It's never too early to start teaching healthy habits, and experts say that even pre-schoolers can set age-appropriate goals.
We've asked moms and experts for advice on teaching kids about goal-setting and resolutions that can help inspire and encourage you and your little ones.
Most of us give up on our resolutions because they are not very "SMART," according to an article in the journal, Management Review.
In other words, the goals are not:
Talk to your child about how he/she will measure success. For example, if your daughter wants to become a better basketball player, she could set a goal of practicing a certain number of times a week. Instead of focusing on winning or losing, she'll focus on gaining experience.
Choose goals that are achievable and within your child's control. Ask your kids what they would like to accomplish to ensure the goal is relevant to them. You might want them to commit to making their bed every morning, but maybe they're more interested in trying new fruits and vegetables.
Set a reasonable deadline. Establish a time frame for achieving the resolution. If your son is having trouble with math, a goal of improving his grade by one letter by the end of the year is reasonable yet firm.
Set the Right Kind of Healthy Goals:
One of the most popular (and least effective) resolutions for adults is the vow to lose weight. This is not a very "SMART" goal because it is vague and has no time line. And while improving kids' health is important, focusing specifically on weight can have a negative effect on a child's self-esteem, and experts recommend avoiding such goals or resolutions. Instead of focusing on weight or other health metrics, focus on making healthy living fun, just like April Jackson and her 4-year-old daughter did.
April says that her daughter is a picky eater, but together, they've resolved to get creative in the kitchen. "She's agreed to try at least one new fruit/vegetable a month," says April. "Ideally, she'll go to the farmers market/grocery store (with me) and pick it out herself."
Need inspiration? Try these other age-appropriate healthy resolutions from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- I will clean up my toys every night.
- I will brush my teeth twice a day, and wash my hands after going to the bathroom and before eating.
Kids (ages 5-12)
- I will drink milk and water instead of soda.
- I will apply sunscreen before I go outdoors.
- I will eat at least one fruit and one vegetable every day, and limit the amount of soda I drink.
- I will choose non-violent television shows and video games, and I will spend only one to two hours each day on these activities.
- I will wipe negative "self talk" (i.e. "I can't do it" or "I'm so dumb") out of my vocabulary.
- I agree not to use a cell phone or text message while driving and to always wear a seat belt.
Talk to your child about what obstacles he/she might run into when attempting to meet goals and develop a "mode of attack" for dealing with the setbacks. Explain that progress is not necessarily linear and may include detours.
If a child wants to eliminate a negative behavior, it's important to establish acceptable alternative behaviors. For example, if he/she would like to watch less television, the resolution could be, "Instead of watching television after school, I would like to spend more time reading or playing outside."
April plans to combine the resolutions she'll set for her daughter, as well as her daughter's own goals, and create a chart. The chart will be placed at a "resolution station" (a bulletin board) in the kitchen. Every time they try a new fruit or vegetable, April will ask her daughter to draw the fruit or vegetable on the chart and write her thoughts about the meal. "I think using charts with stickers/prizes is a good way to give her that message because she can actually see her accomplishments adding up!" she says.
If your child's goal involves activities outside the home, try recruiting teachers, church leaders, babysitters, or other adults to help your child stay on track. Erin Whaling says her 6-year-old son's resolution is to stop calling out in class. "He was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, so his charts help him keep on track. We have a chore chart and a behavior chart. My son and I had a talk with his teacher, and starting the first of the year, he will receive a star sticker on the days he does not call out."
It's important for parents to remember the fine line between accountability and nagging-especially with older children. Sharing your resolutions and progress with your older children is a great way to start the conversation without being too pushy.
Break down the resolution into quantifiable mini-goals, such as "10 days without an outburst" in Erin's son's case, and set rewards for achieving each goal. Mini-goals make larger resolutions seem more achievable, and rewards will make the resolution process more fun. If your child's resolution is to save $100 for a new bicycle, mini-goals could be the $25, $50, and $75 marker, and the rewards could be a special "spa day" with mom at home, a movie marathon, or dessert for dinner.
Revisit Goals and Be Flexible:
Most importantly, talk to your child about being flexible with their goals. Goals can become unrealistic or unimportant over time, and it's perfectly acceptable to start a "New Year" goal in the middle of June! "I'd like to revisit her goals on a month-by-month basis and talk about what she has accomplished, find out whether or not she's still happy with her goals, and if she'd like to modify them at all," says April. "I think it's important to take into account her feelings and how that impacts her goals."
Looking for inspiration for your family's goals? Our monthly BabyFit Tip of the Day Calendars are a great place to start.