We all know the story: make a New Year’s resolution in January, and by mid-March you’ll be asking yourself, “What happened to that diet?” Now that it’s December, children in classrooms around the country are hearing about New Year’s resolutions. Your child might be thinking about what she wants hers to be for 2017. Unfortunately for students excited to make resolutions, research bears out the common wisdom that setting a large goal is unlikely to result in any meaningful change. That’s because our desire to change only accounts for a percentage of our ability to follow through with it. So if research shows that grand, sweeping goals do not make effective resolutions, then why set our kids up for failure? Rather than give up on resolutions altogether, follow these four steps to help your children devise plans that create real results!
1. First, find out what your child thinks a good resolution would be. If he’s like most people, he’ll probably pick something that sounds wonderful and is hard to quantify, like, “Be a better friend.” Allow your child to imagine how he’ll feel if he pursues this resolution. This step is all about your child identifying the goal and feeling motivated to achieve it.
2. Next, ask her what that resolution would look like. In other words, if she told a story or drew a picture about her resolution, what would it be? A resolution to help out more around the house might be a picture of a child putting her dinner plate in the dishwasher. This step is all about identifying the behavior behind the resolution.
3. After that, brainstorm with your child to find out when that behavior should happen. Being nicer to a younger sibling might happen during homework time or on a Saturday morning before parents are awake. The key here is for your child to identify a specific situation when the behavior should occur. It is clear and concrete; not “someday” or “all the time.”
4. Finally, have your child create an “If-Then” statement for using the new behavior. “If-Then” statements combine the situation with the desired behavioral response. Psychologists call this an “implementation intention.” A teenager who wants to procrastinate less might create the statement, “If I feel like procrastinating during homework time, then I will set the timer on my phone to at least work for two minutes before taking a break.”
And that’s it! Follow these steps for effective goal setting and behavior change, and give your kids the chance to make their resolutions a reality.
Christina Di Bartolo, LMSW, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the program supervisor for the Institute for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity and Behavior Disorder Centers at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.