As you set your personal goals for the new year, consider looping in your children during these times of reflection.
According to Indira Abraham-Pratt, Ph.D., ABPP, clinical health psychologist for Florida Hospital’s Center for Child and Family Wellness, even little resolutions can make a big impact on your child’s — and your entire family’s — life.
Dr. Pratt explains more about the positive influence of New Year’s resolutions for kids, offering some strategies to support them in achieving their healthy goals.
The benefits of New Year’s resolutions for kids
1. Boosting family togetherness
“Resolutions can be good for children and families, as it encourages them to work together to form or improve habits,” says Dr. Pratt.
She explains that you can start as early as pre-school age, as long as the resolution is age-appropriate, something of which the child is capable and gains the support of the family.
“Resolutions that involve the entire family foster teamwork and support; families come together and encourage one another, which also inspires healthier habits for the whole family.”
2. Understanding time and resource management
Creating and following through with resolutions helps children learn how to plan.
“When you are making resolutions, it requires thinking about how to accomplish certain things by breaking a goal into smaller steps. The child must think how these steps fit into their day; they have to be proactive and tell mom or dad if they need a resource to help them meet their goal or alter their schedules to get their tasks completed,” notes Dr. Pratt.
And if there’s a bump in the road (which there inevitably will be), going through this process helps kids learn to problem solve, pivot and get back on track.
3. Learning accountability
Setting a goal naturally encourages a level of accountability and responsibility. When you make a firm commitment with your child to help them get more active, you want to help them follow through with it.
Dr. Pratt says, “Helping your child with their goal makes us reflect on our goals, too; you might think: Maybe I could do a little bit more in that area and be more accountable as well? Besides, my child is also watching me work on my personal goals and I want to role model positive behavior for them”
4. Boosting mastery and self-confidence
“Increased self-confidence can be a wonderful result of achieving goals attached to New Year’s resolutions for kids,” says Dr. Pratt.
She continues, “When we help families set health goals, we encourage them to make their goals small, realistic and accomplishable at first. When they are successful, it bolsterers everyone’s confidence and creates momentum. And when you experience success, you feel like you can do more and set bigger goals. Success is a contagious motivator to keep moving forward.”
How to guide children in their New Year’s resolutions
“I encourage families to come together on this; parents can help children figure out what goals they want to set for the new year,” advises Dr. Pratt.
And while you likely have a long list of areas of improvement to impart to your child (ehem ehem), it’s better to keep those items on your own mental “wish list.”
Dr. Pratt suggests, “It’s very important that the ideas should be generated from kids and their individual perspective. You want kids to own it, so it has to be an area of concern that they are ready to work on. If it comes from them and it’s on their mind, they are more likely to commit to it and see it through.”
Then, the parents’ role is to guide each child’s ideas and offer support to fine-tune them so that they are reasonable and realistic. For example, if a very young child wants to exercise every day, a parent might help the child shape that goal into something more achievable. So, in this case, perhaps it’s suggesting that the child starts with exercising three times per week and increase from there.
You can start the resolution process by setting a family meeting. Sit down with your kids and have a conversation about what resolutions are, field their interest in having a family resolution plan, and then work together to set some family goals and each child’s personal goals.
If ideas come up and you need further assistance in a particular area, seek help from the appropriate expert, such as your child’s pediatrician, or get a referral to a more specialized program, like our Florida Hospital’s Center for Child & Family Wellness, or a dietician, if necessary.
“It’s always a good idea to discuss your child’s health goals with his or her pediatrician or family medicine physician because this person knows your child and can offer guidance and support on a clinical and personal level,” advises Dr. Pratt. Sometimes discussing these health goals with other family members and caregivers is also very important to support you and your child in a positive manner.
Dr. Pratt encourages families to start with short-term goals, which are easier to manage for children. Some short-term goals can be tied to a long-term goal, but keep the focus short-term and stick to two to four goals at one time.
For example, if your goal is to eliminate soda from your diet, banning all soda at once would likely set someone up for failure. Instead, set your short-term goal to reduce soda intake from three cans to one per day for the first week, and graduate up from there. In addition, goals should also be reasonable, concrete, specific and manageable.
“Set realistic goals within a timeframe that is achievable for your family,” recommends Dr. Pratt.
Also, schedule routine check-in periods. This could be during a family meal once a week or biweekly to review progress, reinforce accountability and work through challenges or adjustments that need to be made.
“Regular check-ins give parents the opportunity to spread positivity, be role models and help motivate kids as they are working on their goals. Make sure to recognize accomplishments, no matter how small.”
To reward or not reward
Sometimes, motivating children is tricky business. And parents can fall victim to the reward cycle for positive behavior. But Dr. Pratt has some insight on this.
“In the case of New Year’s resolutions or health goals, success alone should be the primary reward or motivating factor to foster in our kids. Self-accomplishment and verbal praise should be enough. It’s an important lesson to learn that not everything comes with monetary or tangible rewards.”
That said, if there is a certain area with which the child is struggling, or the experience has been a tough process, thinking about a reward could be appropriate; however, it should not be monetary or food-related.
If your child is doing really well and they have their goal, maybe it’s scheduling a family movie night or an experience together to acknowledge and support your child for a job well done.
How the Florida Hospital Center for Child and Family Wellness helps families achieve health goals
“Setting healthy goals is part of what we help families do every day at our Center for Child and Family Wellness, specifically in our Healthy Weight and Wellness Program,” says Dr. Pratt.
In addition to Dr. Pratt, the multidisciplinary team, includes a medical director, exercise physiologist and dietician. The team works with children ages five and older who are medically overweight or obese and generally referred to the program by a pediatrician.
“We take a unique approach to helping kids and their families achieve whole health; we help them identify what they are struggling with and what they are ready and able to do to improve their lifestyle behaviors, and there are four of us providers to guide them and offer support,” explains Dr. Pratt.
She concludes, “While the holidays are a perfect time for self-reflection and goal setting, it’s important for families to realize that healthy goals can be set at any point in the year, as long as the entire family is on board, ready and willing to make the commitment, together.”