In our family, we do the “word of the year” thing – where everyone gets to choose one word or quality that they’d like to bring into their life that year. That then leads to a discussion about if not resolutions, then things that we’d like to do (or do differently) in the coming year. Chris and I really enjoy this process – thinking about our word, discarding different options, and then discussing our decisions. Kaia seems to like it (or at least pretends to). Tiggy really wasn’t into it this year. Questions were met with shrugged shoulders and resignation. I noticed our generally uplifting conversation quickly deteriorating. My suggestions for words started to descend into nagging; ( but let’s face it, no 11 year old is going to choose “responsibility” as their word of the year ;))
I stopped the conversation. We were all setting ourselves up for failure. We all want our kids to learn not only how to adopt healthier habits but to learn how to play the long-game. In this world of instant gratification, it’s vital that our kids know that success comes from consistent effort; baby steps that over time lead to significant progress. And we want them to know that they get to experience the deep sense of contentment and accomplishment that accompanies those achievements. But if we seek to impose our goals on them, they’ll fall at the first hurdle – leading to moaning, griping and a sense of failure (ours as well as theirs) or in other words, exactly the opposite of what we’re hoping to achieve.
Setting resolutions with teens can be challenging. How do we get them to engage and actually want to make these changes? It’s not always easy but here are our 5 key strategies:
- Ensure that everyone understands that goals and resolutions aren’t about being a better person. There’s nothing wrong with any of us. Sure there may be habits that we’d like to change or things we’d like to do differently to improve the quality of our lives, but not because we’re trying to “improve” ourselves. Our kids are mighty fine just as they are.
- Help them to understand that the discipline that comes from habit setting might seem boring, but is actually liberating. Going to bed earlier feels dull, but it makes mornings so much easier and gives us more energy to enjoy the day; doing homework without the tv on in the background may sound boring, but concentrating means that we can get stuff done efficiently and well first time round – leading to better marks, less revision and more free time to really enjoy that Netflix series or Face-timing our mates.
- Get them to choose their own goals. Help them choose something that is a priority for them and is empowering – If they don’t want to do something, forcing it on them is doomed to failure. Use prompts like It’s important for me to”, “this time next year I’d like to….” “A habit I’d like to break/build is…”
- Help them choose something sustainable. Small actions (like going to bed at 10pm every night or doing their homework the day it’s set) are consistently achievable but make a massive difference over time. If they want to choose a big goal (like getting into the A team for basketball or entering a competition) break it down into small steps that they can do each day or week to achieve them.
- Don’t force the issue. If they don’t want to set resolutions, don’t make them. Instead use this time to model the behaviour you want to see. Plant the idea by setting your own resolution, consistently showing up and enjoying achievement (but don’t force it down their throats – no one wants to hear self-praise/ congratulation or “look at what you could have achieved if only…”).
Above all make sure they know that these resolutions are not set in stone. Yes they need to stick to them for a while in order to feel the benefits, but changes are only worth making if they add to the quality of our lives. Approach them with curiosity and keep checking in. Are they working? If not, tweak them. If your teen wants to get fit but needs company and motivation, then the Couch to 5k might not have been the best idea. Is there a local althetics club they can train with or is there a reliable friend who is keen to come on their jogs. Or maybe, they’ve found that they actually hate running and would be better off with a dance class. Remember it’s their resolution and their life. Work together and let them find the things that add to their happinness rather than being another thing on their ‘to do’ list.