New Year's resolutions aren't just for adults! Here are simple and practical ways to help your growing kids make New Year's resolutions.
Making resolutions with your children can be fun and exciting, a time for growth and change, and an opportunity for family bonding. Read our eight tips on how to make New Year's resolutions a positive experience for kids and to help them keep in touch with their goals all year long.
1. Be Resolution Role Models
As parents, it's important to practice what you preach. "Do you believe in, make, and keep resolutions?" asks Robin Goodman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and art therapist who has written books on children and stress. "You have to walk the walk and talk the talk to be most effective."
Bring your own resolutions to the kitchen table. "This is a great thing to do as a whole family," Kolari says. "That's how we do it with our three children. Kids look to you to learn how to approach this task."
Each year on December 31, Vicky and Paul Dionne of Morristown, New Jersey, sit down with their two children, Christopher and Elyssa, and toast the New Year with glasses of sparkling cider. While they're celebrating together, they talk about their New Year's resolutions. Vicky might say, "Daddy and I have our resolutions that we're working hard to keep. We make healthy food choices -- we may want that big piece of chocolate cake, but we're not going to have it." Healthy eating is important to Paul, who is a dentist. So is instilling a sense of responsibility. "We talk about being responsible and doing well in our jobs," he says, "and school is their job."
"If what you want is for your kids to be out the door earlier, you need to work on yourself," Dr. Carter says. "I saw that when I was consistently ready at the time I wanted to leave; it was possible to ask my kids to make changes. Let's not ask them to do more than we are willing to do."
2. Keep a Positive Approach to Resolutions
There's a celebratory feeling to setting goals on New Year's that doesn't exist at other times of the year. "It's about happiness!" says Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Everyday. "Present it optimistically: Every day's a new day, and you have a chance to reinvent yourself. A lot comes from your tone. If you're putting it in a punishing, preachy way, they'll be turned off."
Start by going over the positive things your kids accomplished last year. "Instead of pointing out shortcomings, be the historian of their previous successes," Dr. Carter says. "Point to the bright spot where they're doing something well."
Have them think of things they can do now that they couldn't do last year. Say your 10-year-old taught himself to play a difficult song on the piano. Did that success come about because he pushed himself a little harder? Remind him how far that little bit of extra effort took him. Ask your child, "How can you transfer your success on the piano to something else?"
You've set the stage. Next, look ahead and ask, "What are some of the great things you want to do this year? What do you want to improve? What will make your life better and happier?"
3. Take Turtle Steps Toward Big Resolutions
Turning a good intention into a habit is "one of the most important skills we can teach our kids," says Dr. Carter. "It's the key to happiness in life." She suggests that parents help kids break their resolutions down into "ridiculously easy turtle steps." "Self-discipline is like a muscle that grows slowly," she says. "If you do too much at first, you will get fatigued and not be successful."
Dr. Carter says it takes six weeks to create a habit. For instance, if your child's resolution is "I'm going to keep my room neater," he should write down six tiny, easy steps and practice one each week. "The first week he puts his shoes in the closet, the second week he picks his pillow up off the floor, and so on," Dr. Carter says. Your child might actually end up doing much more than this. "There's a massive spillover effect," she says. "Once people are engaged in their goal, they will do other things as well." Have your kids fill in the spaces on their big list with these tiny steps or download "turtle steps" worksheets from Dr. Carter's habit tracker.
Dr. Goodman also believes in breaking down broad resolutions into specific, easy-to-do steps. Her examples:
- I will help more around the house ... by setting the table for dinner.
- I will improve my reading ... by reading 15 minutes before I go to bed.
- I will eat more healthful foods ... by eating one fruit at breakfast and one vegetable at dinner.
It's fine to check in with kids each week and acknowledge how they're doing, but Dr. Carter advises against tangible rewards. "You can't bribe kids into doing this. Once you make it external with rewards, you lose them."
4. Make Family Resolutions Together
Resolutions also bring families closer, especially when you decide to set goals together. Families could plan to do one charitable thing a month and brainstorm about what that might be. You could pick up trash in the park or donate used clothes and toys to a shelter. "As long as you're working on it together, that's great," Kolari says.
Another idea is for everyone to make two personal New Year's resolutions and two collective family resolutions such as, "Let's visit Grandma more often" or "Let's plan a trip to Disney World."
Many parents suggest doing acts of kindness as part of family New Year's resolutions. "Kindness is the habit holy grail," Dr. Carter says. "It's so universally positive. When kids consciously practice being kinder, it makes them happier people and the world is a better place. As a family, my kids and I think of the people in our lives we can help and we pick one to focus on during the week. For example, we have a neighbor who's retired and loves it when the kids stop and talk for a while. You can't force kids to be kind, but you can float the idea and hope they'll be inspired."
5. Write Down Your Goals Together and Independently
Have a sheet of paper for every family member, where each person writes their own Review of the Year, and Things to Look Forward To.