With the new year comes that itch to become a new and improved you. Some make resolutions to exercise more, spend less money, be more organized, or procrastinate less. But how many of you have considered the new year as an opportunity to take stock of where you are as a parent and decide to make sure you're on track to raising the most wonderful little human beings you possibly can?

As parents we're all doing the best we can, but with our hectic lives it can be easy to lose our way sometimes. The good news is that there are a few things you can do right now to improve your parenting, and they're way easier than taking off those extra 10 pounds of pregnancy -- or sympathy -- weight that are still stubbornly lingering about.

All you need is love. And children need lots of it! Good parenting always starts with love -- in abundance. In times of happiness, anger, excitement, frustration, closeness, and sadness. In the face of accomplishments and mistakes, wins and losses, good times and bad, all children - big, medium, and small - need love.

Keep in mind that though younger children may drink it all up, as older children develop more and more of their unique personality, they may experience messages of caring differently. What can be a crystal clear declaration of your everlasting love for one child can be totally incomprehensible to another. If you don't know what speaks most clearly to your child, try them all and check in with them through discussion and/or observation, to see what has the biggest impact for them.

Remind your children how much you love them:

• Write little notes to them to hide in their lunchbox or bag to find later.
• Make them their favorite meal.
• Give them more hugs, pats on the back, shoulder squeezes, or whatever physical contact feels natural, loving, and respectful.
• Read a book together, even if they've known how to read on their own for years.
• Give them a little gift. It doesn't have to cost money, but it should definitely be thoughtful and come from the heart. A simple idea could be a letter you write highlighting all the reasons why you're proud of them.
• Finally, you can never overuse those three little magic words. Make sure you tell them you love them at least once every day.

Busy days, endless chores, long work hours -- and that's just you. Add in school and activities for the children, and you wonder how you have time fit it all in. With all the rush, it's easy to get distracted. But don't let spending quality time with your children fall by the wayside. With the new year, take a good look at your schedule and make sure you're finding the space to spend high quality time together as a family.

Busy families will appreciate that it's the quality, not necessarily the quantity, that counts. Quality means tuning in to your children and giving them your full attention to meet them at their level. Even just 15 minutes a day of undistracted time that you dedicate entirely to your children can make a big difference. Here are some other tips:

• Find out what they love doing -- whether it's playing with Legos, listening to music, or roller skating - and do it with them. Let them take the lead and teach you what they know.
• On the flip side, look for something new to do with them that can expand their horizons and expose them to new ideas or experiences. Take a day trip, watch a documentary, try a new restaurant, or play a new sport.
• Cook together. Plan the meals, go shopping, and enjoy your hard work together. Or, if that's too much, make sure to at least eat as many family meals together as possible. Start with three per week, and add more as you can.
• Create screen free zones in the house and/or times of day when everyone -- you too parents! -- puts their screens away and concentrates on each other.
• Yes, you've seen this one before, but it truly is golden: read together!

Give yourself a break. Parenting is tough -- really tough. It's draining, frustrating, and often completely thankless. Plus, we're parents, not super heroes. So give yourself a break when things don't go exactly as you'd like them to. The new year is a great time to give yourself some credit for the good job you're already doing. Most parents' goal in parenting is to raise self-sufficient, happy, well-adjusted people. If your overall message, more often than not, is one of love, mixed together with reasonable and firm boundaries and expectations, you're doing a great job towards reaching that goal!

Some things to remember:
• No one is perfect, especially parents.
• Forgive yourself for the mistakes you make.
• When you do make mistakes, turn them into teachable moments by owning up to your mistake and talking to your children about what you learned from it. This experience is actually much more valuable for your children than being perfect all the time!
• Do something to reward yourself for the fine job you're doing!

In 2019, and beyond, be the best parent you can be! Want more tips? Contact the USAG Italy Family Advocacy Program's Parent Educator at ACS through Doc Talk with Dr. Mieke, a walk-in parenting clinic on Tuesdays from 1-2 starting Jan 22nd, or by appointment by calling 634-6262 or 643-7500.