By Richard Asa
Here it comes, New Year’s Day, and all those things you and your family want to accomplish because it’s the first day of 2015, a numerically fresh start.Just saying, but a 2013 University of Scranton study found that 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s goals. Part of the reason: Resolutions are often not accompanied by an achievable or realistic plan, says Carrie Krawiec, executive director of the Michigan Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and a practicing therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Mich.
When it comes to children, “Parents can start by helping (them) set reasonable expectations,” says Krawiec, who specializes in helping families create adaptive routines and solve problems. “I often tell clients that ‘happiness equals reality equals expectations.’ A good goal, or resolution, should be specific, positive, future focused and only just challenging enough.”
So working toward good grades in math, eating more fruits and vegetables, learning how to knit a scarf, reading 10 books in five months — all worthy goals. But, as we all know, all work and no play makes Jack or Jill a dull boy or girl. That means parents need to strike a balance between those concrete plans and the need to cut loose, sometimes at a moment’s notice.
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Serendipitously, though, setting goals can “inform our decisions when the spontaneous occurs,” says Lara Krupicka, author of “Family Bucket Lists: Bring More Fun, Adventure and Camaraderie into Every Day” (Wordcrafter Communications). “In other words, having kids (and the family as a whole) set life goals gives us all a method for recognizing which opportunities serve our goals and which ones detour us from them.”
Sarah Nelson, a professional organizer who serves the Chicago area and South Florida, suggests setting weekly, rather than daily, goals to allow room for the spontaneity. She also suggests using “when/then” statements with children to strike a balance, as in “When you finish your homework, then you can go to the paintball tournament.”
However, some things are inviolate, like school attendance, certain after-school activities and travel time.
“This time is not negotiable,” she says, “but all the other time slots are. Then, create a list of things you need to get done. Encourage your child to do the hardest, most time-consuming task first. This won’t be a terribly popular idea, but it will help (kids) get things done on time and free up more time for fun.”
Another approach to New Year’s resolutions, which helps kids accomplish goals and have fun at the same time, is to repudiate the whole idea.
Trying to follow through on New Year’s resolutions, “can feel like a burdensome addition to an already overfilled list of things to do,” says Nadja Reilly, associate director of the Freedman Center for Child and Family Development at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology.
It can, however, serve as a useful time — as good as any — to use resolutions as an opportunity to promote “healthy boundaries, goals, and emotional health and wellness,” she adds. To Reilly, it’s not one size fits all, and she prescribes different approaches for different age groups.
For the 10 and younger crowd, it’s about keeping it simple and applying resolutions in bite-size chunks. Reilly says to set no more than three, so a child can actually complete them and reap the rewards of resolutions that include feeling successful, proud or healthy.
Younger kids also may require some changes in their resolutions on the fly to make the resolution clearer or easier to do. Parents need to reassure children that this is OK, Reilly says, and that “it does not mean (they) have failed.”
She also suggests they come up with resolutions to pursue with a like-minded friend. Accomplishing your goals with someone else is more fun, Reilly says, and friends can reinforce one another’s resolve.
For kids 11 and older, resolutions can provide a way to take inventory and find a balance between what’s healthful, fun and necessary versus what may not be necessary or productive, such as signing up for five after-school programs just to build up a resume for college.
Because they are older, and presumably wiser, older kids should be able to come up with specific, clear and achievable resolutions. At the same time, adolescents may be so busy they often forgo chances to just have fun, play and develop ways to manage their stress, Reilly says. Stress reduction is important at that age, so resolutions could focus on finding ways to manage it on a daily basis, like listening to music, keeping a journal or going for a run.Lenore Hirsch, a retired school principal from Napa, Calif., agrees that New Year’s resolutions can be fool’s gold and that they often lead to disappointment.However, like Reilly, she believes that using the beginning of a new year to take stock and plan ahead can be productive. This amounts to New Year’s conversations with your kids rather than outright resolutions, she says, and it instills a positive habit in them that could pay dividends while they are at work, and give them more time to play.
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