Parents should be cautious about encouraging New Year’s Resolutions

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Set family resolutions and children will feel good that they accomplished a goal.

For many adults a New Year’s resolution can provide positive direction for the coming year. For children, however, psychologists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center recommend this annual practice be approached carefully.

Because children often mimic their parents, the cycle of resolutions — make one, stick to it for a few weeks, then forget it — doesn’t always set a healthy example. But Robert Ammerman, Ph.D., and Wendi Lopez, PsyD, agree that structured goal setting can be beneficial to the whole family.

Goal setting can be an annual family activity. This process teaches children about planning ahead and making commitments.

“Children should make New Year’s goals that are reasonable, measurable and concrete,” explains Dr. Lopez. “‘I will go a week at school without any infractions’ or ‘I will be on the honor roll this upcoming semester.’ Resolutions that are overly ambitious and can’t realistically be achieved should be avoided. Keep them simple, achievable, and positive,” says Dr. Lopez. “Parents should never encourage a goal if it is unhealthy or unattainable,” she says.

Dr. Lopez also recommends parents have similar goals to their child. If a child wants to become healthier, for example, parents should encourage healthy behavior and lead by example, such as buying less junk food. A concrete goal could be playing the Wii Fit three times a week together. This will not only help the child from struggling alone, but will also demonstrate the importance of teamwork and support, she says.

Because children like to see results, Dr. Lopez suggests a sticker chart for young children who can measure their goals on a daily or weekly basis. For older children, weekly rewards may help keep motivation up.

“Making New Year’s resolutions is not essential for children, and there are many other ways for families to bond,” says Dr. Ammerman. “However, the value of goal setting is that we own it and are self-motivated to achieve the goals. When children fulfill a goal or resolution, they feel satisfaction because they have set a goal and met it.”

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