a loss to know how to help.

Other families have shared that they’ve experienced real benefits in spending more time together at home.

Research from Leeds Trinity University submitted to the Covid-19 Committee studying the long-term impact of the pandemic on parents and families has shown that, although many families faced considerable difficulties during the Pandemic (such as feeling overwhelmed by childcare responsibilities and worrying about their children’s education), many also had positive experiences in terms of strengthening family bonds.

With more time available, and a more flexible and slower pace of life, many parents enjoyed the change of focus towards family and personal relationships and mental health and well-being over careers and educational attainment. And many believe they have seen changes for the better as a result, in themselves and in their kids.

So which aspects of your parenting do you want to replace or change in 2022? And which parts do you want to retain and improve?

Making resolutions is good for us because they are all about making things better – and just thinking about things being better makes us feel better. That hopeful and optimistic feeling not only benefits us personally but it’s contagious in a nice way and shifts the mood within the family.

We often talk about the importance of modelling as parents. Children learn so much by watching and listening to us, even (or particularly!) when we don’t think they’re doing so and this means when we become resolute about making positive changes, they pick up this outlook and attitude too!

RESOLUTE | purposeful, undaunted, unswerving, determined, adamant, courageous, relentless, strong, tenacious, persistent, bold, tenacious, patient

Regardless of the details of your parenting resolutions for 2022 – to spend more time with your kids, to do less and connect more, to promote emotional well-being, to strengthen friendships or nurture sibling relationships, to re-activate your social or cultural life, to set and maintain healthy digital habits, to develop more consistent homework or bedtime routines, to make family mealtimes a priority, here are some ideas that will help you on your way throughout 2022 ….

MAKE THE RIGHT RESOLUTION FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY

Setting a goal based on what someone else (or society) thinks is right for your family isn’t going to stick. This will be a year of adjustment for everyone, but remember that you are the one who knows best what will work for your family, regardless of what anyone else might be planning to do.

It can be hard to stick to our resolution though when other people seem to be doing things differently.

We instinctively compare what we’re doing in order to assess what’s best. This idea of ‘social proof’ is a smart short-cut to learn how to fit in with the crowd, but it can also be distracting. If everyone else is picking up pre-Lockdown schedules of extra-curricular activities but we’ve noticed our child thrives with a less hectic timetable, or if everyone else is giving their child the latest smartphone but we’re sure it’s not right (yet) for our child, then we need to go against the flow. This can make us unpopular, and not just with our child!

We’re social beings, and it’s much safer and easier (and more fun!) when we all agree on certain ways to behave and live. When we choose to behave differently from the group, there’s still a small sense of risk about being ostracised or banished ….

That’s why it’s important we think carefully and take our time to set our resolutions. They need to mean something to us so we’re prepared to stick to them and make them happen.

MAKE A DETAILED PLAN

Setting a positive goal such as ‘I want to be calmer at bedtime’ rather than ‘I must stop shouting at bedtime’ is the first step. Then we need to dig deeper to get to the nitty gritty of what’s going on, and what we can do to implement change.

We can start this process by identifying the ‘cue’ or the reason behind our behaviour, and the ‘reward’ we get from it. Even ‘bad’ habits - such as shouting, criticising, nagging or threatening – give us something in the moment. Why would we use them otherwise?!

Let’s go through this one step at a time ….

Current habit to change
The bedtime routine always ends with a short sharp ‘that’s it, we’re all done here, not another word, go to bed NOW’

Cue for behaviour
Feeling frustrated that they’re not listening, worrying that they’re not getting enough sleep, feeling powerless that you can’t calm things down, deeply wanting some down-time on your own or with your partner, feeling guilty that you’ve not been able to spend any positive time with them during the day ….

Reward for behaviour
The children realise they have to stop playing up, and you finally get to retreat downstairs

Fill in your own blanks – maybe with some, none or all of the above! And your responses will guide you to a solution or two.

For example:

  • If you have a sense that they’re playing up because they’ve been trying all day to get your attention, that leads you towards making sure you notice and acknowledge the better bits of their behaviour during the day so their ‘attention bucket’ is full as they prepare to sleep
  • If you recognise that you’re super-super-tired because you’ve been burning the candle at both ends and 7pm is your cracking point, then commit to re-organising your schedule in some way so you don’t feel so pressured in the moment, and to doing something to replenish yourself ahead of the bedtime routine
  • If you realise that the bedtime routine is too rushed, or inconsistent, then don’t wait for it to magically sort itself out and intervene by making a step-by-step plan and discussing it with the children so they know what’s going to happen

ANTICIPATE OBSTACLES IN YOUR WAY

Achieving our goals is not all about the power of positive thinking and being determined. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence to show that mental contrasting –recognising and considering the negatives – is more likely to help us achieve our goals. I was particularly interested to read that mental contrasting helps children at risk of ADHD focus more on their schoolwork!

This is idea of mental contrasting lies behind the WOOP motivational strategy designed by Gabrielle Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University. You can get WOOPing at https://woopmylife.org/en/home but let’s try one here ….

W = WISH
What do you want to happen?

I would like to stop using the threat of taking away iPad time to get my children to do their homework, tidy their toys, sit at the table, eat a vegetable, leave their sibling alone or just about anything ….

O = OUTCOME
What is your ideal outcome? What will family life look like when you achieve this goal?

I will feel more effective and calmer and they will develop healthy digital habits, and there will be fewer arguments and tantrums.

O = OBSTACLES
What’s going to get in my way? What has stopped me being able to do this before?

I don’t have an alternative strategy to gain cooperation yet. I am not sure of the best way to motivate my children to do what they need to do. It’s not clear to the children how I want them to behave.

P = PLAN
How will you get around it?

I need to clarify screen time rules and be clear about what behaviours I expect to see at home. I need to work out the best way to encourage them to repeat positive behaviours. I need an effective way to respond when they get upset, without giving in.

MAKE YOUR RESOLUTION PUBLIC

Once you’ve made your resolutions, you may choose to be very overt and vocal about your new commitment and post on social media, or maybe you will share your goals with close family and friends.

If you really want to keep it to yourself, we recommend writing it down. Writing (not typing into the iPad!) is linked with stronger neural encoding and memory retrieval. Writing things down clears our minds and focuses our attention. And it gives us something to refer back to, either to reinspire us or to assess our progress.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

However realistic, encouraging and organised your plan is, there will be a hiccup or slip-up or two, or three ….

Just like learning to walk or talk, or play any sport, game or musical instrument, we stumble, fall, go blank, and get it all wrong and this is not from any lack of trying or desire to do well! And that’s OK because that’s what makes you human.

"Don't be a parent, be a human being who is a parent." Haim Ginott

One way to be kind(er) to ourselves is to catch and challenge our inner critic which is often unnecessarily and unhelpfully harsh. We actively avoid talking like this to other people when they mess up, so don’t allow yourself to put yourself down when things go wrong. Rather than say ‘typical, I can’t even manage a single school run without shouting’ say ‘that’s a shame, I wonder why I lost it despite my best plan, and what I will do differently tomorrow?’

Self-compassion is highly effective and is absolutely not about complacency and letting yourself off the hook. A series of experiments at the University of California revealed that self-compassion is more effective at motivating change than other approaches to mistakes which tend to undermine personal growth.

FIND A COMMUNITY

We’ve learned a lot during Lockdown, and particularly that it’s tough working alone. If you want to shift your parenting habits in 2022, it will be easier to do with a group of like-minded parents!

Studies reveal that students remember and learn more from collaborative group learning than from listening to the same content delivered in a more instructional format. This is partly because they gain different perspectives and come up with more creative ideas and questions, but also because they feel supported by each other and supportive of each other. That’s a nice way to feel! And it’s why we teach our work the way we do.

RESOLUTION | the act of solving or ending a problem or difficulty

We’d be delighted to be part of your parenting community this year and work together to introduce and strengthen your positive parenting habits and achieve some of your 2022 parenting resolutions!