Q: My 8-year-old daughter tells me she keeps hearing about New Year’s resolutions on TV commercials lately. She asked what they meant, and now she wants to make some. Is it healthy for her to do that at her age or will it be too much pressure on her? And is it too late seeing as it’s already the end of January?

Saleema: Eat fewer carbs, exercise more, drink less, buy more organic, spend less time at the office, give more to charity, drink more water, be more organized…it’s that time of year again! The pressure and expectation we place on ourselves through resolutions can be daunting even for us adults and I don’t blame you for being hesitant to introduce the concept to your daughter. But how about turning this in to an opportunity for your and your daughter (and the rest of your family) to work together on a fun and motivating project? And as for it being the end of January already, why do we need a new year to make positive changes in our lives? I say we don’t!

Here are some thoughts:

  1. You could start by explaining to your daughter that a resolution is a promise that you make to yourself, traditionally at the start of a New Year. But instead of the word “resolution”, which sounds so serious and intimidating, try using words like “choices” or “goals” or “changes” or “actions”. These goals can be short-term (ie. Keep my room clean for a week) or longer-term (ie. Improve my grade from a C to a B in Science).
  2. Rather than rush to make a list of these goals, explain that you like to take the entire month of January to get clear about what’s most important to you and what exactly you are ready to commit to (if anything). Before you write anything down, spend some time just casually chatting about the realistic goals you’d each like to set for the year (or day or week or month). Coming up with ideas at the last minute without giving them some serious thought could be a recipe for failure.
  3. Don’t set too many goals—it’s overwhelming. Instead, you and your daughter could pick, let’s say, three, each based on different aspects of life: self, relationships, and the world around you. For example, your daughter may choose to eat healthier breakfasts, be more patient with her little brother, and throw less food in the garbage.
  4. Once you both have decided on your goals, set aside some quiet time together to write then down. You could use colorful felts (the scented ones are my favourite!), fancy paper and glitter to make it fun. Encourage your daughter to phrase her choices in a positive way. For example, instead of writing “I’m going to stop wasting so much time watching TV”, she could write, “I will choose to use my time productively”. Be as specific as possible, and include reasons why you are convinced you will be successful. At the bottom of your sheet write three things you are proud of achieving or grateful for this past year. When setting future goals for ourselves, it’s just as important to reflect upon our past accomplishments and proud moments. On that note, a friend of mine created a “Joy Jar” last January. Throughout 2014 they collected notes on things they were grateful for, laughs, milestones and victories by jotting them down on a scrap of paper and placing them in the jar. They sure had fun opening the jar on New Year’s Day this year to revisit and reflect on their 2014 memories!
  5. When you’ve finished, set a date at in February to review how things are going. If they’re not going as well as hoped, you may need to need to rethink your choices or brainstorm ways in which you can be more successful in months to come. Be positive, be patient, and don’t be too hard on yourselves–research shows us that less than 40 percent of those who achieve the most important goal on their list of resolutions do so on the first try!