Sneak peek: At the beginning of each new year, many of us start with parenting goals to keep us on track. These hope-filled parenting goals will help you focus on what’s most important with your kids this year
As we approach the end of the year, many of us are reflecting on many aspects of our lives, including parenting. Parenting is rarely a smooth path, but 2021 had more than its fair share of bumps. Although I think it’s fair to say that 2021 was an improvement in some ways over 2020, it still brought unusual challenges.
We don’t know, of course, what 2022 will bring in terms of parenting challenges. I would dare to guess, however, that many of us feel more prepared and confident to face whatever challenges come our way. Some of us may not even want to think about parenting goals for 2022. In the spirit of new starts, however, I thought of a few that seem applicable based on some of our shared experiences over the past few years.
Parenting Goals for 2022
If the past couple of years showed us nothing else, it illustrated the need (and benefit) of fostering resilience in our kids and ourselves. Resilience is a tricky concept that in reality, can only be honed through actually going through difficult experiences. The past 2 years have given us plenty of opportunities to practice. Hopefully, 2022 won’t give us so many dramatic opportunities to practice this skill, but kids go through difficult experiences all the time, even when we are not in a pandemic. For example, they fail a test, have a fight with a friend, or lose a well-loved pet. These are all opportunities to practice resilience, but they need our help.
What can we do?
- Reinforce to kids that difficult emotions are okay. We have an underlying sentiment in our culture that emotions such as sadness and anger are “negative.” While they feel unpleasant, it’s useful for kids to understand that these emotions aren’t useless and something to be pushed aside as quickly as possible. We can help them work through those difficult emotions and come out stronger on the other side.
- Avoid distracting ourselves (or our kids) out of difficult emotions. This tendency to distract ourselves away from our difficult emotions is a strong one. This is why for many of us, 2020 was filled with nightly Netflix binges or bread-baking (or other more intense forms of distraction). We often do the same with our kids by trying to distract them out of difficult emotions with food, fun experiences or electronic devices. The sooner we can help kids learn to allow their emotions, even the negative ones, the sooner they will gain the skills to cope with them better.
“…we actually recognize that there’s very often wisdom in stepping back and in a thoughtful way, allowing your child to feel what they feel because there’s learning that comes from that, and that that child, in turn, is learning how to metabolize discomfort, and learning how to metabolize fear, and also learning really important aspects of emotional skills that are critical to all of us. We need to learn that emotions are transient. And a child isn’t going to learn that emotions are transient if they aren’t able to sit with their emotions and recognize that, 10 minutes out, their emotion has passed. So they’re critical, critical skills that pertain to our mental health, our wellbeing, low levels of depression, anxiety and so on.”
Just imagine how better prepared our kids will be for life’s challenges by learning these skills that foster resilience at an early age? Now that’s one of many parenting goals I think we can all support!
Action Step: Think back to the challenging events of the past 2 years. In what ways did your kids exhibit resilience? Point out these times of resilience to your kids! Are there ways in which you could have supported them better?
Related reading: Parent Resources to Help You Thrive
Foster a renewed emphasis on kindness
Now, I know what you are thinking. Kindness is great but it sounds so Pollyanna-ish (is that a word?). Sure, just telling kids to be kind to everyone is a bit simplistic. Really focusing on kindness requires a bit more work and intention than that. Fostering real kindness in kids might be facing hard issues–racism, injustice and conflict resolution. In parenting, fostering kindness in kids can mean really digging in and helping them learn to resolve a conflict with a friend, helping them try to see the world from another person’s perspective and, perhaps most importantly, modeling kindness ourselves with them and those we interact with in public and private settings. It’s a tall order. But parents, this is what changes a generation of kids (that will one day be adults).
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What can we do?
- Talk to our kids about kindness. Research shows that many kids believe their parents value their achievement over their kids being caring and kind. To emphasize kindness, it needs to be a regular part of our conversations (and actions) with kids.
- Make it a family goal or project. Putting action behind our words is the best way for kids to learn about true kindness. How can you work as a family this year to promote kindness and caring in your family, neighborhood or community? Perhaps set a goal of volunteering once a month or caring for certain people or causes in your community.
Action step: Pick just one or two community charities or neighbors that you can serve several times during this year.
Bring back REAL self-care.
One of the clearest revelations of the pandemic has been the mental load that mothers carry. While we know that fathers contribute to domestic work and child care more than decades ago, the tumultuous events of 2020 showed us that moms still carry much of the weight when it comes to child care.
When schools closed and kids began virtual learning, it was primarily mothers who transitioned to working at home permanently or, in many cases, left their jobs altogether.
- one study found that approximately 1.6 million fewer mothers were in the workforce in Sept. 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. The authors track much of this attrition to family/home care reasons and school closures.
The mental stress of this series of events has been crushing moms. We have been stretched thin. Although more mothers returned to more “normal” schedules in 2021, there was also a near-constant threat of schools being closed again or their kids being quarantined for weeks. For much of the last 2 years, self-care has been non-existent for many parents, especially moms. With little or no time for themselves and little chance to respond to their own needs, many have struggled mentally and physically.
One parenting goal that will hopefully make a reappearance this year is finding balance and self-care. As I’ve discussed before, real self-care isn’t just bubble baths and pedicures. For moms, real self-care means finding ways to feel like yourself again–to have the mental space and time to remember who you are, what you enjoy, what makes you feel good and honest, time to just FEEL. In the rush of caring for kids, managing a household, and balancing work time, many moms don’t have any real time to feel and process the events of life.
Many times, finding this space for self-care involves setting boundaries. In pandemic times, setting boundaries is not easy. Hopefully, in 2022, this idea of boundary-setting will take hold once again.
For me (and many others I imagine), the first step in setting boundaries that enable self-care is recognizing your non-negotiable needs. These, of course, are similar across all people–food, sleep, exercise, etc. However, the priority that some needs take varies a lot from person to person. For example, some moms I know can get by on little sleep (at least for a while) but will lose their mind if they don’t get some time with friends. Much of the prioritizing needs also relates to one’s temperament. For introverts like me, quiet time is a crucial self-care need in order to feel good and manage stress. For an extrovert, some type of social interaction (either virtual or in-person) is more important to their well-being.
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Action step: Take a few minutes to consider (or even write down) your non-negotiable needs. Be honest. Consider boundaries you might be able to set in 2021 to help get these needs met more consistently.
Revive the healing power of PLAY.
Kids have gone through A LOT in the past 2 years. They have been in and out of school, managed online learning, coped with canceled events and virtual birthday parties. Kids can be very resilient (as we have seen), but they also need time and space to process these emotions and heal. For children, especially young children, play is a huge part of the healing process.
If your kids are like mine, they’ve experienced WAY too much screen time in the past months. It’s almost inevitable under the circumstances. However, the times I’ve seen them the happiest in the past months are the times they’ve been able to really play, especially with friends. There have been a few days recently where they’ve played so hard at the park near our house (thanks to a great sledding hill) that their legs actually ached at the end of the day. Contrary to what we adults might think, this type of hard play is restorative. This is what kids are made to do.
Young kids, especially, use play as a way to process feelings and play out fears. You may have seen your younger kids do this as they played “virus tag” or doctor and patient this past year. Older children may not use pretend play as much but still need free time, sports or active outlets to help physically expunge the stress from their bodies. As we know, the act of physical exercise releases endorphins and makes our brains and bodies happy.
Play is not just for kids, though. Adults too can benefit from a healthy dose of play and fun. The other day my 7-year-old said something so funny that it had us both doubled-over with laughter. I realized that I hadn’t laughed that hard in months. It was fantastic and restorative! Even in the midst of a pandemic, it’s okay to laugh and play as adults.
One more fun and important parenting goal to add to your list for 2022–play and laugh more.
Action step: Try to find a few minutes each day to just play–play a game with your kids, pass the frisbee around outside, or anything you find fun.
Related reading: What You Need to Know about Screen Time and Play for Toddlers
What will be your parenting goals for this new year? Hopefully, a few of these struck a chord with you.
Download your free printable Parenting Goals Worksheet to help you start the year off with mindful parenting:
Happy 2022! In the comments, share your parenting goals with me! I’d love to hear your thoughts.