By Suzanne Condron, M.D., F.A.A.P.
As we prepare (finally!) to turn the page on 2020, our thoughts turn to an optimistic tradition: New Year’s resolutions. Many of us have a love-hate relationship with the annual ritual of declaring what we will do better, or do at all, in the coming year. We read about setting achievable goals, breaking them into manageable parts, and holding ourselves accountable. We buy new shoes. We unpack that juicer. Do New Year’s resolutions work? Maybe a little bit. Mostly not.
The practice does get us thinking, though, about aligning our behavior with our values to make our lives, and our families’ lives, more healthful, joyful, and fulfilled. Parents are already bombarded with messages about what we ought to be doing to ensure the perfect upbringing of our children, and it can get overwhelming. Moms and dads don’t need to set aside a special day to take stock of our imperfections and feel guilty about them – we can do that on a Tuesday in September. Instead, let’s think about little things we can do, and encourage our children to do, to dedicate our time and energy to what we really care about and what truly gives us satisfaction.
- If we want our families to eat better, start small. Stop buying chips and get baby carrots instead. Maybe have some chips one day a month. Just start with that and see how it goes.
- If your children have vague goals like “play the piano better,” or “run faster,” ask their teachers or coaches to help select a piece of music or a race goal a smidgen beyond their comfort level to challenge them without overwhelming them. Angela Duckworth’s Grit has a wealth of insight into this principle of challenge and growth.
- If we want kids to play outside more, ask them to watch wildlife and nature out there for 15 minutes when the weather is nice. Our yards don’t have to be Wild Kingdom – some ants marching around on the sidewalk will do.
- If we want more meaningful family time, let’s put away our phones, at least during dinner and for an hour before bed. Phones and other screens have a way of sucking away our attention from the goals we set ourselves 365 days a year, so curtailing this habit can clear the way for many of our other plans.
We don’t have to change everything all at once to make the coming year a little brighter. Think about what matters, make a little change here and there, and keep some perspective on how that new habit fits into a larger goal.
Dr. Condron is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center whose clinical interests include obesity, nutrition, allergies, asthma, childhood development, literacy, infectious diseases and preventive medicine.