New Year’s Resolutions for Children: What Pediatricians Recommend
- Pediatricians have some tips to make New Year’s resolutions fun for kids of all ages.
- Rewarding or coaching children on their successes and failures should be approached differently by age group.
- Preschoolers can learn to set goals and develop healthy habits.
The time around New Year’s Day is often a celebratory time and many use it to reflect and take stock.
It’s also a time of new beginnings, which of course has led to the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions.
In the spirit of the season, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released a list of healthy goals for children, from preschoolers through teens.
So what did they recommend and what do experts think about it?
Many of the resolutions proposed by the AAP leave the definition of success somewhat vague.
They start with phrases like “I will try…” and “I will do my best to…”
This is no coincidence.
While concrete goals that include measurable criteria and a deadline are often suggested for adults, experts say that a little leeway can help keep children from becoming discouraged.
dr Daniel Ganjian, FAAP, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline, “Language like this helps prevent perfection paralysis that kids crave [they] make something 100 perfectly perfect, otherwise it’s worthless.”
dr Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, also found the careful language beneficial.
“People often give up when they fail. When you say, “I’m going to try,” that gives you a little wiggle room to fail and then try again,” Posner told Healthline.
The AAP recommends making resolutions together as a family. Experts believe this can help create a more positive experience.
dr Connie Bartlett, a pediatrician at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in California, told Healthline: “[It’s best] model good behavior as a family and work together to achieve shared success.”
Unlike the way many adults approach their resolutions, the AAP’s recommendations focus on building healthy, lasting habits rather than completing a set task.
For preschoolers, they recommend goals that focus on daily activities like eating, socializing, and hygiene. Examples include:
- I will try new foods when I can, especially vegetables of all different colors.
- I will do my best to be nice to other children who need a friend or who look sad or lonely.
- I wash my hands after using the toilet and before eating.
For children aged 5 to 12, the goals involve some decision-making authority for the child and are more adaptable to a variety of scenarios. Examples include:
- I will try to find a physical activity (like playing tag, skipping, dancing, or biking) or a sport that I enjoy and do it at least 3 times a week.
- I will drink water every day. I will only keep soda and fruit drinks for special times.
- I will tell an adult about bullying I see or hear and do what I can to help keep school safe for everyone.
For teenagers, goals reflect their lives and the new choices and risks they expect to face. Examples include:
- I will resist peer pressure to try cigarettes, e-cigarettes, drugs or alcohol.
- I agree not to use a cell phone or text messages while driving and to always wear a seat belt.
- When faced with a difficult decision, I will discuss my decisions with an adult I can trust.
So when your child begins to exhibit the desired behavior, how and when should they be rewarded?
“Positive reinforcement is preferable at any age. Toddlers and toddlers do better with instant reinforcement for good behavior. Older children or teenagers may benefit from delayed gratification,” Bartlett suggested.
“I would give out weekly awards for young children and maybe monthly for teenagers. Things like going out to eat, buying a little toy or game, even some loose change to save and do with what they want can all be good. I wouldn’t give candy because sometimes that messes up the resolution,” Posner advised.
dr Brett Enneking, a clinical psychologist at Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis, told Healthline that early success can provide impetus for forming good habits.
“It is important that the child gets a sense of achievement early on, which is helpful for ongoing motivation. The best rewards will be those that the child/teenager and parents agree on together,” Enneking says.
And what if the goal is simply not achievable?
“That’s ok. It’s also important for children to learn that sometimes we have to change goals to make them more achievable,” said Enneking.
“Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Do it wrong first and then right,” Ganjian said.
“The best way to get a child to change is to be a good role model. When your child sees you working on themselves, they’re more likely to work on themselves, too,” Ganjian added.