TAMPA — You don't have to be an adult to make New Year's resolutions. Children can get a lot out of the annual ritual, too — with a little guidance.
In fact, the new year provides a good opportunity for kids to take a personal assessment — how things are going for them at home, at school, with their friends, their physical fitness — and see if they'd like to make improvements.
"I'm all for it," said Dr. Rahul Mehra, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist who is chief medical officer for Mental Health Care Inc. in Tampa. But Mehra quickly adds that the younger the child, the more adult involvement is needed. "It's key. The parent or caregiver must have buy-in, must take 100 percent ownership of the plan, or the child won't be successful," Mehra said.
Here's more from our recent conversation about helping school-aged children make New Year's resolutions.
Where should you start?
What we're really talking about is setting goals — identifying things for the child to accomplish during the coming year. It must be something the child can achieve. Then you, the adult, must be willing to commit to helping the child reach their goal. Without your support, even the best plan isn't likely to work.
How do you initiate the conversation?
Ask the child: What would you do differently this year? It's important to have their input, their buy-in. Also, make sure it's something that will improve their physical or emotional well-being or their self-esteem.
Your advice for success?
Once you identify the areas the child wants to improve, work together on a plan to reach the goals. Break it down into simple, attainable steps. Then figure out what you (the adult) can do to help the child reach each goal and follow up. If an elementary school-aged child wants to read two books a month, set a day and time to discuss the books together. Sit down, make eye contact, no texting, no TV, no distractions or interruptions. The key is to spend time together and have a meaningful discussion. You will have to read the book, too.
So many children are overweight these days. Should weight loss be a New Year's resolution for a child?
First talk to your pediatrician to find out if weight is in fact a problem for your child and what he or she would recommend. Sometimes the parent must initiate the conversation by saying something like, "I know you've noticed that your clothes are tight. What can we do together to help you this?" Don't be critical, don't accuse, don't be threatening or intimidating and above all don't compare one child to another, especially a brother or sister. Choose your words carefully because nothing is more powerful than the words and actions of a parent toward their child. Have a frank discussion but offer to be part of the solution. Then follow through.
It's easy to forget about resolutions by February. How do you help kids avoid that?
Make sure it's an attainable goal that fits within your means financially, your schedule and lifestyle. Follow through with your part in the activity and re-evaluate goals that seem too difficult. Figure out what changes you both can make so they are attainable.
Also — and this is important — make your own resolutions and keep them. If they see you sticking to resolutions, they will be more likely to stick to their own.
What's the benefit of making resolutions for children?
It builds self-confidence, self-esteem. It gives them a sense of accomplishment. In the end, it helps make them thoughtful, productive citizens. That means it helps keep them out of trouble later in life.
Irene Maher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.