Last night, I cooked a nice dinner and we began discussing New Year's Resolutions. Let me tell you that even psychologists can have bad parenting moments - or at the very least, ones we question!
My kids, ages 11 and 13, contributed some ideas for their New Year's resolutions. The 13-year old wanted to eat fewer chips. The 11-year old wanted to annoy his big sister less often. Okay, nice resolutions guys.
And then, we got into the mix. We just couldn't let it rest. My husband and I started giving the kids New Year's resolutions. We believe that one of our kids really needs to work on "emotion regulation skills" (yes, I am a psychologist!) and the other needs to focus on building reading and writing skills.
Within the few minutes, the kids started giving US New Year's resolutions. Mommy should work on being less snappy. Daddy should work less. And so on. The conversation degenerated quickly. The kids felt criticized and the parents felt --- well, we also felt criticized and, perhaps, like the children were talking about things they didn't really understand.
So, who should be setting kids' New Year's Resolutions?
The answer? I am not sure!
All good psychologists know that motivation is strongest when it comes from within. If my daughter really believes that it is important to cut back on chips, then she will likely succeed at this goal. A win-win - she is healthier and feels good about accomplishing a goal she set for herself.
Yet, as parents, our job is to guide and teach and our kids might not have the ability to frame or verbalize the things that they need to work on. It is hard to hear about weaknesses (I know this firsthand, since I was told last night that I need to be less snippy!), but if we only tell our kids how wonderful they are, they won't grow and they will also sense a lack of genuineness in all this praise.
If I could turn back time on last night's dinner, here's what I would do. I would have each family member set one resolution for themselves, and be open to one suggestion from another family member on something they might consider working on. I would then check back in a week on how each family member has made sense of that suggestion and articulated it for themselves. Rather than harping on the kids for their weaknesses, I hope that they would come to see why they might want to work on these goals for their own benefit.
What did you do with resolutions with your kids? Any thoughts or suggestions to share?
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I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.