As you’re flipping through the diet books or figuring out if this is going to be the winter that you take up marathon-training, it can be tempting to nudge your children toward choosing New Year’s resolutions of their own.
But Calgary parenting educator Judy Arnall says parents should remember to scale the self-improvement scope down somewhat – and to rig the proceeding for success.
First, she cautions against expecting much of anything from toddlers or preschoolers. “If you’re going to go by brain development, no younger than 4,” she says. “Around 4 they’re starting to gain that self-control. At 4 or 5 they’re starting to learn to delay gratification a bit.”
And while you may be pledging to change your behaviour for the full year, it’s best to shrink the time-frame for the younger set. For little kids, help them choose something they could do for a week, like maybe giving up chocolate; for older school-age kids, she suggests a month-long pledge. Once accomplished, think about following up with new, equally realistic resolutions.
It can be tempting to offer ideas that just happen to address your pet peeves – bed-making or table manners. And there’s no shortage of online resources encouraging health-minded resolutions for kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for instance, suggests that preschooers can pledge: “I will brush my teeth twice a day, and wash my hands after going to the bathroom and before eating.” For kids five- to 12-years-old, they provide such dreary tips as “I will drink reduced-fat milk and water every day, and drink soda and fruit drinks only on special occasions,” and for teens, “I will resist peer pressure to try drugs and alcohol.”
But Arnall says some of these suggestions are parenting choices masquerading as kids’ resolutions. “It should come from the children, not the parents,” she says. “It should be internally motivated. And I think it’s a good exercise for stretching that intrinsic motivation muscle. It has to be driven by them, and if they don’t do it, you can remind them that this is something they wanted to do. How can I help you do it?”
This is especially true in the case of teenagers, she adds, who should be well on their way to making their own decisions.
Some experts also suggest that instead of making resolutions about what you’ll all be denying yourselves, a few positive whole-family ideas could benefit everyone. Education.com writer Lucy Rector Filppu writes that family goals could include lightening up your structured-activities calendar in favour of, say, “family hangout days.”
“If wearing your pajamas until noon on Saturday sounds fun for everyone in your family, make it happen,” she writes. “Establish a traditional weekly hangout day or half day for your family. The main thing is to own your family time and not let anything else encroach upon it.”
Arnall agrees. “People want to work towards those things,” she says. “You get buy-in from everyone.”