Being a parent is about ushering a small human safely to adulthood, but it can also be a good excuse to reassess your own habits as well. Take, for example, flossing, a thing we all know we should do but might not be so great about. Then, suddenly, you have to tell that small human that they should floss. And, unless you were already one of only 30% of American adults who floss daily, you might think it’s time to start that flossing habit you have to preach about yourself. (Related: Is there a way to find out how many daily flossers are parents?)
Of course, being a parent doesn’t mean you automatically become a paragon of virtue; sometimes it just means you also get a little better at hiding some of your bad habits. But some of those good habits are bound to wear off, too. Sometimes, (re)building good habits can even be a family project. After all, it’s the examples parents set, more than the words they say, that have the most lasting impact. So if you want your kids to have less screen time, play outside more, or be cleaner, you might have to lead the way.
And what better time of year to do it than in January? We don’t technically need a new year to pick up new habits, but the clean slate of a new calendar is a good excuse to take stock, refocus, and set goals. Here are four that will benefit everyone in the family.
Cut Back on Screen Time
With smartphones and tablets, it’s all too easy for kids and adults to opt for watching TV or playing games over spending time with friends or reading a book. But screen time has been shown to inhibit brain development. Whether you’re hoping to get your family off their phones at dinner or to encourage more active play, you’re not alone.
“I always think families can benefit from limiting screen time — and often, that starts with the parents,” Dr. Amna Husain, pediatrician and founder at Pure Direct Pediatrics, tells SheKnows. She recommends placing your phone on Do Not Disturb mode or finding other ways to make it harder to reach for, like turning off notifications or placing your phone on a high shelf when you come home.
Liz Tenety, cofounder of Motherly, found that her kids were often whining at the end of their weekly allotted video and TV time and asking for more. She and her husband also noticed they were often reaching for their phones during downtime, like before bed. Tenety tells SheKnows that they’ve since decided to lead by example: cutting back on screen time by creating a “Be Present Box” that everyone will stick their phones in during times they’ve agreed to be more present with each other.
Julie Morgenstern, a time management expert and author of Time To Parent, has another solution to keeping the whole family more accountable for screen time. She tells SheKnows “synchronizing” screen time can work wonders; that means all tablets, phones, etc in the family get one docking station.
“Agree on a set window of time, whether it’s a specific range (6 p.m. – 7 p.m.) or a more general deadline (before dinner), in which everyone is able to freely indulge in their online world,” Morgenstern says. “When the window closes, all devices should be returned to the docking station, allowing you to enjoy true quality time together where everyone is fully present.”
Even if no one needs to tell you to make your bed or clean your room, parents can struggle with mess as much as kids do. Lisa Dooley, author of More Space. More Time. More Joy! Organizing Your Best Life, tells SheKnows that getting organized is almost always one of the most common New Year’s resolutions.
“Families, fresh off the influx of more stuff during the holiday season and often stuck inside due to winter weather, are often eager to declutter and decrease the overwhelm,” Dooley explains. Time off before kids go back to school after winter break can be a great time to get started. As a first step, Dooley recommends decluttering. This can be a family affair: Blast some music while everyone sorts through things to give away or things that need to be thrown away or recycled. Dooley also says to reach out to local non-profits to see if they can pick donations up to take some of the workload off you. If they limit pick-ups to big donations like furniture, you can also use a service like TaskRabbit to help with the hauling.
Another way your whole family can help cut back is to create a buying moratorium. Dooley recommends starting with a 30-day window. (Think of it as a “dry January” your whole family can participate in.) Obviously, you still need to eat, so she suggests making allowances for things that will be consumed in the next two weeks. Afterward, everyone can reevaluate as a family about what the buying moratorium taught them. It can also be an edifying experience for adults and kids to reflect on things they wanted and didn’t buy — do they still want it? Did it help them save money?
“Managing volume (what comes in) and space (what we keep) helps us create the home we love,” Dooley says.
Spend More Time Outside
Laura Vanderkam, a productivity expert, surprisingly didn’t suggest a resolution about work or efficiency. She instead recommended that families set the goal of getting outside for 20 minutes per day. Vanderkam herself was inspired by the blog Humans Outside, where Amy Bushatz chronicles her family’s outdoor adventures in Alaska. (“Hey, if she can go outside…” Vanderkam points out, referring to the Alaskan climate.) And while fresh air for fresh air’s sake is a worthy goal, it also has a ton of benefits for the whole family: Being outside for 20 minutes is the equivalent of a cup of coffee for your energy levels. It can also help with creativity and focus.
Finding ways to get outside can be as easy as a family nature walk. Another way to include the outdoors in your schedule? Involve the pets. Nicole Ellis, a personal dog trainer with Rover, suggests setting a goal of at least one regular outing a month with your dog. Parks and hikes are great, but you can even make it as simple as everyone going to a local cafe and sitting outside. Rover even has city guides for select cities just for dogs.
Make Time to Connect and Be Present
Going outside more, decluttering, and disconnecting all also have similar impulses of reducing outside noise and focusing on what matters. They can be a good means to an end, but if you want to focus on the end itself, Dr. Dr. Inna Chern, a dentist in NYC, recommends her family’s resolution: to be together for at least two hours a day without electronics.
“This meant that we spent time together (usually over prepping dinner/ eating dinner or walking around the city), with no electronics or multi-tasking with work-related things for myself or my husband,” she tells SheKnows. That meant they actually were coming home from work a little later to ensure everything was completed before they left — but they were also able to create separation and be more present when they were together. “This resolution helped us stay connected as a couple and as a family,” she says.
Not every parent can have such flexibility around work, but the spirit of the resolution can be adapted to your own schedule. (Of course, if no one’s making some kind of change, it’s not much of a resolution.) You can commit to spending one weekend afternoon together screen-free, for example, or make dinner together one night a week. Vanessa Quigley, founder of Chatbooks, tells SheKnows she has “family time” on Sundays.
“We bake, or craft, or just hang out, and we often look at photos … research shows families connect better and appreciate each other more when they look at photos of each other,” she says.
Ellis, the dog trainer for Rover, offers another resolution that requires almost nothing and also fosters togetherness: Set time aside to cuddle with your pets every weekend. Since pets are often left out of the weekend flurry of activities, putting aside time for bonding with your animals will require getting everyone to sit still in one place in the house and just relax. Your pet won’t be the only creature who benefits from some much-needed downtime and bonding.
(A version of this article was originally published in 2019)
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