As one year winds down and another begins, we take a moment to reflect on the job we're doing as parents and look for ways we can improve. Just having the courage to ask this is a profound step toward transformation.
Here are a six ways to bring richness to your experience of parenting by getting back to the basics.
1. Listen together.
In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it can be hard to even hear ourselves think. This year, let's resolve to take a moment each day to sit with our children and just listen: listen to the sounds indoors, the sounds in nature, a new piece of music.
But be aware that there's an important difference between listening and hearing. Listening requires a kind of open intention that invites our innate curiosity, but hearing implies you have already categorized and prejudged the sounds. When we join our child in open listening, we promote a deeper sense of exploration and intimacy that will enhance their sense of security.
2. Speak together.
Listening and speaking are deeply entwined, and are the exchanges that define our relationships. In this coming year, we may need to break old habits of speaking at our children, rather than with them.
When the tone of our language is demanding, our children are bound to respond with resentment and defensiveness. Try using language that expresses your feelings and needs without accusations. In doing so, you will open your child's heart to yours.
Practice expanding your emotional vocabulary, and your children will learn how to appreciate and express shades of feelings too. This simple skill has the power to regulate our emotions, mend breakdowns in communication and transform power struggles that come from rigid black-and-white perspectives.
3. Eat together.
Recent studies have shown that eating as a family improves the quality of food we choose to buy and helps prevent obesity. Contrary to what many people think, we don't just eat for fuel. Our deepest bonds of security are formed when we share a meal together. This simple act stimulates the vagal nervous system, providing a counterbalance to daily stress.
It wasn't that long ago that we gathered around the campfire to unwind and tell stories (this is the real Paleo diet!). Think of mealtime as your child's first classroom. It's the best place to practice sharing.
In my book, I recommend a simple exercise called "the talking spoon" to promote conversation. Pick a particular spoon; it could be a family heirloom or just one with a different design. Pass it around the table and whoever holds the talking spoon has the stage to tell a story while the others listen. At the end of the story, the speaker opens up the discussion to the entire table before the spoon is passed on to the next storyteller. This is an easy way to create a context of exchange that perfects the art of conversation.
4. Move together.
Go for a walk, bike ride, or a car ride with your child. There's something magical about movement that opens doors of communication with even the most stubborn teenager. We're wired for movement, not passive sitting.
Moving together unlocks the creative powers that harken back to our migrating ancestors. When we combine the powers of listening and movement, we create a context of joy in which to dance. Coordinating rhythm and timing in movement helps regulate the brain chemicals that control our mood and responses to stress. Dancing with our children is one of the cheapest ways to teach them how to cooperate with a smile.
5. Play together.
Nothing is more essential to a child's developmental growth than play. This year, make a resolution to break the habit of plugging your kids into screens. Create an adventure with our children; don't just watch them play. Try getting down on the floor with them and let your collective imagination determine where the game will go.
By actively pretending together, you can create a context of curiosity that fosters a deeper connection and provides an opportunity for your child to work out day-to-day conflicts. Plus, besides being fun, it doesn't cost anything!
6. Breathe together.
Breathing is one of our most basic rhythms. When we synchronize our breathing with others, we unleash the secret power of intimacy and self-reflection.
Breathe with your child at the end of the day. It only takes a minute, and it's a perfect way of unwinding for you both. Practitioners of yoga and meditation recognize the enhanced power gained by practicing together. When we breathe consciously with our child, we create a context of peace that enables us to refresh ourselves every day.
Everyone knows that the track record for New Year's resolutions isn't very good. But if we make togetherness our everyday practice in 2015, we can create a loving context that strengthens our bonds with our children, and promotes health for years to come.