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Help kids stick to goals for new year

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The opportunity to make positive changes and start anew is just around the corner. But before sitting down to craft your New Year’s resolutions, consider starting a new tradition.

This year, gather the kids and discuss the past, the future and what you want to change in 2013.

Anna Barnett, museum manager for kidscommons, the Columbus children’s museum, said New Year’s resolutions help children learn to make goals, and teach them the importance of trying to be the best version of themselves. It’s important for children to see you’re never too old to try something new or strive to be a better person, Barnett said.

When writing out your resolutions, explain why you want to make the changes and how you plan to accomplish them, suggested Stephanie Thomas, a licensed clinical social worker in Columbus. Keep resolutions simple and attainable, she recommended. All goals need to be positive and should make you feel successful, Thomas said. And it should be no different for a child.

“A parent needs to assist their child in making resolutions,” Thomas said. “Break down involved resolutions, and put them in steps or pieces for the child.”

Children should make no more than two resolutions for the new year, Thomas said. For an elementary-age child, just one New Year’s resolution should suffice.

According to Thomas, some attainable goals for kids could include following rules better at home, improving study habits and getting more exercise. Or encourage a more altruistic approach, such as doing one nice thing for another person each week. Keeping the resolution manageable is the key, Thomas said.

“Too much is going to overwhelm the child,” Thomas said. “A resolution should be simple and easy.”

Listen when your child explains why he has chosen a certain goal, so you can help motivate him along the way, Barnett said.

Visual markers are for helping a child keep a resolution during the course of the year, so get creative, Barnett suggested. Let your kids write or draw out their resolutions and place them somewhere where they’ll regularly see them, such as on the refrigerator door or bathroom mirror. It’s good to include several targets along the way, so the child can measure how well they’re doing, she said.

“To help children see the progress they’re making, families can make a resolution chart,” Barnett said. “And children can put a sticker on it each time they reach a target.”

Always reinforce positive behaviors with words and gestures of praise, or spending one-on-one time together, Thomas recommended. But steer clear of monetary or material rewards.

“Just handing them money teaches them, ‘If I do good, I get money,’” Thomas said. “And that’s the wrong message.”

Remember your kids are always watching and listening, and they emulate what they see, so lead by example, recommended Thomas. If you slip up on your own resolution, acknowledge and take responsibility for it.

“When their parents take responsibility for mistakes, children are more likely to do it, too,” Thomas said.

And should they slip on their resolutions, remind the children what they have have done well to help them refocus their efforts, Barnett suggested.

“Remind them why they chose the goal they did and help them get back on track through positive reinforcement,” Barnett said.

But if the child continues to struggle, it might be wise to reevaluate the goal and adapt it to make it more attainable, Thomas said. For instance, if a child made the resolution to make all As in school, but is struggling to do it in every class, consider adapting the goal to include only a couple of the classes instead.

“Definitely set goals that help kids feel successful,” Thomas said. “That is how you help them boost their confidence.”

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