When the New Year hits, many of us create resolutions to help ourselves improve our lives. Most of us tend to set goals to try new things, eat healthier, or make a positive change in ourselves. Unfortunately, we almost always fail to keep our resolutions and start over the following year.

Given our typical failures to achieve our goals, even New Year resolutions, how can we help our children figure out what their goals should be and how they can achieve them? I took a look at the most recent neuroscience research to see what is most important for kids' development.

Creating a goal – We know that internal rewards work better than external rewards for making behaviors stick, according to behavioral research. So how do we help our kids learn how to create internally rewarding goals?

 

Well we can start by actually teaching our kids how to think about goals. Help your kids frame their thinking by asking them specific questions such as asking them to generate a list of who they are now and who they want to be next year. This will give them a framework for which to think about their past and future behavior. Helping kids decide what's important to them encourages them to act in ways that support these thoughts and ultimately helps shape their behavior.

Become Self-aware – Learning more about how you feel and why you do something builds connections in your brain.

It's this self-awareness that we work towards in therapy. Once one is self-aware, one can make changes. Without awareness, our brains can't create new pathways and our behaviors will never change. Work with your kids to help them understand how they feel and why they act in certain ways. Ask them to identify their feelings, practice connecting feelings to thoughts, and eventually tie them to actions.

You can start by identifying the feeling for your child, "Bobby, you are angry because I asked you to clean your room. That was probably why you yelled at your sister when she asked you to play." Helping your kids to identify this pattern for themselves will help them change the way they think, feel, and behave, which will lead to changes in the way their brains connect! They can also do a thought record like this one.

Be a good thinker – Our brain finds answers through both the use of intentional problem solving as well as without our conscious awareness.

 

Teach your kids how to think by using problem solving strategies. See this article on self-awareness for more ideas! Problem solving grows and develops the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for directing our thinking. This lobe, located behind your forehead, continues to develop through the early twenties! Strengthen it by asking your child to define the problem, generate ideas for solutions, determine the possible costs and benefits of each solution, and then try one. Using a logical approach to problem solving helps kids think and generate ideas!

On the other hand, insight is the moment our brains consciously register a solution we weren't directly thinking about. Practicing insightful thinking leads to a number of positive benefits. It allows a child to better balance their brain's energy and use it more efficiently. Your child's mind has to be in the right state to do this, which brings us to openness.

Be openPositive mood and de-focused attention leads to insightful thinking according to research. Many times life throws kids learning opportunities and they’re too busy or too overwhelmed to reap the full benefit of the experience. Help your child create a positive thinking space through the use of mindfulness techniques such as focused breathing, listening, or eating in which your kids are taught to focus on the sensory experience of what they are hearing, seeing, smelling, or tasting. You can check out additional resources at this mindfulness link. The practice of experiencing something to the fullest creates the perfect environment to help your child’s brain be ready to connect and therefore to learn.  

We have the amazing power to help design and shape our kids brains. Instead of encouraging New Year's resolutions that fail, this year help your child discover him or herself. Help him or her develop successful skills that will launch them into a goal-driven, self-aware, open year. They'll be better thinkers, better learners, and more connected kids.

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