Milestones such as the beginning of a new year provide a chance to push the reset button and make a fresh start. For people who are parents, that often includes trying to be better at caregiving, according to a new poll from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.

More than 70 percent of the parents responding to the survey said they make resolutions or set goals either at the start of the calendar year or a school year, or on their birthday, and some of these goals involve ways they can change to be better parents.

“We were wondering if parenting is something people think about when they are setting goals,” Sarah Clark, co-director of the C.S. Mott National Poll on Children’s Health, told TheDoctor. She was surprised at the number of people who actually set goals to improve their parenting skills.

“It's about the learning experience of setting a goal and using specific strategies to achieve it, not about committing to forever.”

More than 2,000 parents of children 18 and under were surveyed in August 2023 for the current report. Almost 50 percent of moms and 35 percent of dads said they have made resolutions to change something about their parenting. “Throw the old-fashioned stereotypes out the window: both moms and dads want to be better at parenting,” said Clark, a research scientist at the University of Michigan.

The number one parenting goal was to have more patience. “I think it is a common experience for parents to have moments they regret when they lose their cool,” Clark said.

Parents' four most common parenting goals were:

  • Being more patient (78 percent)
  • Spending less time on their phones (56 percent)
  • Being more consistent with discipline (47 percent)
  • Trying to exercise more with their child (40 percent)

Kids Set Goals, Too
More than half of parents said their tweens and teens set goals, too. They reported kids’ goals included getting better grades (68 percent), doing better at an activity (52 percent), getting more exercise (43 percent), developing better eating habits (40) and earning their own spending money (40 percent).

Shared accountability is especially useful for things that are scheduled, such as having one hour per day where everyone’s phone is turned off.

Parents and kids can hold each other accountable as they are working towards a goal. Shared accountability is especially useful for activities that are scheduled, such as having one hour per day where everyone’s phone is turned off. “Kids will love to remind their parents their phones should be off!” said Clark. When accountability works both ways, it helps keep everyone honest, and teaches younger kids strategies for reaching goals.

The trick for parents is to be supportive of kids' goals without taking over. It’s fine to offer to give them a ride or ask if they would like a walking partner to meet their exercise goals, for example. But nagging children about their goals defeats the purpose. “It undercuts the learning experience of setting goals,” Clark said.

Make It Short and Specific
People sometimes make resolutions or set goals that are indefinite or very open ended. This tends not to work very well. You want to set short-term, very specific goals that feel more achievable, Clark advises. “It is about the learning experience of setting a goal and using specific strategies to achieve it, not about committing to forever,” Clark said. You can always up your goal later.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is part of the University of Michigan Health System. The C.S. Mott National Poll on Children’s Health is published monthly and covers a variety of topics related to children’s health and well-being.