Why the New Year should be all about putting family first
With 2016 on the horizon, parents may find these resolutions, from the UK's parenting experts, could help improve family life over the next 12 months. Lisa Salmon reports.
Getting fit, losing weight or stopping smoking are all worthy New Year's resolutions, but they won't make much difference to another crucial aspect of 2016 - family life.
If you'd like to improve your family dynamics in 2016, the nation's experts have the following suggestions for worthwhile resolutions next year:
TALK ABOUT THE TOUGH STUFF
Netmums editor in chief Anne-Marie O'Leary wants families to talk more about awkward issues.
She suggests: "We all find it easy to have fun with our kids but the shocking new statistic that one in 10 young people experience mental health issues shows we all need to make sure we're spending time talking to our kids about the not-so-fun stuff, so that they know we're always there for them. Easier said than done sometimes, but a tip that's always stayed with me is to use car journeys as an opportunity to chat: the lack of eye contact means kids are more likely to open up. Here's to lots of open conversations in 2016."
As well as talking about emotional issues, families would do well to discuss what their kids are doing online, says NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless.
"We want every family to talk about and understand their child's digital world just as they would their day at school. It's vitally important to bring parents and children together to explore, create and play online while recognising there are also dangers which need to be carefully navigated."
For more information, visit tiny.cc/NSPCCdigital
BANTER WITH BABY
And it's not just older children that parents need to talk to - communication should start even before a baby's born, says Alison Baum, chief executive of the child health charity Best Beginnings.
"My New Year's resolution is aimed at pregnant families and parents with young babies. Babies are born ready and wanting to communicate, and mums and dads can encourage this by talking and singing to their bump, and also having lots of eye contact and skin-to-skin contact once their baby's born."
Visit www.bestbeginnings.org.uk/babybuddy to download the Baby Buddy app to receive daily baby care support and information.
There are plenty of fun things to do as a family that don't involve technology, says Emma Horne, director of children's services at Action for Children, and she points out: "This year, my family and I will unplug all our gadgets for at least one hour every week and spend the time doing something fun together."
For old-fashioned fun ideas, visit actionforchildren.org.uk/nch to download Action for Children's National Children's Hour activity pack.
Francine Bates, chief executive of the Lullaby Trust, points out that the number of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) cases in the UK has risen for the first time in five years.
"To stop this trend from continuing, in 2016 we'd like to see all families follow our safer sleep advice," she says.
"Place your baby on their back in a separate cot in the same room as you for the first six months, ensure their feet are at the foot of the bed, that there are no extra blankets or pillows, that they're sleeping on a firm, flat mattress and are kept smoke-free. By following these simple steps, parents can drastically reduce the chances of their baby dying from SIDS."
READ WITH DAD
As well as talking, sharing a good book is a great way for parents and children to bond. The Fatherhood Institute is running the Fathers Reading Every Day (FRED) campaign to get dads reading to children from an early age, and Adrienne Burgess, chief executive of the Fatherhood Institute, suggests dads should resolve to read with their children.
"There's no app to replace a lap - read with your child," she says.
KEEP IT SMALL
Instead of opting for a big, life-changing resolution, Justine Roberts, chief executive of Mumsnet, says she's keeping resolutions small and achievable this New Year.
"I'm opting for incrementalism; making quite a few small lifestyle changes rather than a grand gesture that feels like a huge sacrifice - things like going to bed 15 minutes earlier on school nights. If you occasionally fail to achieve one of these small resolutions, you're much less likely to plough down into self-loathing and undo all your good work."
One small way to improve family life is to resolve to cook and eat a meal together as a family, at least once a week, suggests Children's Food Trust chief executive Linda Cregan.
As well as enjoying meals together, families might also like to take part in the Children's Food Trust Big Cookathon 2016, between April 22-25, she suggests.
"This year's official recipe, Big Cookathon Cottage Pie, takes its inspiration from a time when meals were eaten by families around a table at home, without the modern distraction of mobile phones and computer games," she says.
LOOK AFTER YOUR TEETH
You can't enjoy those family meals without healthy teeth, and Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, advises: "The New Year is the perfect time for families to make healthier oral health choices together.
"Families should support each other to make sure everyone brushes their teeth for two minutes twice a day, cuts down on sugary food and drink, and visits the dentist regularly. These are some very easy ways families can keep all their teeth healthy together all year round."
Finally, make it a happy New Year whether the family is together or separated.
Jeremy Todd, chief executive of the parenting charity Family Lives, says: "For separated parents, the best Christmas present for your child is to stop arguing with your ex. Make this a New Year's resolution, as all the evidence points to the importance of children having good, meaningful relationships with parents, and developing significant resentments and difficulties later in life if they feel this has been deliberately prevented."