You can still make a New Year’s resolution - even if you missed the supposed New Year’s Eve deadline. Really, the whole month of January is fair game for setting goals and making changes. What better time than the first of the year to start fresh and improve yourself? It’s a good time for kids too. They have settled into the school year and have adjusted to the major changes of a new grade, new friends, and new teacher. At this point, making voluntary changes in behavior is easier than when their little lives are in the midst of school stress.
A New Year’s resolution can be a highly personal goal. You wouldn’t choose a resolution for your spouse, your brother or your next-door neighbor. Your children should have the same consideration. If a person doesn’t have the desire to alter their life, they simply won’t do it. No amount of nagging is going to make them see the benefit of eating an apple over a candy bar or drinking milk instead of soda. That said, when people know better they do better. There is a huge difference between hearing and knowing. You can hear that the candy bar has higher calories and fat levels but until you internalize the benefits of apples and desire to apply them to your life, you haven’t learned a thing. Young children can be guided in their goal setting but shouldn’t be coerced. Giving them ideas and options will stimulate the brainstorming process. In the end the decision should be theirs. If you have something you’d like them to work on -- say picking up their toys before bed time -- make it your goal to teach them that skill and instill the habit in their lives through example, reminders, and instruction.
Even though it is their decision, the resolution shouldn’t be a secret. It seems we are often so worried about failing at something that we tend to keep our dreams close to our heart. We take baby steps toward them hoping no one notices our desire to change. Are we afraid of being judged because we fail or simply because we try? Any effort at self-improvement made by our friends, children, coworkers or ourselves should be championed and encouraged. Instead of judging or punishing when a child falls short of their goal, use the failure as an opportunity to teach optimism by encouraging them to try again. Review the reasons they weren’t able to accomplish the task then make a plan to do better next time. Many times a child stumbles after they hit the end of their natural talent. Once the homework, musical instrument, or sport becomes hard, they want to give up. Helping them to climb that wall and learn to work toward a goal when it is no longer easy will give them skills they can use throughout their life.
Goals that Stretch
Your child may be inclined to choose an easy resolution, something they are already doing like practicing the piano or turning their homework in on time. While it’s nice that they recognize those actions as important, they will not be growing and learning if they aren’t pushing past their current limits. Don’t allow your children to settle for mediocrity when you know they can be great. If they already play the piano and want to use that for their goal then have them pick a piece of music that’s above their skill level or increase their practice time for the year. Kids are smart. They’ll know if you are letting them cop out. By gently pressing your kids to push beyond their limits you’re showing them that you believe in them and what they are capable of accomplishing.