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by Dr. Rachna Sharma

As 2017 came to a close and as you start the new year of 2018, it is so important to assess, reassess and then assess again all of the things that you and your family want to embark on this year. It is important to take stock of your life and to come up with ideas on how you can improve the things that may have been negatively impacting yourself and your family and to try to make it a point to make positive changes that will benefit your entire family. While common New Year’s Resolutions may constantly be ringing in your ears…lose 10 pounds, go to the gym, be more organized; let’s take a look at some not so conventional resolutions that can help to improve things in your family:

Be Present

This is number one on the list because I feel in this day and age with all of the stress and hustle and bustle in people’s lives, we do not live in the moment. Instead we are always thinking ahead of what needs to be done or ruminating about what we missed or didn’t do. Very often, we fail to focus on the here and now. When you are spending time with your kids, spend time with your kids. Don’t think about a phone call with your friend that may have irritated you, don’t be stressed over all of the millions of things that you have to do…make dinner, do the laundry, pay bills, finish a project at work. Because when you do this, you are doing a disservice to everyone. You aren’t giving the kids the attention that they deserve. You certainly aren’t having fun and you will end up feeling guilty later on when you think about the lack of quality time that you had with your children. You have to set the time aside to be with your children, spend time with them and when you do so, make them your primary focus. You will feel so good about yourself when you will see the positive impact that you have on them and this in turn will help you to be more efficient at the other tasks that you need to attend to because you will be doing so without the guilt.

Put Down That Phone

Texting, phone calls, Facebook, emails….what can you not do on a phone these days? But when you spend all of your time with your nose in your phone or on the IPad or on the computer, what example are you setting for your children? Kids who see their parents constantly on the phone will do the same and before you know it your family dinners will turn into non communicative events. So make a resolution to spend less time looking at your phone and more time communicating with your spouse, family and your children face to face. In addition, have your children do the same. Set limits on the amount of time they are allowed to be looking at all of the social media forums. Teach them that they don’t need to be looking at their phone or texting people 24 hours a day. They may resist but hold strong so they start to learn the importance of spending time with actual people.

Adjust Your Family Schedules

Very often, parents tend to fill their children’s schedule and thus their own days with activity after activity after activity on top of all of the homework and the socializing. You need to ask yourself at what cost is this to your family. Activities are great and highly recommended but take an honest look and assess what is needed. Because all of it will involve a lot of running and a lot of chaos. So take a check of what is really important and beneficial and try to learn that sometimes you have to say no in order to improve family harmony. Don’t be afraid to lighten your load in order to spend more time with your family because spending this time with your own children and with your spouse are crucial in maintaining and promoting the harmony in your household.

Plan Family Activities

Try to come up with some activities that you can do as a family. This will promote the idea of togetherness for your family. Some examples of this can be a family game night, such as board games; family hikes, family cooking nights, etc. Try to make this a weekly ritual that you stick by. Again, if it means that you have to say no to a social activity to stick to this, then say no. This will show your children the importance of consistency and the importance of the family unit. These activities can be simple; it is not about spending money, it is about spending time. Another thing to consider, in addition to spending time together as a family, is to set up time or special activities with each individual child. Again, this is meant to be simple, but the fact of the matter is that spending alone time with each child fulfills their specific needs and is vital to their growth and development as well. It is also helpful in reducing things like sibling rivalry and jealousy and will improve your overall communication with that child. So try once a month to find something unique for each child to do that you can incorporate into your schedule.

Teach Age Appropriate Responsibilities To Your Children

It is crucial that parents instill responsibilities in their children early on. These responsibilities can be personalized to each child. Take an assessment of what your children need to work on and help guide them towards this. Setting up responsibilities for your children will foster in them the understanding and awareness of so many core values, such as gratitude, self reliance, confidence, time management etc. By starting early, you will see that in the later years your children will have a more natural ability to help without being asked as well. With preschoolers, responsibilities can include things as simple as picking up their toys, hanging up their jackets and improving their listening skills. From ages 5-12, again think age and child specific. Some examples can be getting up on their own for school, cleaning up their room and putting their clothes away. As you get more into the adolescent years, responsibilities can increase but should also include a focus on safety, respect and self awareness. Making rights choices, picking right friends, staying away from drugs and alcohol and stress management can all be included into adolescent responsibilities.

Focus On Exercise and Nutrition

It is very common that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can take a backseat in today’s world. But with obesity on the rise, what better time than the New Year to start eating healthy and to start an exercise regime that your whole family can be involved in. Make it a point to serve healthy meals to your family; take the junk out of the house and resolve to be a healthier family overall. In addition, become an active family. Buy a set of bikes, join a gym together or start playing tennis, basketball or another sport together. This will not only push you into a healthier lifestyle but it will teach your children the importance of diet and exercise in their lives as well.

Take Time For Yourself

It is important to not only look at how you can improve your children’s lives but also your own. As a parent, you have tons of responsibilities that may include work, household chores, taking your kids to their activities and making dinner. The list is never ending. But you need your own outlet, otherwise the days will be harder and longer and less fulfilling. So make it a point to schedule a night out for yourself, go out on a date with your spouse, and don’t be ashamed to ask for help when needed. You will see that as you do more positive things for yourself, you will be more fit to be a better and more present parent.

Follow Through

A lot of people generally make resolutions but not many are able to keep them. We are human after all and we all have good intentions but sometimes we get lax and start strong and then our goals fizzle. I implore you to make this year different. Really, sit down and take a look at your lives as a family and make a reasonable list of things that you all want to make happen and then make them happen. Change will only happen if you set your mind to it and follow things through. Your will is one of your most powerful tools and can take you to better places when you decide to really put it to use.

So with that I wish you a new year full of good health, happiness and the will to change where the need may be!

Dr. Rachna Sharma is an experienced psychiatrist with board certifications in both General and Childhood and Adolescent Psychiatry. She completed her medical internship and adult psychiatry training at Stony Brook University Medical Center and her fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NSLIJHS/Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. She also completed her psychodynamic psychotherapy training the NYU Psychoanalytical Institute. Dr. Sharma specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, PTSD and eating disorders. While she has extensive training and experience with prescribing medications, she also has extensive experience in providing individual psychotherapy. She also serves as a consultant to the Stony Brook World Trade Center Health Program. She is a partner at Long Island Behavioral Medicine, PC, a private practice in Islandia, New York. Dr. Sharma is also an active member of various professional organizations including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Suffolk County Medical Society, Medical Society of the State of New York, National Eating Disorder Association, and the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals. Dr. Sharma provides school evaluations, individual evaluations and treatment for children and adolescents ages 5 and older and for adults through geriatric ages.