Many adults associate New Year’s resolutions with abandoned aspirations instead of positive changes.
For those who struggle to stick with New Year’s resolutions, it can seem illogical to promote the habit to children. However, many experts in child development recommend parents set goals with their children every New Year. Not only does it help teach the power of creating goals and following through, it can help us stay accountable to our own resolutions as part of being a good parent role model.
The Case for Youth Resolutions
The American Academy of Pediatrics is just one big proponent of setting resolutions with kids. Their own list of recommended resolutions is age specific, making suggestions such as washing hands before eating for preschoolers and reducing soda intake and standing up to bullying for high schoolers.
While setting goals with young kids might seem a little excessive (if not overambitious) in this age of overscheduling, some argue that childhood is the best time to teach how to form new habits.
“[Kids ages 7-12] are still young enough that their habits are not firm,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. “They’re old enough to think about what a New Year’s resolution is and to make their own, yet parents can still help guide them.”
Young kids also aren’t likely to set resolutions of profound importance, meaning the focus should be on the goal-setting process rather than the success or failure of achieving a desired result.
Do It Together
Most kids probably won’t sit down and make their own resolutions, let alone follow through on them, without some guidance. Setting goals as a family is a great way to demonstrate that goals are much easier to achieve when you have the support of people who care about you.
Clinical health psychologist Indira Abraham-Pratt, Ph.D., ABPP, says, “Resolutions that involve the entire family foster teamwork and support; families come together and encourage one another, which also inspires healthier habits for the whole family.”
This is also an opportunity to show kids what good goals look like, how to write them, and what to actually do with them. Chances are they’ll propose something lofty, such as winning every game they play this season. After admiring their ambition, suggest ways they could re-write their goal to make sure it’s something they can control. Once you’re all done, take their goals, along with the rest of the family’s, and put them someplace where they’ll be seen frequently, such as on the fridge or on a bulletin board.
Set regular check-in times once or twice a month to ask how your child’s goal is going and discuss challenges they might be having, as well as ways to overcome them. Be sure to share progress, successes, and struggles with your own resolutions. And perhaps most importantly, be open and honest about the possibility of failure.
“One of the reasons people break resolutions is that they don’t anticipate the moments when sticking with the resolution is going to be especially difficult,” says Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed. “Talking those over in advance as a family will be helpful — and it will help if the family can come up with strategies to get through those tough moments, so they can celebrate their overall success at the end of the year.”
Do Not Set Resolutions This Way
While most agree resolutions can be beneficial to children if they are well thought out, setting resolutions without their input is a surefire way to get low buy-in and a high chance that they’ll never want to set resolutions again. This is especially true if the proposed resolution is something you’ve been harping on anyway, such as a household chore.
Similarly, first-time resolutions (or even ones for adults) shouldn’t be too-far reaching or without some easily clearable benchmarks to help build momentum and acknowledge progress.
Carter recommends keeping lists short and breaking resolutions down into actionable steps, such as having a child focus on putting their shoes away when they arrive home as part of a larger ‘be tidier’ resolution, and only giving verbal praise as a reward. “You can’t bribe kids into doing this,” he comments. “Once you make it external with rewards, you lose them.”
Resolutions also need to have a positive frame around them, not one of deprivation.
“Instead of a resolution like ‘No desserts this year,’ a family might choose something more attainable like ‘Eat healthier this year,’” says Tough.
Be A Resolution Role Model
Achieving the greatest buy-in from goal-setting kids comes down to two things:
- Is following through on this goal enjoyable?
- Do the people I look up to show me it’s possible to achieve my goals by following through on their own goals?
If those two conditions can’t be met, then it might be best to skip setting goals with children until we can accomplish what Katie Hurley, author of The Happy Kid Handbook, recommends is a much more important resolution for parents:
“Help your children explore their passions. Encourage them to follow their dreams. Dial back the intense worry about college acceptances and high paying jobs and help them understand the importance of happiness.Happy kids are more successful in the classroom. Happy kids are more likely to follow through with their goals and reach a little bit higher. Happy kids are confident enough to enter the world without worry. That is the greatest gift you can give your child this year.”
If you do decide the time is right to set resolutions with your child, the most powerful way to show the importance of setting goals will always be to follow through on your own. This added accountability is a powerful tool to create change for both you and your child, and to ensure the next generation continues turning over new leaves with great success.