Renew Yourself – and Raise Kind Kids – using 6 Big-Hearted Tricks

Let's bring more contentment as well as empowerment to the coming year!

6 Parenting tools that can renew your parent self AND empower kids to be a force for good

Is anyone else in need of a little self-kindness?

The holiday rush can be a harrowing time for parents.

As the picture-perfect smiles of other families gaze out at us from greeting cards and Facebook posts, we're left wondering how to make ourselves as happy and content as those photographs appear. As parents, we – even those of us with exceptional photography skills – shoulder the weight of similar burdens and struggle to find contentment amid the chaos.

This time of year, especially, I find myself surrounded by parents swapping horror stories about the drudgery of parenting. Endless chores and shopping lists. Errand-running and carpooling. Too little sleep and early mornings filled with eerily familiar power struggles.

The social, financial, and emotional demands of the holiday season can burden the most cheery among us.

We're all in need of renewal as we head into the new year.

If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
— Jack Kornfield, author

I've gathered a handful of Doing Good Together™'s favorite parenting strategies into a priority list for my family's new year. I'm resolving to enjoy a 2016 with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for everyday life, and these six research-based goals are going to help get me there.

Even better, these same few tricks will help me raise a house full of change makers.

Why do those two things go together?

Because change makers are, at their core, helpers, and the first people children learn to help is their parents.

Join me in throwing off that daily sense of being over-burdened.

Resolve to put these six strategies to work for your family.

1. Put yourself first!

Okay, okay, I realize we’d all be pretty terrible parents if this was our prime operative. But it's too easy for good parents to skimp on their own needs when time is tight. Even if you don't meet each goal every single day, it is important try. We will be better parents for it.

  • Wake early. Give yourself the gift of at least a half hour before your household awakes. Don't rush into chores, or begin tackling your list. Read something. Journal. Drink a warm, comforting beverage. Be grateful.

  • Sleep well. Research makes it clear that at every age, sleep is important to cognitive thinking. You'll be better able to negotiate thoughtfully with your eight-year-old mastermind if you're well rested.

  • Eat well. I'll admit it. Last week I had coffee and a doughnut for lunch. Twice. I blamed overlapping deadlines and erratic school volunteering obligations, but that's no excuse. We all feel better when we're well-fueled. And as parents, we deserve the same wholesome nourishment we wish for our children. Here is a great article from Greatist.com full of simple, fast, healthy meals.

  • Move. Forget the weight loss resolutions, those never work. Instead, resolve to host a family dance party for a few minutes each day. Or go sledding or play tag. Just get moving, everyday, in a way you enjoy.

How does this renew you? Even though these are each basic human needs, we all skimp on them too often. Give yourself permission to put these needs on the top of your priority list, and see if you can feel the difference.

How does this grow a change maker? Having well-rested, nourished, centered parents can only benefit our children. Not only will we better able to handle the needs of the day, but our children will learn the tenants of self-care from our examples.

2. Make time for your passion.

Move one item from your internal "someday" list, and give that passion or hobby or goal some elbow room on your family calendar. Let this one thing take precedence as often as possible. Try limiting your kids to one activity each, and open yourself up to taking a class or join a club yourself. Or find a way to fulfill your own goal while your children are engaged in their pursuits, rather than running errands or scrolling through your news feed.

How does this renew you?  Everyone needs the chance to pursue something they love, even busy parents. You'd want your son and daughter to do something fulfilling in addition to meeting their many responsibilities, right?  

How does this grow a change maker? Committing to your own personal growth is simply better role modeling than constant self-sacrifice.  Talk them through your decisions. Update them about your goals and your progress. Plus, adding something new to an already busy calendar will necessitate a little more help from the rest of the household. That's a good thing. Everyone in your family wins when everyone is expected to participate.

3. Expect, insist on, and embrace help.

I realize, divvying chores out to your children can take more time than doing it yourself.

But stick with it, and you'll have live-in help, granted at varying degrees of willingness. Check out Doing Good Together's recent newsletter The Surprising Power of Chores, full of great advice to make this easier whatever the age of your children.

My advice? Keep it simple:  You don’t have to make complicated chore charts or devise a five-step money training plan to teach responsible use of their allowance. Part of being in a family includes helping out with chores. Kids are busy, between homework and extracurricular activities. But too many parents I know have fallen into the not-so-life-changing habit of tidying up on their own after the tots are in bed. That’s just not fair.

Ask for help. Expect help. Go on strike if they don’t listen.

How does this renew you? For starters, you’ll feel like you are part of a team, rather than janitor-in-chief.You'll feel better about taking time for your own passions, or to simply rest yourself and watch something fabulous on Netflix, if the basic chores are getting done. You'll be amazed at how quickly your family can accomplish a few simple chores if you ask for help consistently.

How does this grow a change maker? In the words of DGT's Executive Director Jenny Friedman, "Surprising research says that doing chores, beginning at age 3 or 4, is actually a proven predictor of adult success. It teaches responsibility, competence, perseverance, the value of hard work -- and the idea that in a family we help one another out. Not surprisingly, children who are regular chore-doers turn into adults who are more likely to respond to other people's needs."

3. Talk, listen, repeat.

When you're home, put away your phone. Seriously, we all have more meaningful time to connect with our families than we realize.

Rather than spending time on a gadget, grown-ups and children alike will feel more fulfilled if we all make time for unhurried, completely-present conversations with one another. These might be over family dinner. Or during bedtime snuggles. Or even as you complete your chores. But be sure to listen completely, leave your phone on its charger, and do your best to move them beyond the old standby: “How was school?” Here are some conversation starters and a printable that might help.

How does this renew you? Our kids are remarkable people (when they’re not refusing to wear their new Christmas sweater or adding six last minute gimmes to their Santa lists). Connecting with them in meaningful ways gives you both a sense of being heard, being loved, and being supported.

How does this grow a change maker? Big-hearted conversations give you the opportunity to teach and guide them. That's why we've created so many resources to get you started. Researchers are tuning into the fact that the natural back and forth of a mindful conversation is a fundamental way kids learn compassion.

4. Be curious together.

Be prepared to explore new ideas with your children when questions arise.

I know this can be hard. I've been the parent earnestly trying to get dinner on the table and passing up an opportunity to explore yet another shark question. I regret it. Each and every time I've stopped to wonder and look for answers with the kids, I've been renewed by the sense of excitement that comes from learning something new together. For ideas on how to cultivate wonder and curiosity as a family, check out another archived newsletter from Doing Good Together.

How does this renew you? It's invigorating to give yourself time to puzzle over a question, to look up the answer, and to follow it along to the next question –especially with the energy of an interested child at your side.

How does this grow a change maker? Teaching children how to wonder, to search for answers, and to explore even more questions gives them critical tools for solving complex social problems later in life.  You may even find yourself feeling curious about headline news and looking together for ways to make a difference.

hugs

5.. Play together. Be silly. Laugh often.

Research continues to reinforce the intuitive truth that children learn amazing things through play, and I think it's important to remember that teens and adults do, too.

The holidays, with the influx of new toys and a bit of extra vacation time, offer a wonderful opportunity to connect through play. Take advantage of it. Lose yourself in child's play. Share lots of hugs.

How does this renew you? Playing with your kids is one of the most simple, joyful ways to renew yourself, especially if you can shut off the little voice that wants you to fold the laundry.

How does this grow a change maker? Kids learn through play. They need time to experiment with the things they are learning. Plus, playing as a family often brings considerable insight into the mind of your child, including any fears or ambitions you may not have known about before.

6. Volunteer together.

Last but not least, make time to step out into the community as a volunteer. Get started with one of our service projects you can tackle at any time, or sign up for our volunteer listings and find an upcoming service activity in your community.

How does this renew you? A recent article in the New York Times confirmed something I've been saying for years:  sharing kindness and compassion with others relieves stress and anxiety. For one thing, helping others in need puts everyday worries into perspective. Not only do mundane complaints suddenly feel petty in contrast to bigger community challenges, but because you are working to be part of the solution, you no longer feel powerless.

How does this grow a change maker?  I'll let this list fill you in on all of the ways family volunteering is great for kids, but the short answer is an easy one. You are making change, right now, as part of their childhood. By volunteering together, you are teaching kids that being kind is a natural part of being a global citizen.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it within ourselves.

Even if you're not a fan of traditional resolutions, the turn of the new year tends to put us all in a contemplative mood. How can we be our best selves in the coming year? How can we fulfill our own needs while being the parents our children need? 

I’m not always great about following my own advice. But like many of you, I’m in need of renewal. I will be employing each of these strategies to achieve it. 

What strategies do you recommend to renew yourself even as you parent well?

Let us know in the comments below!