Turning Toward More Intentional Parenting

Manga_emotions-ENThe Jewish New Year is a time self-reflection, and working in schools for many years reinforced autumn as a time of new beginnings and goal setting for me. Many years ago, I decided to use this time of year to set goals for spiritual and relationship growth. On Yom Kippur, we ask forgiveness for our sins. The Jewish view of sin is that one has gone astray or missed the mark. My thinking was that on the secular New Year we set goals to improve ourselves – so why not set goals to aim better, aim higher for the most important parts of life, our relationships with others and our spirituality? This became an important ritual. I particularly remember the goal of better correspondence with loved ones because I never quite reach that one. Maybe this year…

Being intentional and setting goals fits well with current research about families. Slowing down helps us make better decisions, both in the moment and for our children’s long-term development. Some parents create a family mission statement to ensure communication, routines and discipline strategies all further that mission. So much of parenting is on autopilot – it has to be for us to function. But taking time to be sure your responses fit your goals is also essential. It’s part of the parenting balancing act – short-term responses fitting with long-range hopes and dreams for our children.

One change that can have a big impact is being aware of your own cognitive and emotional state – or put simply by Dr. Daniel Siegel, knowing when you’ve flipped your lid. During conflicts, people (including parent-people) lose empathy, problem solving and decision making skills as brain functions become less integrated. Outward signs are things like fast breathing, clenched teeth or a raised voice.

Try setting a goal to take a break before this happens. Plan to wait about twenty minutes before you give your child discipline consequences. This gives you time to breathe deeply and get calm despite the broken lamp in the living room. In fact, go into another room where you can’t see the lamp and keep obsessing over it. During those twenty minutes you can remind yourself you love your child, they are only seven, and really, you never liked that lamp much.

As with all goal-setting, keep in mind to:

• Be specific and concrete. Include small steps, like telling your child you need to take a break, then take one and make a cup of tea.
• Be realistic and kind to yourself. Consider your current level of practice and demands in your life. Just identifying that you are “flipped” is huge if you haven’t done that before.
• Be kind to others. New behaviors may cause confusion, anxiety and pushback by kids. Expect reactions and provide information and support as needed.

Just like in archery, hitting the mark is the ultimate goal, but getting closer and closer to the bull’s-eye is quite an achievement. Enjoy the changes you’re making for you and your family over the New Year, and may it be healthy and sweet!

Schnyder.HBy Marjorie Schnyder
Marjorie Schnyder, LICSW has been at JFS over 11 years as Director of Family Life Education. As well as providing education to teachers and parents, she has a child and family therapy background. Special interests include early childhood and the intersection of culture and family. To learn what JFS has in store for parents this fall, check out our calendar.

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