Making New Year’s Resolutions Stick

Credit: Corbis

January is often the time we all want to “spring clean” our bad habits. Unfortunately, it’s winter and plowing through a long list of resolutions often ends up in failure. That doesn’t mean that we should give up, particularly if we want to be a role model for our children. We can make small and significant changes if we put the right plan in action.

Children are no different from adults when making grandiose statements about new behaviors they want to exhibit and new skills they want to master. They are quick to state what they would like to do and earnest in their belief that they can achieve their goals. Without helping them to see a process for change though, we are setting them up for failure. The key to making successful changes, whether they are New Year’s resolutions or not, is to keep them realistic and to have a plan in place to help your children enact those changes.

Over the years, I have worked with children and teens, helping them to set up different plans for their intended goals at school and in life. Here are some tips that I have found helpful not only for the young, but also for the young at heart:

1) Change can be good! There are so many negative connotations around change, making resolutions and goals seem almost insurmountable. Talk to your child about the reasons we sometimes need to adjust our behaviors, and the benefits that come from doing so. Also talk about the need for a plan and that the most successful changes happen over time with small, progressive steps.

2) Identify a few realistic goals or resolutions. A long laundry list of changes for 2014 is just too daunting. Depending on the age of your child, choose between one and three resolutions at the most.

A very successful process I have used with children (and adults, too) is to pick three goals with varying degrees of difficulty. The first one should be easily achievable and within a short time frame, like writing a letter to grandma. The second is a little harder, requires repetition, and takes some weeks or even a couple of months to see success, like cleaning their room or saying, “please” and “thank you” consistently. The third goal is the harder change that requires diligence and patience over time, like being organized with their school bag or knapsack all year long, receiving a better grade in a particular subject area, or working on being more caring with their siblings and friends. Having three goals can be fun for kids; as they achieve the easier ones, the harder goals (the ones that signal a change in maturity as well) seem extremely attainable.

3) Plan, plan, plan. Show children that it is the process, not necessarily the final product that is equally as important. To do this, write out the steps needed to achieve each of the resolutions or goals. Keep the steps visible—encourage your kids to make them into a poster to hang in their room or scan the written plan and use it as the wallpaper on their iPad or computer. They should see the steps consistently and check off the ones they achieve. This will help your children to monitor their own progress, however fast or slow it may be.

4) Kids are not alone in the process. Try to complete some resolutions alongside your children. They will feel part of a team and will have a higher chance of success. As a teacher and advisor, I also set my own goals, which my students are aware of. At the start of the school year, we write down our goals, voice them in a group, ask each other for assistance with planning, and help monitor one another throughout the year.

5) Validate their progress. Is this a form of adult monitoring? You bet! That being said, if you are making resolutions, too, alongside your children, they will enjoy monitoring your progress as well. Periodically check in with one another and discuss the successes and challenges faced. Wonderful dialogues ensue about successes already achieved, mistakes made, and ways to get back on track. Goals will seem achievable once more.

6) Celebrate the steps achieved and set up a completion date for reviewing resolutions. When I mention a date, I don’t just mean a calendar time, I mean a date where you go to a restaurant or have a special meal at home that signifies the end point. It will be a time that acts both as a motivator as well as a reminder to come together and celebrate what has been achieved. If resolutions have gotten side-tracked, make a point of discussing what happened. Was the goal too lofty? Was the plan not thought through carefully? Did a life event impact plans? This discussion is crucial, as we are really planting the understanding of process with children.

So what are my resolutions this year? Well, as a Head of School and a new mom, mine are to work on creating balance between work and home life. I have broken this goal down into three parts, as I suggested in tip number two. My first and easier resolution is to ask people for more help as I adjust to both demands. My second, and slightly harder, one is to be really present for both my job and my baby. When I am at school, I am really at school, with my students and faculty daily, enjoying the great work they do. When I am at home with my baby, I am spending quality time with her as she grows and develops into her own person. My third is to find at least 30 minutes a day for me. That may be a time to read a good book, take a long bath, or squeeze in a much-needed nap. I know that this will indeed be the hardest resolution of all, as there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day. The fact that I have declared this to all of you ― and to my students ― makes me aware that I am being monitored! Now I had better sit down and start on that plan to make sure I find success. I want to make sure that my husband takes me out for a great date at the end of the year!

Dianne Drew is Head of School at Dwight School, a 141-year-old independent school in New York City. A native of Melbourne, Australia, she is an internationally recognized educator with over 20 years of experience in teaching, curriculum development, and educational consulting in both public and private schools in Australia, Asia, and New York City. Also serving as Vice President of the Middle Years Program for the Guild of International Baccalaureate Schools in North America, Dianne recently gave birth to her first child.

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