There’s something in the human condition that likes new beginnings.
Diets always start after the holidays. Birthdays are a great time to quit smoking. Every week gives us a Monday to start some new project. (What is it about Thursdays that makes it difficult to get excited about getting started?) The Monday after a vacation — Now that’s a great time to launch some new idea. And then there’s the greatest day of all for making new promises to yourself — New Year’s Day.
Despite the fact that most New Year’s resolutions are broken within 48 hours (someone actually gathers such statistics), making them can be an important time for taking stock, setting new goals, and reassessing how we are going about things. Just as Thanksgiving can be a time for reflecting on the many things we can be grateful for, New Year’s can provide a time for reflecting on where we are going.
For families with young children, New Year’s can be a wonderful teaching opportunity. Children need to see adults setting goals, working toward them, and being accountable to themselves and others for the results. Becoming a responsible adult comes from watching adults live their lives responsibly and learning the skills required for making and managing change.
Kids get most of this kind of learning by just being around us. (One of my teachers used to swear that children pick up our example through the soles of their feet.) Regardless of whether we set out to teach them our particular way of handling life, the kids do pick it up. After all, as far as a young child knows, your way is the only way. Children don’t yet have the range of experience to make comparisons.
Teach by Example and Explain as You Go
Letting your children watch you systematically work toward a change is one of the most important gifts you can give them. Handle setbacks with renewed resolve and enthusiasm for a new approach, and you show them how to manage frustration and how to persevere. Handle defeat by learning something from it, and you show them how to do the same. Celebrate success with grace, and you show them how to be good winners. Do all of these things, and you demonstrate what it means to be competently in charge of life.
These lessons can be more purposefully taught as well. It’s very helpful for children when parents name what they are doing as they work on a problem. One of the best teachers I know is a dad who never had an education course in his life. When he and the kids are working on chores, he provides a running commentary on what they are doing and why. He doesn’t simply order the kids to help him, say, shovel the snow. Instead, he involves them by asking them what they think is the best way to go about it. Yes, it takes a few extra minutes. But the kids like being in on figuring out how to best clear the driveway with the least effort. To them, it’s a game. To the dad, it’s a way to get the job done with a minimum of whining. To me as an observer, it’s a wonderful exercise in teaching these kids how to solve a problem, how to work cooperatively, and how to make what could be an onerous task into an enjoyable challenge. Of course, not every chore lends itself to this approach, but enough of them do that these kids are growing up with an amazing sense of their own resourcefulness and competence.
As you take stock this year, also take stock of what your kids are learning from how you go about it. Your most important resolution may not be about your new diet or more exercise. It may be that you want to affirm or change how your kids see you do it.