“I resolve to eat less spinach.”
“I resolve to watch more TV.”
“I resolve to tease my sister more…”
“Okayyyyyy, let me stop you right there!”
We’ve all had this “hilarious” conversation with our kids on New Year’s Day. Along with the inevitable, “I haven’t eaten anything ALL YEAR!”, the discussion often turns to New Year’s resolutions. If we let our kids make up their own resolutions, they’d come up with some head-slappers for sure. We at HAPPÉ want to help you to help your kids make some reasonable and emotionally mature resolutions. And we want to help you help them keep them!
What is a Resolution?
Does the word resolution derive from “resolute” or from “resolved?” We’re going to punt and just say, “yes!” They have shared roots and both mean roughly the same thing: fully committed to achieving a goal. Having goals is important, as we know, and generally require many steps to achieve. And that’s the sticky wicket, isn’t it? The many steps. The many, many steps. We may start off with an admirable goal, but lose our way because we get bored, get tired, or just plain forget about taking those steps.
So aren’t we really talking about habits? If one wants to play an instrument, excel at a sport, or learn a new skill, one must practice… often. One must be in the habit of practicing. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, it is estimated that more than 40% of our daily actions are governed by habits: “We may not be aware of it, but habits control a big part of our lives. According to several studies, it takes an average of 66 days for a new habit to become automatic. Keep it simple, you could just start with 21 days and if effects are positive, renew for another 21 days and so on until the habit is well-anchored.
Keep It Real
Keeping resolutions is difficult, even for adults. In fact, it’s estimated that less than 10% of adults keep their New Year’s resolutions. Why? Because they fail to understand that the foundation of resolutions is adopting new habits. As you explore with your kids what resolutions they want to make, remember that achieving their goals will require forming new habits. As you help your kids start thinking about the emotionally mature changes they want to make, be sure to remember that setting SMART goals is essential:
We also need to remember to:
- Keep them positive
- Encourage small steps
- Encourage gradual changes
- Encourage family involvement
- Allow a little room for error
Specific: “I will learn how to play an instrument” is never going to get traction. “I will learn how to play the piano” is better. “I will be healthier” is vague, while “I will exercise every day is specific.” “I will drink less soda” is fine, but what is meant by ‘less’ Perhaps, “I will only drink soda on the weekend” is a bit more precise.
Measurable: While “I will be a nice person” is an admirable goal, what exactly does it mean? How would you measure “niceness?” Going with “I will make my sister smile every day” is pretty darn measurable! Saying “I will practice scales on the piano for 15 minutes a day” is measurable. “I will lose five pounds a month” is measurable as opposed to “I will lose weight.” Consider making a family chart to record achievements; put stickers on each day of the week that they accomplished their goals.
Attainable: “I will be a concert pianist” or “I will be a Hall-of-Fame baseball player” or “I will become a TikTok star” are doomed resolutions. They are not only unspecific and unmeasurable, but they are not resolutions, they are dreams. At HAPPÉ, we’re all about dreaming big, but we also know that achieving milestones builds kids’ confidence and helps them become emotionally mature. It’s also helpful to attach the new habits to previous habits. Use cues to help them remember to practice their new habits. If there is a TV program they watch every day, create a routine of, “Every day, right after SpongeBob, I will?”
Relevant (age-appropriate): Be sure that the resolutions you help your kids make are really for them and not for you! You already have rules of the house and these should be kept separate from resolutions. Resolving to do their chores is doomed and depressing! Instead, encourage hobbies and self-enrichment; e.g. “I will draw a new picture every week,” or “I will practice guitar every day,” or “I will do my gymnastics stretches every day,” etc. These are specific, measurable, and attainable, and help them to become emotionally mature. Be on guard against “age-creep.” Be sure that youngsters aren’t overreaching because they see their older siblings doing something fun.
Time-sensitive: Just like “I will be a nicer person” is non-specific and unmeasurable, it is also without an end-date. Having a measurable goal goes hand-in-hand with having a deadline. There is more urgency to practice that new skill if there are monthly milestones and a long range goal. “Every day, right after SpongeBob, I will practice the piano for 15 minutes; learn a new song every month; and have a recital for the family on December 31st.” And above all else, be sure to give lots of praise each time they reach a milestone!
Keep Them Positive
You’ll never keep a kid motivated to grow and learn with negative resolutions. “I will not?” is an ill-fated beginning to any goal. You know what gets your kid jazzed up. Channel their enthusiasm for music, acting, sports, dancing, building, carving, drawing, painting, science, clothing, nature, etc., into a resolution/goal that they will want to do. Sure, you’ll still need to remind them and help them keep on track. However, you’ll have a lot less negotiating if their goal is something they are passionate about!
Encourage small steps and gradual changes. Make the small steps the victories. That’s where measurement is really helpful. They will naturally want to rocket to the end-result and be discouraged when, after a few weeks, they still can’t play Stairway to Heaven or do a triple back-flip. But just like how astonished they are by the pencil marks on the wall measuring their growth, they will be encouraged and filled with confidence when you remind them of how far they’ve come in their new skill.
Encourage family involvement and model resolution-keeping. Sorry parents, this one’s up to you too. If you make a very simple and SMART (see above) resolution for yourself, you will encourage your kids to keep theirs. Add your name to the chart and give yourself stickers too.
Consider making a joint resolution the family can do together such as eat one meal a day together without phones at the table, have one outing a week that’s just for fun, take a walk together 3 times a week, etc. If they have siblings and it is appropriate, have the kids be “accountability partners.” This not only helps them keep their resolutions, but promotes family unity! If not a sibling, then perhaps enlist an extended-family member to be an accountability partner.
Allow a Little Room for Error
We like to say, “Put one in the win column.” By having small, discrete steps that are easily measurable, we create opportunities for small successes, small “wins.” Don’t have a set up for failure — if your child can’t accomplish the resolution, for that day, it’s okay. Make it fun, not hard work. Celebrate the successes, shrug off the non-successes. Notice we don’t use the word “failures.” The most important thing is that they try, in general, to meet their goals. The message that “missing a day here or there is okay,” will help them learn how to keep things in perspective and help them become emotionally mature.
Speaking of celebrating each time they “put one in the win column,” remember to ask them occasionally how it feels to accomplish their tasks. Help them notice when they develop those new habits. When we help our kids be introspective, we help them have more confidence and empathy. By being aware of their “inner-landscape,” they learn how to manage their emotions and thoughts. This will help them become emotionally mature!
Feel free to contact us with any comments or questions you may have. Generally, we respond to emails within two business days. And if you found this blog post interesting, please feel free to share it on your social media!