Dear Alice,

Generally, I try to focus on my physical health in the New Year. This year, I want to improve my emotional behavior.

My children have pointed out that I am irritable much of the time and that I stress them out about everything. My husband agrees with their assessment.

I see myself as a devoted mother whose children are her main priority. There are so many problems in the world and even in our day-to-day lives that I find it hard to remain calm when I worry about everything that could happen. My parents were like this when I was growing up, and I have little experience with not being anxious.

My behavior has gotten worse as our children have gotten older and more independent. I don’t want to be a problem to them, but I am having difficulty changing my personality. Please help me.

— Agitated

<Dear Agitated>,

Your children are doing you a favor by being honest with you and in explaining that your behavior is making their lives more difficult. People often make New Year’s resolutions that they keep for only a short time. This resolution needs to be a keeper if you are going to maintain good family relationships and indeed be a good parent.

It is indeed a difficult time in the world, which makes the importance of providing an emotionally safe place for your children even greater. When you react intensely and add to their stress, you give them a poor role model for coping. Helping one’s children have a healthy response to life’s challenges is one of the most important responsibilities of being a parent.

The first step is to remain aware when you feel overwhelmed by a situation. A simple technique is to count to 10 before you react. Ask yourself if your reaction will be helpful to your child. Picture yourself responding in a balanced way. Also ask yourself if there is something that can be done to change whatever situation your child is experiencing. If there is, help your children strategize to identify a solution. If not, teach them to let go of any worry about the problem.

In order to make this new approach easier for you, you might take a yoga class or learn to meditate — both go a long way in helping people find a place of calm and patience.

Another way to reach more serenity is to focus on gratitude. This will be an excellent practice for you. Review what you feel grateful for throughout the day, and even write these thoughts down to review regularly. This is deeply soothing and counteracts the stress you need to overcome.

Congratulate yourself for every tiny behavioral improvement step. Think of this process as exercising a muscle. You will get better at it as you work at it. Your mind and body, along with your family, will all greatly benefit.

— Alice