I overheard three young friends pondering their New Year’s resolutions as they waited for the school bus. “Mine is to never argue with my brother,” announced 10-year-old Morgan. “I’m only eating health food and getting really skinny,” said 11-year-old Lynn. Lynn’s 8-year-old brother, Steven, joined in: “I’ll practice soccer every day for three hours until I make the A team!”
Many kids — often imitating their parents — use the New Year as an opportunity to declare a fantastic resolution. That part may be easy for a child, but keeping the resolution is usually very difficult, because most kids make their resolutions based on a result for which they wish, rather than one they are able to achieve. Morgan would like to have family peace; no bickering would mean no yelling by her parents. Lynn’s (unhealthy) fantasy to have total control over her eating may be triggered by a desire to be as skinny as the starlets she idolizes. Steven dreams about acceptance by the athletic kids deemed the ‘in group’ by other children.
These types of resolutions are doomed to fail because they are too extreme and too difficult to sustain. What’s more, they will likely never achieve the desired result. Morgan’s parents will still get angry about other things; Lynn won’t be a superstar because she stops eating junk; and Steven may not become popular even if his skill improves.
However, kids can and should learn how to make and keep realistic New Year’s resolutions. Encouraging your child to declare a gratifying goal — one that won’t result in a feeling of failure — offers a wonderful moment to teach skills of self-reflection, realistic short- and long-term goal setting, and the important lesson of follow-through.
Begin by encouraging your child to generate concrete, practical ideas. Then help to pick only one that is truly achievable (not a fantasy, impossible or too vague), and that will have measurable results. Resolutions will vary depending upon your child’s age. Suggestions include: make more friends; eat more healthily; stop biting my nails; improve at shooting hoops; read more; learn my multiplication tables; take the dog for walks; stop being afraid of the dark; call Grandma more often.
Now, help your child come up with two or three short- and long-term ways of achieving the resolution. As a rule, short-term goals should see results within a few weeks; long-term goals may take months or longer to achieve. Encourage patience in achieving one goal at a time.
Using ‘make more friends’ as an example, short-term goals could be:
1. Make a list of three possible friends
2. Start saying hello to them at school
3. Ask if I can sit with them at lunch/snack time.
Long-term goals could include:
1. Ask someone over to play/hang out
2. Go to a new friend’s home
3. Invite a new friend for a sleepover.
As your child is mastering this skill, you might want to try it yourself. You may find that you are able to stick to your resolutions, too!
DR. SUSAN BARTELL is a nationally recognized child, teen and parenting psychologist and award-winning author. Her latest book is Healthy Kids The Easy Way. You can learn more about Dr. Bartell at www.drsusanbartell.com.