If you have kids in kindergarten through 4th grade, ringing in the new year might be a tough holiday to celebrate. By New Year’s Eve, kids can be overtired, bored, and stir crazy. And worse, for some kids, the prospect of going back to school looms like a dementor ready to suck out all of their happiness. Ok, that is how I felt as I waited to go back to school but I am willing to believe that there are some kids who love packing lunch and carrying a new school bag in January. Either way, New Year can be a rough time.
One tip, unrelated to resolutions, is to celebrate New Year’s Eve in some faraway time zone that fits your schedule. Kids want to feel like they are part of the celebration of a New Year but in some cultures, New Year’s Eve is very much an adult occasion. And, it is always a late night since midnight is the celebratory time. We live on the West Coast of the United States and always celebrated with our kids on East Coast time. So, midnight came at 9 pm. We would hug and clink our glasses of sparkling apple juice before letting off a few noisy party poppers. Kids were in bed by 9:30, perfectly happy that they had seen in the New Year. Then the adults got to wait for midnight in our actual time zone. You’re welcome!
Here are some tips to including younger children in the ritual of making resolutions.
1. Don’t call them resolutions, call them Changes and Promises. These are much more relatable words for younger kids. You can ask your kids “What’s one thing you want to change and one thing you promise yourself to do better?”
2. Make a visual chart. Charts work. You probably have charts for family chores, or homework, or team sports. Making a chart that shows the resolution (or change, or promise) and a series of boxes or columns to note each month, allows your child to see how well they are keeping up with the promise.
It can take two months for a new behavior to become automatic. So, if you want these changes to stick, stay on top of it until at least April 1st. Bring it up at dinner once in a while, update the chart you helped them make, and remind the kids that this was their own change or promise.
3. Make a change or promise yourself and let your kids hold you accountable. Kids enjoy “being the boss” of adults. So if you promise not to drink soda and put that on the chart, let your kids be the ones to remind you when you slip. It makes the whole process seem more fun since they get to call you out. But they will also be more likely to keep their own promises.
4. Expect them to slip once in a while. If the promise or change they came up with was to keep their room tidier, it’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to be consistent. But, the resolution allows you to bring it up and guide them toward the long term goal of a cleaner bedroom. Do not overreact when they fall behind. That will make it just another thing you have to nag them about.
5. Celebrate milestones and use positive reinforcement. If you are using a chart, have a key that lays out the rewards. Get four gold star stickers in a row and Dad does your chores for one day, or we go out for ice cream, or whatever works in your family. You can decide how success is judged and measured, you may or may not use stars, stickers, etc.
Good changes in habits do not need to wait for a specific day. You can change any time. But around New Year you may find your younger children asking about resolutions because it is such an important part of our end of year traditions and they hear about it everywhere. Using these few tips will help you engage your younger kids in the opportunity to make positive changes and stick with them.