The new year is coming up, and that means creating new resolutions. While it’s good to find opportunities for self-growth as well as setting and achieving goals, they’re often abandoned a few weeks or months in. As parents, our children are always watching, even when we think they’re not, which means they’re watching us not only set these goals, but whether or not we achieve them.
Setting realistic goals
When thinking about resolutions, it’s important to ask why we want to set this specific goal, and whether it’s realistic that we can achieve it. An honest assessment can go a long way in achieving a goal in the new year, and you should be honest with your children about that as well. Communicate with them about why you’ve decided to make a change--not necessarily because the version of you from last year was bad, but because the new year brings a new opportunity for growth. By framing your resolution as an opportunity for self-improvement, you shift the focus from negative to positive.
For example: If your goal is to lose weight, explain that you want to be healthier. Or, if you want to cut down on device time, explain that you want to be more present in the moment, to truly enjoy your time with your family. And setting small goals—such as committing to take a brisk walk everyday—can make it easier to achieve those larger goals of being healthier or being more present. The same applies to resolutions with children. Involve children in resolutions together as a family, so that everyone is reducing time spent on devices to be more present, or focusing on exercise to be healthier. Monitoring and tracking progress can be a family event, and it's always beneficial to have other people support our growth.
Children should see that we strive to become better than we were yesterday, and talking about New Year’s resolutions can spark a discussion about internal versus external motivation. In addition, showing that you have set a realistic goal and are tracking your progress demonstrates accountability and goal-setting—important traits for your children to see and understand. Similarly, parents can take the same approach when helping children create their own resolutions, by stressing the importance of identifying self-directed internal values as the goal.
If you have a setback
It’s natural to slip up when trying to meet a goal, and this too can offer an important opportunity for you to model self-compassion, and show your children that failure is a part of life. The importance of failure, is the ability to be resilient, and continue on your path. Show your children that you can be compassionate with yourself when you have a slip, but that you are committed and will begin the next day with a fresh start. When children have resolutions, they are also likely to slip. This can create an opportunity to model compassion to them, as well as well as teach them how to bounce back from failure.
While we as parents can get lost in a cycle of guilt and shame over meeting or breaking our New Year’s resolutions, it presents an opportunity to show children how we can grow as individuals, by working on self-improvement, cultivating hopefulness, and practicing self-care. The more we do this, the more our kids will notice and practice the same. And remember: goal-setting doesn’t need to be just for the new year—each day is a new opportunity for growth.
Jessica Glass Kendorski PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D is an Associate Professor in the School Psychology and Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.