The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions dates back to the ancient Romans and the mythical god, Janus. He was a two-faced man who represented the opportunity to reflect on the past and forgive one’s enemies while, at the same time, look toward the future and create goals for the New Year. Janus was so important to this ancient culture that they named the month of January after him.
The epic story of Janus is an important history lesson. It teaches us that for thousands of years many have made New Year’s resolutions; and that for thousands of years, many also have failed at keeping them—a practice that still occurs today. Recent studies indicate that 50 percent of Americans make resolutions and, by the end of the first month, most fail. With this in mind, is it fair to ask our children to do something that most adults can’t accomplish?
Teaching kids about resolutions is an excellent way to educate about personal responsibility and self-improvement. Early on, children develop habits that they perpetuate through the rest of their lives. Encouraging kids to reflect on the past and create positive goals for the future is a worthy endeavor, and the New Year is the perfect time to introduce our children to this idea.
How a parent assists a child in creating yearly goals depends on age. For pre-school aged children, parents need to be directive and focus on typical life expectations such as brush your teeth and clean your room. During the elementary years, kids are able to comprehend the value of resolutions. Work with your child to choose specific and concrete objectives such as being healthier by eating one fruit or vegetable a day. For teenagers, goals can be more abstract and should emphasize personal responsibility such as learning better skills for conflict resolution and resisting drugs and alcohol.
No matter a child’s age, parents should start with a conversation. In fact, creating a tradition around yearly goal-setting is a prosperous way to engage the entire family in this process. Over a special dinner or dessert, talk not only about future ideas but also reflect upon the past year’s successes and failures. The atmosphere should be light, supportive and fun.
With the kids excited about future possibilities, the next step is to provide your child with guidance. Resolutions should be personal and something your son or daughter wants to achieve. Goals made out of obligation to please a parent or friend often result in failure. A child should start recycling because he or she wants to make the world a greener place and not to impress someone else.
Parents also should encourage their children to make resolutions that are manageable. Making all As in schools, for example, is much less realistic than focusing on improving a specific skill such as becoming a better writer. Further support your goal-maker by helping him break big tasks into small, tangible measures such as seeing an English teacher for extra assistance before the next big paper is due.
Most fail at keeping resolutions because they lack the proper support. Minor missteps are to be expected and children may need additional guidance to fulfill expectations. Parents should engage in regular family discussion where progress is acknowledged and pitfalls are discussed. It also can be helpful to post goals on the family fridge; this creates a sense of internal obligation and makes it difficult to forget one’s aspirations.
Lastly, parents should not only make their own resolutions but also should share these with their family. No matter what age, kids will value the goal-setting process more if mom and dad demonstrate a commitment to self-improvement. Additionally, have your son or daughter assist you with keeping resolutions, sending the message that it is okay to ask for help. Our children are always watching us, and modeling expectations is a powerful motivator.
Resolutions are different than dreams. Everyone should have dreams and I say dream big, but dreams are not goals. Goals are specific, measurable, attainable and realistic. And while resolutions are timely, it takes time to successfully implement these life-changing behaviors. Rome wasn’t built in a day so be patient and celebrate even minor milestones as your children strive for success.
Prior to going into private practice as psychotherapist and learning disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S, M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.