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New Year’s Peeve

In fact, some families encourage children to make their own resolutions. Although a child may have the best of intentions when promising to turn over a new leaf, such vows require maturity, reflection and patience. As January wears on, he or she may start to waver. You may find that certain resolutions need to be modified or even abandoned for more reasonable goals. Here are some ideas for avoiding the trap of failed resolutions as well as planning for next year.

1. Assess readiness: Helping your child determine if he’s ready to set a resolution, as well as what he’d like to resolve, is the best way to help him succeed at it in the new year. Is he looking to improve an area of his life or his behavior; does he want to expand a skill or take on more responsibility?

Many children automatically imitate the adults they overhear discussing resolutions without understanding the words. Spending time to understand his goals will ensure a happier new year celebration.

2. Watch your language: The term “resolution” can be overwhelming and confusing. If your child is not old or mature enough to understand the word, he or she may not be ready for the power and pressure it commands. Instead establishing New Year’s “rules,” “changes” or “habits” without the lofty connotation of a resolution eases a child into the concept of refining herself as she develops throughout the new year. 

3. Redefine resolutions: Children as young as 5 are able to begin comprehending the concept of incorporating change. Talk with older preschoolers or kindergarten kids about changing habits or adding a new job to his day to help him embrace a resolution. 

Instead of looking at resolutions as a yearly event, suggest an elementary-age child set weekly or monthly resolutions based on his age and interests. Discuss the possibility of teens and tweens using New Year’s as the chance to build upon a skill, develop a new hobby, or improve personal habits.

4. Send support: “A few weeks into the new year, my 6-year-old son was so disappointed when he realized he’d forgotten to make his bed,” Syracuse’s Benita Ward-Thomason says. “Because it was his resolution, he felt he’d let himself and us down. He failed to recognize that he was successful because he had made his bed every day for three and a half weeks before forgetting.”

Thomason offered her son encouragement and praise for what he was able to accomplish while lending a supportive shoulder to redirect him back toward his goal. That approach is one that will help your child challenge herself while being proud of her achievements. 

5. Get real: Resolving to never fight with a sibling is an unrealistic, but common, resolution among children. Hoping to receive a better grade in science–without resolving to study or turn in all homework assignments–is unattainable and sets a child up for disappointment. 

When helping your child explore some of his resolution options, have a few helpful suggestions to spark his resolution creativity. Children younger than 6 can, for example, be charged with responsibility for feeding a pet, remembering to brush their teeth, or learning to write their name, address and phone number.

Ages 7 to 10 can handle an increase in household duties, such as emptying the trash, or learning a new skill or sport. At ages 11 to 15, appropriate resolutions might include mentoring a younger sibling, spending time with an extended-family member such as a grandparent, or going “unplugged,” with no TV or computer, one night per week.

6. Track progress: Sticker charts, tallies and progress pictures help a child quickly view his accomplishment. Incorporate motivational tools and praise to propel your children toward continue to strive to attain his New Year’s goal.

7. Rethink it: A child’s committed determination to walk the dog every day might fade out after a few weeks or a month. That walking the dog three times a week is more feasible might be something your child needs to learn on his own.

If your child believes he is ready to attempt a difficult resolution, encourage him to test his abilities and limits, while stressing that needing to revise a resolution is always an option that is not a sign of weakness or failure.  

8. Set priorities: A child who vows to spend less time playing video games and always feed the cat and keep her room organized might need guidance. “Realizing that there are situations where it might not be possible to address all resolutions at one time will prevent a child from becoming overwhelmed,” explains child and family therapist Brian Malinowski of Syracuse.

9. Communicate goals Marci Harris, a mother of three children in Marcellus, learned firsthand how important communicating resolution expectations can be. When all three of her children inadvertently opted for the same resolution, her household was in turmoil.

“Last year, all three of the kids resolved to care for the new puppy,” she remembers. “Consequently, they spent an entire day fighting over who should be one to feed him. Eventually, I wound up feeding the dog and sending everyone to their room.”

10. Mission accomplished: What happens when your child realizes her goal?  Mental health experts such as Malinowski suggest encouraging children to continue to set new or higher standards for themselves regardless of the time of year.  “If a child fulfills his resolution to learn to swim, guide him to consider strengthening his swimming ability instead of resting on his victory laurels,” he urges.      

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York