MANY will be discussing their New Year’s resolutions this weekend, as we enter 2021. It has long been a tradition; some argue going back as many as 5000 years. All the accounts whittle down to one thing – a desire for a ‘better life’ – to live life more fully. But when I research children and new year resolutions, I am quite frankly disappointed. There is a clear and over emphasis on pleasing parents, teachers or guardians!
“I will clean my teeth”, “I will put the rubbish out”, “I will stop picking my nose” – it has me wondering if we have in fact manipulated this time of the year as yet another opportunity to control our children’s behaviour – as defined by society at large, or for our own ease of feeling less embarrassed in public!
There are many definitions of the word resolution – ranging from an agreed group proposal to be voted on, to an individual desire to change a behaviour, to do or not to do something. Maybe as a family the first is perhaps the most respectful of the reality that we live together and if a family resolutions can be made, all the better. This is line with psychological research that if we share our New Year Resolutions with others we are far more likely to commit and succeed with our plans.
The Hopkins children hospital blog offers some useful practical ways in which family resolutions can be helpful. The advice is based on a resolution being a goal. There is no harm in a goal per se, but it can become yet another burden in an already challenging 2020; something we simply add to the ‘to do list’.
However, Jennifer Katzenstein writes:
“For kids, it is a great idea to think about New Year’s resolutions in a few ways:
-behaviours you want to become habits
-new opportunities for teamwork as a family
-a fun opportunity to see what your child wants do with the new year
“Just like goals, we should make resolutions that are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.”
It is not very helpful for any of us to choose broad ranging goals like “to eat more healthily”. The brain does not compute such a statement, my brain at least, has the infinite capacity to interpret ‘healthily’ as ‘happily’ and the biscuits continue to flow! So, in discussing resolutions with our children, we need to be specific and measurable.
“I will eat two pieces of fruit a day”
“I will drink 3 litres of water”. But the second part of the list above is equally important – achievable (just outside our comfort zone); realistic (do I have the money/access to this?); and timely.
It is the timely that I would like to focus on in this year of a pandemic. In March, many of us thought this would soon be over and we could get back to ‘normal’. The harsh reality is that the pandemic is still with us and changing our lives at some level almost daily at the moment. Our temptation will no doubt be to think big on the resolutions this year. Hope is a wonderful thing, but if we consider that almost all of us are probably suffering in some way from Covid Fatigue; the virus itself, or the trauma of losing a loved one and being unable to be there in the same way we could have been in the past, hope is somewhat more of a challenge. We are all carrying burdens that none of us envisaged at the start of 2020.
As we discuss our resolutions, add the question of whether these goals are timely. Do they reflect the tender loving care that we need to offer ourselves and our children at the moment?
One of the definitions of resolution is “the act of solving or ending a problem or difficulty”. Unless we happen to be experts in RNA viruses, we cannot contribute directly to the resolution of the pandemic; but the pandemic has thrown up all sorts of other problems or difficulties.
Now is a good time to really listen to our children and ask them what challenges they are facing at the moment, in this context. I know of some young people for whom the very thought of stepping into the classroom again in January is a major challenge; for others eating another fork full of food is akin to scaling Everest with no expertise, equipment or team support.
Our children’s life challenges have changed rapidly over 2020. This New Year’s Eve may be an opportunity to sit down as a family and share what has changed. Some may have proved helpful and as a family you decide to stick to those unintentional changes. Others may be the cause of deep unhappiness or distress, perhaps it is these that the tradition of setting resolutions could address, gently, timely. If we use the “act of solving or ending a problem or difficulty” – the word act, reminds is that we need to do something, take action and the problem or difficulty can only be defined by the individuals within the family. It is not helpful to simply state “you have to go to school so…. Or you must eat so….”.
Listening from our children’s perspective is often a challenge in itself since we may not wish to feel the pain ourselves and it is easier to make light of things. If we are being timely, then a sense of humour and lightening the load temporarily may in fact be the best way forward, but ultimately we need to find courage to really lean into our children’s pain and to help them to make resolutions that they initiate, and we can help them with.
2020 - we made it through, and our New Year’s resolutions can be an integral part of building deeper connection with our children, of solving the challenges of 2021 together with kindness and compassion, living life more fully.