The New Year is a joyful time that signals a clean slate and I, for one, am completely energized by the notion of possibility.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham, grown-ups are not the only ones, “Kids are actually fascinated by the passage of time, which seems magical to them. They love the idea of a new year, a fresh start, a celebration of life.”
As a parent, I couldn’t wait for my children to be old enough to enjoy New Year’s resolutions, but I wasn’t sure at first how to make that happen in a meaningful way.
The first realization was how essential my active participation is in the process. Advice common among child experts is for parents to model the behavior they wish to see in their children, a fraught reality for many of us.
I scold my son for being disorganized while looking for my misplaced set of keys and walk around bleary-eyed most days from a late-night screen obsession. It’s pretty easy for adults to lose all credibility.
When it comes to identifying reasonable resolutions and executing them, the single key to success is being a strong (not perfect) role model.
After some experimentation, here are five ways for your family to begin the next calendar year anew, together. Remember, children and adults alike will not be able to dedicate themselves to more than two or three resolutions at a time so go for quality over quantity.
Gather the family, banning electronics of any kind, and tackle the topic of resolutions with excitement. The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the importance of resolutions being age appropriate and recommends a list that focuses on establishing healthy habits.
Elicit input from even the youngest family members, reminding everyone that the goal of resolutions is to improve our individual experience as human beings, not to achieve perfection in any capacity. The new year, afterall, is a celebration, not a time for regret or discipline.
Being accountable to a group promotes success, whether trying to break a habit or instill a new one. What better place to start than with a collective family resolution.
Is the household overrun with stuff? Could you consume less and recycle more? Is everyone doing their part to keep the house clean? Are frozen peas the closest your family gets to vegetables?
Once the cohort has identified the general theme of the family resolution, identify ways each member will contribute, including how often, and plan for brief but regular check-ins to assess progress and make modifications. Even though New Year’s resolutions are associated with 365 days to achieve them, think outside the norm. Your family might be able to tend to two or more in one year. Watch less television and clean out those closets.
To rush and be overworked is the American way. In fact, according to Fortune, Americans work 25% more than Europeans and experience a myriad of health risks associated with stress.
January 1 brings opportunity to prioritize self-care and there is no child too young to learn the importance of adopting the habit. Pledge to go to bed earlier, shut down all screens by a certain time, engage in five minutes of meditation three times per week.
Review with your family members a list of fun ways they might enjoy decompressing: bubble baths to relieve tension; offer weekly hand massages and should rubs. Whatever speaks to you and your child, commit to just one.
After report cards, teacher conferences, and issues that occur all year long, is likely that your child has already been given plenty of feedback on how they need to be better. They need to participate more in class, work harder at math, take out the trash without being asked.
Let them self-reflect and be the boss of at least one of their own New Year’s resolutions, while you retreat to the role of cheerleader.
Thinking about the world outside of ourselves and family is also a great way to ring in the new year. Save a portion of allowance each month to donate to a cause close to the heart, volunteer as a family, or fulfill random acts of kindness each month.
Create a special family memento by having each family member share their random acts of kindness in a notebook just once per month, a gesture that will make everyone feel better about themselves and their place in the world.
What is so lovely about embarking on New Year’s resolutions as a family ritual is that everyone is accountable and, therefore, more likely to succeed. As part of the initial process, agree to meet every Sunday morning for the first month while the plan is still in its infancy. Once everyone is clear on their individual objectives, gather and modify monthly or as needed.
Get your kids motivated by grabbing the opportunity for yourself first.
Happy New Year.
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Mariko Zapf is a Brooklyn-based writer with a passion for parenting and healthy living. Her byline has appeared in Woman’s Day, Runner’s World, Organic Life, and Yahoo, among others.
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