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Kids can make resolutions, too

Published 10:18am Saturday, January 2, 2010

Did you make your resolution yet?

About 308 million Americans — and 63,000 Western Tidewater residents — rung in the New Year Thursday night, but not all made resolutions. The traditional resolution, scoffed upon by novelist Mark Twain and countless others, is an old way of making new promises to yourself.

Though it’s a tradition many associate with adults, New Year’s resolutions can be made by kids as well.

Some of the most common resolutions for adults are focused either on physical or financial health, according to a U.S. government Web site. USA.gov lists the most popular New Year’s resolutions among Americans — lose weight, manage debt, save money, get a better job, get fit, get a better education, drink less alcohol, quit smoking, reduce stress overall, reduce stress at work, take a trip and volunteer to help others.

For kids, spending fewer hours on video games, doing better in school and fighting less with a brother or sister are more realistic goals.

For grade-school aged kids, making New Year’s resolutions can be an important first lesson in goal setting. While it’s never a good idea to insist that children adopt a resolution for the coming year, parents can provide both support and encouragement when kids show interest in doing so on their own or in response to resolution-making by a respected adult or parent.

The key support that kids need is in formulating a resolution that is realistic, positive and achievable. For example, if your child declares that she will make 20 new friends during the year or secure a spot on the next season of American Idol, it’s definitely a good idea to step in and, while encouraging the thought behind the idea, help the child to scale back the resolution to something more manageable.

According to American Psychiatric Association experts, setting realistic expectations can help keep New Year’s resolutions.

“Whether it’s spending more time with family, improving money management or living a healthier life, New Year’s resolutions provide a fresh start,” said Dr. Robert Benson, a member of the APA Committee on Public Affairs. “Too often, resolutions fail. Setting achievable goals will set you on the right path.”

For younger children, help them choose a simple resolution that is part of daily life and within their developmental reach in the near future. For kids to feel successful, they need to experience success so it’s best to suggest a resolution that can be mastered prior to the end of an entire year. For example, young children who have recently learned to tie their own shoes can promise to make two attempts before asking a parent for help. This resolution is not only within reach, but the likelihood of mastery — over a few short months — is very high.

Encourage and support

While older children can certainly tackle more complex resolutions, their success hinges on motivation. Most older kids and teenagers are far more likely to hold to their resolutions if they feel they have a shot at success and if it’s something they truly want to do. New Year’s isn’t the time to extract big promises from children. Here again, it’s far better to scale back the resolution and allow kids to experience a sense of accomplishment. This doesn’t mean that the goal has to be easy. It just has to be within reach. For example, older kids and teens can resolve to eat an additional serving of fruit or vegetables every day or promise to do their regular chores without parental reminders. It’s important to remember that New Year’s is just one of many teachable moments throughout the year.

For adults, Benson also recommended establishing the right goals and rewarding yourself for steps taken toward the goal.

For more recommendations from the APA, visit www.psych.org.

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