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Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Year's Resolutions - Helping Your Kids Kick-Off The New Year With New Behavior

With the beginning of a new year comes a time to reflect on the past year and outline hopes for the year to come. New Year's resolutions do not need to be limited to grown-ups. They can be an activity to help children set goals and adopt healthier lifestyles as well. A wonderful dinner topic could be "Mommy and Daddy are making New Year's resolutions. Would you like to make one too? Is there anything that you think you could do better this year, anything you would like to change or learn how to do?" Give your children examples or prompt them to think of resolutions that you deem appropriate for them such as: going pee-pee in the potty, giving up a pacifier, not fighting with a sibling, not biting or hitting, cleaning their room, doing their homework without an argument, or eating healthier.

Let them know that you too are trying to make changes for the upcoming year. Share with them your New Year's resolution. Be sure to phrase your resolution in a positive light. For example, instead of saying "Mommy's resolution is to lose 5 pounds" say, "Mommy is going to try to eat healthier or exercise 4 days a week." Let them know that you will be working to accomplish these goals together.

Here are some simple guidelines to help you and your child with this year's resolutions:

1. Make the resolution specific and concrete. This will help the child understand exactly what is expected of him and to focus on accomplishing it. For example, eating healthier is too nebulous a concept for a child. Whittle that resolution down to eating healthier snacks of fruits and vegetables after school instead of chips and cookies.

2. Write the resolution down. Writing it down allows the child to solidify the goal. Depending on the child's age you might suggest that he decorate the paper to make it special. Then hang this is a place he will see daily, such as on the refrigerator.

3. Decide on a way to keep track of improvement or success. Positive reinforcement works best when trying to change a behavior. Place a small calendar next to the written resolution. Use stars or stickers to keep track of days when your child accomplishes his goal. These stickers can be used a daily reminder and a little reward at the end of each day for a job well done. On days that your child is successful, make a big deal of it. Tell him how proud you are of him and what a good job he did today. On days that he did not accomplish his goal, review with him what went wrong but always end on a positive note. For example, you might say, "You were doing well today but then this evening when you got frustrated with your brother, you didn’t use your words and you bit him. Tomorrow try using your words or coming to Mommy when you get frustrated instead of biting. I think tomorrow you will be able go the whole day without biting and tomorrow night we will be able to put a star on the calendar."

4. Schedule rewards. Of course, we all wish that changing behavior was a reward in and of itself but for children, just like adults, it is fun to be rewarded for a job well done. This reward can be weekly or monthly. What it will be and when it will be given should be laid out clearly. The reward can be something simple, such as an extra half hour of T.V. or computer time, a later bedtime for a night or a date with mom for an ice-cream sundae.

By encouraging your child to choose a New Year's resolution and working with him to attain his goal, you will be providing him with the opportunity to experience a sense of accomplishment and pride.

UPDATE: 1/7/09 - Looking for ideas for resolutions for kids? Check out the list of resolution recommendations on the American Academy of Pediatrics website.