Self-discipline and willpower are difficult qualities to develop, even for us adults. But some studies suggest that they may be even more important to predicting success than IQ or innate talent. And according to many psychologists, self-discipline is like a muscle that must be exercised.
Enter New Year's resolutions. Creating and following through with them is a great opportunity to help your kids set goals and stick to them.
But how? Where to start? Here are some of the best ideas I have encountered:
1. Have a family chat.
Find a time, without phones or other distractions, where everyone in the family can share one thing they are proud of (a "glow") and one thing they think they could work on (a "grow").
Consider creating a family resolution also, such as volunteering together once a month, or being more active by taking more walks together.
2. Model for your child.
During your discussion and throughout the year, talk openly with your children about what personal goals you're setting for yourself and how you're trying to reach them.
Perhaps more importantly, talk about what you do when you hit obstacles. What do you anticipate your obstacles to be? How will you try to overcome them? What has worked and not worked for you in the past?
3. Let the child choose, with your guidance if needed.
It's important that your child be the one to come up with their own resolution. This way, they will have ownership over it and are more likely to succeed.
If they are having trouble coming up with one, suggest some broad categories such as health, school, friendship or family.
Try to guide them away from material goals such as collecting more Pokemon cards. (This is definitely what my five year old would say right away!)
4. Choose only one or two to start.
Self-discipline is not an easy thing to practice, so it's important to start small. Otherwise, children (and adults) can get overwhelmed and give up.
Especially for younger kids, keep it short and simple.
Dr. Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, suggests preschoolers be encouraged to work on listening and helping skills. For example, “I will be a better listener when Mommy or Daddy asks me to do something” or “I will help out more when Mommy or Daddy asks me.” Keeping it simple is key to a young child being able to understand and succeed.
Kids ages 7-12 are at an ideal age for making resolutions, according to experts at Parents.com. They are starting to be more independent, reflective and empathetic, but they are not as rebellious as older teens and will still readily accept some guidance from you.
For older kids, here are some possible resolutions:
-"I'm going to keep my room neater"
-"I'm going to be a better friend"
-"I'm going to read more"
-"I'm going to get better at soccer
5. Break it down into steps
Once you've established your resolutions, it's important to break your goal down into smaller steps.
Encourage your child to phrase their resolutions as follow:
I will be healthier by drinking more water at meals.
I will improve in math by practicing 20 minutes a day on my iPad app.
I will keep my room neater by spending ten minutes cleaning up before bed.
This makes the resolution more attainable, and helps your child think about possible obstacles.
6. Be optimistic
It takes six weeks to form a new habit. You can do it!
Toast the new year together and encourage each other along the way.
I love this advice from Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. She reminds us to "be the historian of their previous successes."
Check in occasionally, but avoid nagging.
8. What to do if they fail.
Remind your kids (and yourself!) that resolutions are more like intentions. They are not pass/fail. Every day is a new day and a chance to start over.
Commiserate about how hard it can be, and share your own challenges and past failures, including how you got past it.
Ask them what's getting in the way, and then let them figure it out for themselves.
It's hard to step aside and not feed them the answer at which you'd like them to arrive, but it's important for their own growth that you do not.
My resolution this year is to use my smartphone wisely, rather than mindlessly. I will do this by not using the phone at dinner, at stoplights, while playing or talking to my kids, or while in bed.
Do you have any resolutions?
Cheers to you and your family, and good luck with your goals!