By Guest Contributor Elena Verigo
For many parents, December is one the most stressful months of the year. Running around like crazy, endless shopping, deadlines at work, coughing and sneezing... January is no honey-moon either. It takes forever to recover from the holidays. You get tired, grumpy, and sometimes rather unpleasant to other people people. Kids begin to get on your nerves and you are tempted to strangle them. If you don't want to spend the rest of the year feeling exhausted and annoyed, you may want to adopt a few helpful New Year Resolutions to re-discover the joys of fatherhood.
1. Notice Less, Praise More
Doing less shouting, nagging and telling off will save you time and energy. On the other hand, constantly telling someone off just develops selective hearing in them. You can shout and beg all you like - they just stop noticing. In the art of parenting, one of the most valuable skills is to know when and what to ignore. Train yourself to stop just before you're about to correct the naughty little monkey and ask yourself - is this serious enough? Is it worth the trouble? If not - ignore and move on. But if it is an on-going unhealthy behavior trend or a nasty habit and it does bother you, have a proper "grown up" conversation where you can guide the child to see why what they are doing is inappropriate. Catch them being good and give praise on the spot. The next resolutions will help you to gently change things when change is needed.
2. Establish At Least One Healthy Routine
Personalize this goal. Where do you struggle most? What is that one change that can make your life a lot easier? Make it very simple. If/when A happens, then B follows. For example, when dad turns the light off in the living room, everyone has to lower their voices and/or go to brush their teeth. If dad arrives home and looks grumpy, don't talk to him for at least half an hours. Then - he's yours. Obviously, this isn't just a routine for them. You play a part in it as well. If you make a promise to be available after that half an hour of calming down time, you've got to stick to it. If you break the rule, then don't complain when they don't follow it either. Thirsty for your attention, the kids will start bombarding you with questions and daily reports on the door step as usual. Go at a snail pace. Work on drilling one sequence of actions at a time before moving to any new routines. It may take you a few days, weeks or months but don't give up. If you've done it once, you can do it again.
3. Spend More Time With The Kids
This is one of the top favorites on many people's lists anyway. How many manage to succeed? Very few. Why? Well, partly it's to do with the fact that the goal is too vague. You need to be more specific. For example, you may choose to introduce a one-hour session with your kid building 3D stuff every Thursday night. You put it in your diary, and - unless you drop down dead - you never ever cancel it. Once you've managed to stick to this commitment for a few months, you may want to think of adding something else. Better introduce one small change at a time than be too ambitious thinking you're going to spend three whole hours with your kid every single day/night and always be distracted by other commitments.
Why is the last resolution crucial for your overall success? Because the first two are unlikely to work without it. If there's no relationship, no intimacy, no connection, why would anyone bother listening to you and take your advice on board? It is a pretty simple equation: rules minus relationships equals rebellion. And trying to compensate for lack of attention with gifts and presents is not a solution. Kids gladly accept your gifts and may tolerate you meaningless praise (as you don't actually know them well enough to give well-targeted praise). But you won't earn the respect and have the authority you need to set the boundaries and build up trust.
Naturally, you will fail. But your motto is: fail, fail again, fail better. One day you'll notice some progress. Remember, all you need is patience, commitment and perseverance. And the pay off is great. There'll be less stress and more enjoyment. Tell the kids off when it's appropriate but choose your battles, and remember to bribe them with a bit of (genuine!) praise regularly. Consistency and repetition are crucial to successful behavior management and routines. Spending quality time together will strengthen the bond between you and your child and help with the routines. These New Year Resolutions are no rocket science and it really is worth investing in them. They will keep you sane and help you to be the best dad you can be.
Elena is an educational professional specialising in learning difficulties. In her job, she supports many divorced fathers who often feel powerless in their child's life and hopes to inspire the failful readers of EverythingForDads.com.