Have you ever succeeded at following through on your New Year’s resolutions?
Didn’t think so.
You’re in good company, of course. Does anyone live up to their turn-of-the-calendar promises to finally lose weight, hit the gym regularly, and fulfill other fantasies of self- improvement? Yet somehow, making resolutions seems irresistible—for parents, and by extension, kids—because it’s a tradition, or because the changing of the calendar begs for a moment of self-examination and change (or at least the intention thereof).
In fact, toward the end of December, you even may have asked your kids to partake in this failed tradition. Verbally or in writing, and with varying degrees of follow-up and accountability, kids around the country dutifully enumerated their resolutions. I’ll brush my teeth twice a day. I’ll make my bed myself every morning. And so on.
And what happened to these kiddie vows of self-improvement? The same thing that happened to the adult version. Maybe it’s February, maybe it’s June, maybe it’s January 3, but at some point, commitment to these lofty ideals goes the way of holiday leftovers and is forgotten—until next December 31, of course, when the whole cycle starts over again.
Here’s why focusing on New Year’s resolutions is useless: It sends a negative message to our kids, namely that it’s OK to make promises we know we won’t keep and that it’s likewise fine to abandon a challenge when it becomes difficult. The whole resolutions-industrial complex cheapens the idea of self-scrutiny and self-improvement, concepts that our kids deserve to see us model for real every day.
Going forward, let’s all abandon the halfhearted resolutions we made for this year—for ourselves and for our children. In place of resolutions, look back at everyone’s accomplishments and achievements in the year that just ended. Johnny started kindergarten! Jake learned to swim. Jane had her first piano recital! It’s not too late to shift the focus. Create opportunities, such as birthdays and holidays, to step back, reflect on, and celebrate the milestones and special moments, big and small, and remind your kids of things they’ve done that may not have made their lists but are surely on yours: Johnny started cleaning his room without our asking!
Make sure, too, that you do the same for yourselves so your kids hear about what you’re proud to have done, allowing them to see a grown-up model of meaningful reflection. And finally, remember to reflect on the special communal family moments you’ve shared together from the past year: the vacations and outings, the birthday parties, the unplanned evenings of silly fun.
The beauty of this approach is it reminds your children of what mattered last year, that you are proud of them for whatever they’ve accomplished. At its best, it may inspire them to do more and better in the new year, organically and not through artificial resolution making. I loved learning how to read—next year I want to read a book on my own!
This approach also helps kids process their feelings about the year that recently ended. It’s easy, in the day-to-day crush of responsibilities, to forget—or just not see—the ways in which we’ve grown, and the challenges that changed us. Now is a wonderful time gather around the kitchen table or the fireplace, turn off the screens, and relive the good of the past 12 months in preparation for even more growth and improvement this year—without anyone listing their resolutions.