How to make age appropriate resolutions for your children

IMG_9835If you’re like many individuals, you started the year off with a New Year’s resolution (or two). Now that January is over, take a moment to evaluate your progress. Are you still sticking to your goal? What positive changes have you noticed? If you didn’t stick with it, do you still have a desire to make a change?

If you answered yes to this last question, it’s not to late to start (or restart). OCH psychologist Dr. Erin Golden reminds us that resolutions are difficult to keep because, more often than not, we set ourselves up for failure from the beginning. It’s not too late to start again and make healthy resolutions for you or your family.

Here are three ways in which you can realistically integrate resolutions back in to your and your child’s life:

In helping your child set a resolution, keep in mind that it should be realistic, positive, and age appropriate. Also, keep in mind that children, especially younger children, will need assistance in setting goals for themselves.

Be Realistic:

Parents can start by helping set reasonable expectations. A good resolution should be specific, positive, future-focused and only just challenging enough. While working toward good grades in math, eating more fruits and vegetables, learning how to knit a scarf, reading 10 books in five months are all admirable goals, they can be difficult to achieve. Parents need to strike a balance between concrete plans and the need to be spontaneous.

Take a fresh sheet of paper and have your child write down his or her top three resolutions, leaving a large space between each one for inserting smaller steps. Help your child make them realistic and age-appropriate. Be concrete, specific, and manageable. As is with adults, vague but good-sounding resolutions don’t make for change. For example, ‘I will behave better’ is too general and will be forgotten quickly. Encourage goals that are within their reach, so they don’t get discouraged. Some realistic resolutions for children might be “I’m going to keep my room neater,” “I’m going to be a better friend,” “I’m going to read more,” or “I’m going to get better at tennis.” Even these are broad resolutions that need to be broken down into doable, step-by-step pieces.

Stay Positive:

If adults put resolutions in a punishing, preachy way, children will be turned off. Start by going over the positive things your children accomplished last year. Instead of pointing out shortcomings, be the historian of their previous successes. Point to the bright spot where they’re doing something well. Have them think of things they can do now that they couldn’t do last year.

For example, perhaps your 10-year-old taught themselves to play a difficult song on the piano. Did that success come about because he pushed himself a little harder? Remind him how far that little bit of extra effort took him. Ask your child, “How can you transfer your success on the piano to something else?” You’ve set the stage. Next, look ahead and ask, “What are some of the great things you want to do this year? What do you want to improve? What will make your life better and happier?”

Offer Suggestions:

The big question parents have at this point: Should you make resolutions for your child? Most experts say no. You can guide and suggest general categories for change, help your child clarify goals, and make sure they’re age-appropriate, but children should come up with resolutions themselves. This is how they take ownership of their goals and learn to plan.

The first step is to listen – Ask them what they want for themselves. If it is your agenda that’s driving the conversation, you are not really listening. Still, most children need a little guidance. Come up with three or four broad categories — such as personal goals, friendship goals, helping goals, and school goals — and let them fill in the specifics. You may ask your child: “Are there things that you could do better or differently? For instance, how should you take care of yourself or treat other people?” If they draw a blank, you could offer some examples, such as being nicer to siblings, sharing better with friends, or helping more at home.

What is Age Appropriate?

It is also important help children chose resolutions that are tailored to their age. For the 10 and younger crowd, it’s about keeping it simple and applying resolutions in bite-size chunks. Set one to no more then three resolutions at a time so a child can actually complete them and reap the rewards of resolutions that include feeling successful, proud or healthy. Younger children also may require some changes in their resolutions on the fly to make the resolution clearer or easier to do. Parents need to reassure children that this is OK, and does not mean they have failed, but they have learned a valuable lesson about themselves.

Children ages 7-12 are at the ideal stage to learn to make resolutions but this does not stop children of all ages from making, and keeping!, good resolutions. Children are beginning to be mindful and to understand others’ perspectives. They’re doing more independently, and they’re starting to open up to broader goals of how to become their best selves.

For children 11 and older, resolutions can provide a way to take inventory and find a balance between what’s healthful, fun, and necessary versus what may not be necessary or productive, such as signing up for five after-school programs just to build up a résumé for college. Because they are older, these children should be able to come up with specific, clear and achievable resolutions. At the same time, adolescents may be so busy they often forgo chances to just have fun, play, and develop ways to manage their stress. Stress reduction is important at that age, so resolutions could focus on finding ways to manage it on a daily basis, like listening to music, keeping a journal, or going for a run.

goldenErin Golden, PsyD is a psychologist at OCH Christian County Clinic in Nixa and at OCH Polk County Clinic in Bolivar. She offers evaluation and counseling for adult and pediatric patients. Dr. Golden worked as a psychologist in Arkansas since 2011. She received her education from the University of Michigan and the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology. Dr. Golden is currently a member of the Missouri Association of Play Therapists and the American Psychological Association. Visit http://www.OCHonline.com to schedule an appointment.

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