Children can make their own resolutions. Keep them simple and fun
The new year signals a time when most of us pause and consider ways to improve ourselves with lofty intentions for the coming year. This year, we enter a fresh decade whose very time stamp -- 2020 -- conjures exciting, futuristic possibilities for resolutions and change.
With children in mind, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages families to imagine together how to live a healthier life in the coming year. The AAP offers suggestions for children of all ages, recognizing that goals to develop lifelong habits must start with small steps -- such as cleaning up toys, brushing teeth regularly or making a new friend.
"It's a great moment to step back and look at the big picture," said Dr. Shelly Vaziri-Flais, a Naperville pediatrician who talks to her own children about the "Golden Rule" of treating others as you want to be treated. "Even for a 7- or 8-year-old, it's not too early to teach them to take a moment, step back and reflect and realize that, in relationships, you get what you put into it. If you are a good friend, you will have good friends. And that goes for siblings, too."
For the new year, Vaziri-Flais encourages families to resolve to put away the electronics before bed and read a story together every night, even if it takes only five or 10 minutes or you pick up a graphic novel rather than a traditional book. Reading helps children develop empathy as they put themselves in the mind of the book character, she said. The simple act of reading together builds warm relationships and can become a cherished wind-down activity before bed.
From as early as preschool, children can make resolutions such as learning how to help clear the table after eating, picking up their toys or letting a parent help them brush teeth. Or perhaps a child pledges to be friendly to all animals. Parents can also encourage small children to make a resolution to talk with them or another trusted adult whenever they need help or are scared.
Older children, between ages and 5 and 12, may consider finding a sport or physical activity that they enjoy and commit to doing it at least three times a week. They could resolve to wear the right protective gear, such as a helmet when riding a bike, skateboard or scooter.
"Whether it's reading or physical activity, keep it fun," said Vaziri-Flais, who encourages parents and children to cook together, too. "Healthy eating, too. Make it fun. If you mix it up, hopefully they'll become interested in trying new things."
Other resolutions for school-age children may be:
• I will keep my personal info safe and not share my name, home address, school name or telephone number on the internet. Also, I'll never send a picture of myself to someone I chat with on the computer without asking my parent if it is OK.
• I will try to talk with my parent or a trusted adult when I have a problem or feel stressed.
• I'll do my best to follow our household rules for video games and internet use.
Preteens and teens might resolve to drink soda only on special occasions, and to eat two servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables a day.
Teens could consider choosing educational, high-quality and nonviolent TV shows and video games that they enjoy and spending only one to two hours per day on these activities. Young people can be encouraged to volunteer in the community.
Other potential resolutions for teens:
• When feeling angry or stressed out, I will take a break and find helpful ways to deal with the stress, such as exercising, reading, writing in a journal or talking about my problem with a parent or friend.
• When faced with a difficult decision, I will talk about choices with an adult whom I can trust.
• When I notice my friends are struggling, being bullied or making risky choices, I will look for a trusted adult so that we can attempt to find a way to help.
• I will be careful about whom I choose to date.
• I will treat the other person with respect and not force them to do something they do not want to do. I will not use violence. I will expect to be treated the same way in return.
• I will resist peer pressure to try tobacco-cigarettes, drugs or alcohol. I will also avoid the use of e-cigarettes.
• I agree not to use a cellphone or text message while driving and to always use a seat belt.
While it might be tempted to give up after resolutions are broken, Vaziri-Flais encourages families to keep up the momentum and not be too hard on themselves. For instance, "if you don't hit your goal of reading together for 15 minutes a night you make it to 8, that's OK," Vaziri-Flais said. "It's better than zero."
AAP offers more on New Year's resolutions at its website for parents, HealthyChildren.org. Go to: www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/Pages/Healthy-New-Years-Resolutions-for-Kids.aspx.
• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of the American Academy of Pediatrics. To check out more information, please visit HealthyChildren.org.