Slow Down and Enjoy the New Year
Happy New Year!
Today is symbolic of a fresh start, a clean slate. It is a time when people resolve to let go of bad habits, unhealthy relationships, and other DRAMA in their lives. According to Time magazine, some of the Top 10 Commonly Broken New Year's Resolutions include spending more time with loved ones, losing weight, getting out of debt, and learning something new.
Recently, my friend Amanda asked me to help her leave some of her family DRAMA behind in 2012.
She described an all too common scenario: in an effort to enjoy peaceful dinners together at restaurants, she and her husband would allow their children to play games on their i-Phones before and after the meal. Now, her children demand the i-Phone within seconds of sitting down. When she says, “no,” her kids have trouble sitting still and ask for the phone repeatedly. They are totally unable to entertain themselves.
She complained that in today’s “on-demand” world, with Google, You Tube, and other social media, unlimited information and entertainment is constantly at our fingertips and as a result, her children want everything NOW.
She went on to say that on Christmas morning, after all the presents had been opened, her 5-year-old daughter sat sulking in a corner because she hadn’t gotten a Princess Castle. Wanting her daughter to be happy (on Christmas morning of all times!), she rushed to make a castle out of blankets and other supplies she had on hand. She even made signs on the computer that said, “Princess Castle” and hung them up.
Her kids had a great time playing in the (free!) castle, but Amanda had a troubling feeling inside because once again, she had given her daughter exactly what she wanted when she wanted it.
Amanda and her husband are loving parents. They want their children to be happy. Yet, they are starting to notice that instant gratification and reliance on technology are resulting in neediness, demands, and ingratitude.
Does any of Amanda’s story sound familiar?
- Do you find it hard to say “no” to your child because you don't like to see him upset?
- Does your child rely on technology as her main source of entertainment?
- Does your child have difficulty waiting?
If so, keep reading…
Disappointment is ok. Sure, we want our kids to be happy and we want to protect them from negative experiences and feelings. However, life is full of ups and downs. Our job as parents is to raise adults capable of handling them.
When Amanda’s daughter cried because she didn’t get the Princess Castle, instead of rushing to make one out of anxiety to prevent a meltdown, or arguing with her (“Look at all the presents you just got, you ungrateful child!”), Amanda could have empathized with her: “Honey, I know you’re disappointed. You really wanted that Princess Castle, didn’t you?” Acknowledging and validating feelings conveys understanding, acceptance, and calm. Tantrums can even be prevented when this technique is utilized well.
Let your kids sit with disappointment. Be there to listen and offer compassion, but don't rush to make them feel better. Let them cry. Frustration, defeat, regret, and discontent are all feelings they need to learn how to manage. And guess what? They’ll be ok! In fact, they’ll be better than ok, because they will be learning how to cope with life’s inevitable setbacks.
Connect with each other. I know this may sound absurd coming from a blogger, but instead of connecting people, I believe technology is actually disconnecting us from having face-to-face interactions and living in the present moment. Believe me, I get it. It’s SO much easier to just let your child play on your phone while you wait than to listen to her whine and complain. It's tempting to peek at your phone every few minutes to see if you got a new text or e-mail. But at what cost to your relationship? Waiting anywhere (a restaurant, a ticket line, a doctor’s office) is prime time to spend talking, playing, and connecting.
While sitting in a restaurant waiting for our meal, my family plays all kinds of games – “I Spy” is a favorite or lately we play “How Well Do You Know Me?” In this game, each player gets 5 sugar packets. You know, the ones on the table that your kids dump out of the container when they sit down? Rather than make a fuss every time our kids did this, my husband decided to just use them as part of a game. We take turns asking questions about ourselves like, “What’s my favorite food?” or “Where did Mommy grow up?” and the person who answers correctly gets a sugar packet. Whoever has the most sugar packets at the end is the winner. Before we know it, our food is there and the kids don’t want to stop playing.
I purposely did not opt for a DVD player in my minivan because the car is one of the places we do our best bonding as a family. We sing songs, play games, talk about the day…I can’t even imagine all the fun I’d be missing out on if my kids were glued to a screen every time we got in the car. On long car trips or plane rides, we bring the portable DVD player and it is a special treat.
Lead by Example. I have a sneaking suspicion that if your kids have a hard time with delayed gratification, they’ve seen you indulge yourself a few too many times. Kids notice that when you want something, often times you hop in the car and go get it right away. Or more conveniently, you hop on the computer and order it next-day delivery. They watch as you stop at the coffee shop and indulge in a $4 drink when yesterday you wouldn’t buy them that $1 juice box they wanted. From their point of view, you get whatever you want whenever you want it, so why shouldn’t they?
There have been many times that I’ve mentioned to Marissa, my older daughter, that I want something. She’ll say, “Then why don’t you get it?” And I’ll tell her: “It’s too expensive” or “I don’t need it” or “I think I’ll wait and ask for it for my birthday.” These conversations teach her that Mommy doesn’t always get what she wants. It also teaches her the difference between a need and a want and that some things are worth the wait.
I am not saying you should deny yourself to the point that you live a Spartan lifestyle…I’m just suggesting that you model the kind of qualities that you desire for your children: generosity, patience, gratitude, and politeness.
Now, back to those resolutions. Did you know that the ability to delay gratification has been linked to all kinds of benefits, including better academic performance, better money management, and better weight management? And turning off our computers and phones makes it possible for us to spend more quality time with the ones we love?
So, what DRAMA do you want to leave behind in 2012?
What do you hope will be different in 2013?
What steps do you need to take to make your goals become realities?
How do you hope to slow down and enjoy the New Year?
Get the discussion going by leaving a comment below and may there be LESS DRAMA and MORE MAMA in 2013!
BONUS: Below is an updated version of the classic study on delayed gratification called “The Marshmallow Experiment.” It is really hilarious.