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The three best parenting resolutions (and an easier way to make them)

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  December 31, 2012 07:21 AM

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It's that time again: time for New Year's resolutions, when we resolve to do things differently and better. As parents, responsible for the lives of our children, it's particularly important that we strive to do things better. 

The problem with resolutions, though, is that they aren't always easy to keep. There is a reason why we've been doing things the way we have been. And the realities of daily life can get in the way of our best and most sincere intentions.

There are three resolutions I think all parents should make, because they could have a real effect on your child's current and future health and well-being. They are simple and obvious, but not necessarily easy. Which is why I'd suggest that instead of setting a specific goal, you should think of the resolutions in terms of leaning into them.

Leaning into things means changing direction and changing your thinking--but in a gradual way. It's about having faith. It's about pushing yourself, bit by bit, in a way that allows the change to take hold.

So here are my suggestions:

Help your child eat better (I did say that these resolutions were obvious). As a pediatrician and a mom I am very aware that lots of kids don't have the greatest diets--and I'm keenly aware of the obesity epidemic and all its scary ramifications. I'm also keenly aware of how hard it can be to make changes in our diets. We like what we are eating; that's why we eat it.

I'd love it if everyone could have five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, make their meal plates look like the one at (half fruits/vegetables, a quarter whole grains, a quarter protein), cut out all sweetened beverages, and eat only whole grains and low-fat dairy. Oh--cutting out junk food and fast food would be excellent too. But every change counts. Just getting those vegetables on the plate--and getting your child to eat a few bites--would be great. Try packing water instead of juice for snack--and swapping grapes for cookies. Do some meal planning and shopping together--even better, cook together once a week. Think small changes--but steady ones. Maybe one manageable change a week. For recipes and other ideas, check out the Healthy Family Fun website.

Get your child more active. We are a remarkably sedentary society, and this is really bad for us. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be physically active for at least an hour every day. This doesn't have to be a sports practice; active play (like at the playground after school) is perfectly fine. In fact, active play is great--because it makes exercise easy and fun.

Think easy and fun as you lean into this one. Being active could be taking the stairs, or walking to school instead of driving. It could be building a snow fort (and having a snowball fight). It could be dancing in the kitchen while you make dinner--or an active video game. While signing your child up for a sport or activity is a great way to ensure regular exercise, also think about things you can do together--like skating, or family swim. That way you can set an example (kids pay attention to what we do more than to what we say), and also...

Spend more time with your child. By this, I mean not just being in the vicinity, although that's certainly good, but giving them your undivided attention. Maybe it's that family swim--or a story at bedtime. Maybe it's a shopping trip with your teen--or a game of Checkers. It doesn't have to be long if you can't manage long--but put your child in the center of the time.

I'm an outrageous multitasker, so this will be my big challenge--but I'm resolving to put aside my  iPhone and laptop and just be with my kids for whatever pockets of time I can manage. Liam and I are going to tackle that Lego Ghost Train bit by bit (here's hoping we have all the pieces--he keeps leaving them out on the floor). I am going to teach my fashionista 11-year-old to sew. I'm still working out what I'll do with my big kids...but I'll figure it out.

It's not just about bonding. It's about keeping in touch--about knowing what's going on with them and what they are thinking and feeling. It's about giving support and making sure they know how much you love them. This is crucial when it comes to mental health, and to keeping kids out of trouble as they get older. It has as much to do with their well-being as diet and exercise.

Remember, with all three of these resolutions it's as much about finding out what doesn't work as about finding out what does. That's what leaning in lets you do. Every family and every kid is different. There's always something that can work, with some faith, perseverance, imagination--and lots of love. Which, really, is what parenthood is all about.

Happy New Year, all of you. May 2013 be a really good year for you and your families.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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