Last year my son asked about New Year’s resolutions and why people have them. I kept it light and positive and refrained from telling him how many people make them but don’t actually follow through. My answer was more about the new year being a time to check in with yourself and reevaluate your priorities or goals for the year. This seemed reasonable to him, and he decided he was going to jump in on this tradition. It is actually a good time, several months after the start of the school year, to check in and reset behaviors for adults and children alike.
Here are a few ideas children young and older can adopt.
Keeping resolutions small and simple will make them easier to attain. It will also ensure your children feel successful by sticking to their resolutions. My 6-year-old’s resolution was to unpack his own backpack every day. This is small and simple but a huge help to me and gives him a sense of responsibility and independence. It also takes all of three minutes, so it is attainable and age appropriate.
Other ideas would be matching socks when folding laundry, bringing in the garbage cans on garbage day, and picking up toys. For older children, it may be eating more healthful snacks, packing their own lunch, or waking up five minutes earlier to ensure they are on time. The key is that the resolution be specific to each child and to encourage them to come up with their own. This helps them recognize a behavior they want to change and is a way for them to have more ownership over their responsibilities in the family.
FOCUS ON OTHERS
Not all resolutions have to be about self-improvement. They can be about making a difference or trying to make the world a better place. Those are big, daunting, and may not be entirely attainable, but we can help break them down to simple, small gestures that can help achieve those same notions. Some ideas might be to smile or say hello to one person every day or holding a door open for someone else. These are common courtesies but seem to have gotten lost, so they feel more like small acts of kindness. For older children, they may be interested in volunteering or becoming a pen pal with someone at a retirement home. In our home, homelessness is a topic of a lot of conversations, because unfortunately it has become such a part of our everyday life in San Francisco. Helping your child make bag lunches or toiletry bags they can bring to a shelter or give to people are simple ideas that won’t solve the problem, but can teach children that we all need to be part of the solution.
Another great way to ring in the new year is to commit to trying something new. This can be a little scary, but it forces us out of our comfort zone and teaches resiliency — skills that are beneficial throughout life. For older children this could be a new hobby or learning a foreign language or a musical instrument. Last year, both my older children started playing new instruments, and watching them struggle, work through frustrations, practice, and ultimately really enjoy it has been exciting both for them and for us as parents. For younger children, it could be having a new friend over, trying a new food, learning how to ride a bike, or brushing their own teeth. All of these require patience and practice, but they also provide the most satisfying feeling when they discover they like a new food or can do something all by themselves.
Setting New Year’s resolutions can be a fun family bonding experience. Having everyone make a resolution is a great way to model for our children that we all have things we want to improve on. As parents, we can help set a positive tone by focusing on the things they learned how to do or did well in the past year, then focus on this year. Once they come up with some ideas, have them write down one to two resolutions, then decorate it and hang it somewhere as a reminder. My daughter put hers on her closet door, so she can see them first thing in the morning when getting her clothes.
Resolutions are personal and should be self-reflective, so as hard as it may be, we have to avoid micromanaging their process. We can do this by listening, guiding, and suggesting so their resolutions are attainable and age appropriate. And don’t forget to talk about what the reward will be for keeping the resolution(s) — that is always the best part.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was a former television producer in Washingon, D.C., and in San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected].