Take Turtle Steps Toward Big Resolutions
Turning a good intention into a habit is "one of the most important skills we can teach our kids," says Dr. Carter. "It's the key to happiness in life." She suggests that parents help kids break their resolutions down into "ridiculously easy turtle steps." "Self-discipline is like a muscle that grows slowly," she says. "If you do too much at first, you will get fatigued and not be successful."
Dr. Carter says it takes six weeks to create a habit. For instance, if your child's resolution is "I'm going to keep my room neater," he should write down six tiny, easy steps and practice one each week. "The first week he puts his shoes in the closet, the second week he picks his pillow up off the floor, and so on," Dr. Carter says. Your child might actually end up doing much more than this. "There's a massive spillover effect," she says. "Once people are engaged in their goal, they will do other things as well." Have your kids fill in the spaces on their big list with these tiny steps or download "turtle steps" worksheets from Dr. Carter's habit tracker.
Dr. Goodman also believes in breaking down broad resolutions into specific, easy-to-do steps. Her examples:
- I will help more around the house ... by setting the table for dinner.
- I will improve my reading ... by reading 15 minutes before I go to bed.
- I will eat more healthful foods ... by eating one fruit at breakfast and one vegetable at dinner.
It's fine to check in with kids each week and acknowledge how they're doing, but Dr. Carter advises against tangible rewards. "You can't bribe kids into doing this. Once you make it external with rewards, you lose them."