The New Year is here!
These past seven days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are quite possibly my favorite days of the year. The holiday madness is over. Children are often excited about new gadgets and toys. Expectations are lower all around, which lowers stress for everyone.
However, the holiday break is often a difficult time for many families, especially those raising children with developmental differences or mental illness. There is a lot of togetherness and not a lot of routine, which can lead to difficulties with transitions and resistance trying new things. If your family has been traveling, you and your child have faced new people, different foods, and various sleeping arrangements that can be a challenge to process. Returning home after holiday travel can be tough, too.
With the holiday break nearly behind us, here are my thoughts on what I call the “Family Reboot.” This is a time to reflect on what worked for your family in 2019 and what changes can be made for 2020 for more connection and a smoother routine. The next several days are a great time for these discussions while 2019 is still fresh in our memories, but prior to the rush of school starting up again.
Step 1: The Parent Meeting
Get together with your partner and discuss what worked and what did not work for you in 2019. Not just for the family, but for YOU. When your needs are not met, it's hard to have energy reserves left over for parenting. If you are single parenting, talk this through with a trusted friend or therapist for some objective feedback on where you could use help or make some positive changes.
The Logistics: Think of this like a business plan, but it's your family plan. Families are systems and all systems work best when members are using their skills to do what they do best and asking for what they need when they need it. If we don't have these conversations, one parent might end up doing all of the logistical work of the family, which can create tension and resentment. So, list out all the details of who does what and talk openly about what is working, what is having you feeling overwhelmed, and discuss how this can be changed. Here are a few questions to get you started:
Who is doing carpool?
Who is grocery shopping?
Who is cooking?
Who is doing the laundry?
Who is working late and which night does the at-home parent need extra help?
Who is scheduling appointments for kids?
Who is taking children to therapies, music lessons, and sports practice?
How is this system communicated? An app? A shared calendar?
Remember: Strive to create a system where parents can come in and out of the plan (when one of you goes out with friends or the other is on a business trip) and the child's routine is not significantly disrupted.
Goals for the Kids: Talk about what you are proud of about your children and what you hope they will accomplish this year. We all have different perspectives. It’s helpful to talk with your parenting partner about your expectations for your children and to get on the same page regarding needed supports and therapies, or if it's time to step back and let your child be more independent. Perhaps one of your children is ready to participate more in the family system of logistics and you can add some helpful jobs to their to-do list.
Goals for the Family: First, create a list of family values. What is important to your family? Then, what are your goals for 2020 and how do they connect to those values? Do you want to connect more this year? Do you want to go on a trip to share an experience with your children? Do you want to spend more one-on-one time with each child or be more present in the evenings and weekends to connect. These moments of connection are the ones our children will remember.
Step 2: The Family Meeting
Many children are able to begin participating in a family meeting in early elementary school, but this varies widely. Does your child have the attention span to listen and talk through these things? Are they interested in sharing their opinion and problem-solving plans? If your child is reading, using a white board to list out goals can be helpful to keep everyone focused. If you don't think your child is ready to be involved in a family meeting, skip this step and include them in a year or two.
When your child is ready, schedule a time over the first weekend in January, before school is back in session, to talk through what everyone is proud of about 2019. Take turns talking about what you are proud of for yourself and what you are proud of in each member of the family. It’s incredibly powerful to hear parents feel proud of themselves and for siblings to be given an opportunity to express pride in each other.
Parents can then lead a goals discussion based on their ideas from the parent meeting. Did children (and parents) not get enough sleep in 2019 and you really want to focus on better sleep hygiene in 2020? Do the children need to work on being kinder to each other and you want to implement some form of a kindness challenge? Was cooking healthy foods or following an exercise routine difficult in 2019 and you want to make some routine changes to make this happen? How were the morning and bedtime routines of 2019? Answers to these questions lead to plans for problem-solving in step 3.
Step 3: Establish New Family Routines
Any problem area or identified weakness you have identified in Step 2 (or Step 1 if you skip the family meeting for young children) can now become a goal for improvement in 2020. Your kids may have personal goals, you may have goals for yourself, and you may have family goals. Children may have specific goals like learning to ride a bike or learning to tie shoes. But when are they going to work on these? Building structured time to achieve these goals into a weekend routine is the key.
Also, will your child be able to reach these goals on their own, or will they need support? Talk through supports like timers, visual schedules, and checklists that can help your child be successful with routines. Consult your child’s therapy team if you are wondering if your goals for your child are developmentally appropriate or if you need ideas on the best ways to support them.
There is often a mindset shift that happens with each new calendar year and each new school year. Children are always developing new skills, even if some skills emerge at a slower pace than others. As parents, we are here to guide and support our children as they figure out who they are becoming and what they are capable of in this world.
Happy New Year and Stay Connected!
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