The New Year is celebrated differently depending on where you are from and how you were raised. People in Spain and Latin America eat 12 grapes (one for each month) for prosperity. Peruvians walk around the block with empty luggage to increase the likelihood of traveling during the year. Brazilians jump over seven waves in the ocean for each wish they want to come true. A Jewish tradition is to eat apples and honey for a sweet year. The Chinese hide a quarter in a dumpling to invite good luck.
The central point of these traditions is the belief that what you do on New Year’s Eve will bring a year-long lasting benefit. Whenever or however you celebrate it, the New Year is an ideal time for the entire family to think of ways to improve their health and well-being, often in the form of resolutions.
Resolutions aren’t just for the adults in your family. The New Year is the perfect opportunity for both you and your children to challenge yourselves to healthier lifestyles. Based on my clinical experience at the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami Health System, here are some suggestions to help your children create their own New Year’s resolutions.
First, sit down with your children and write one to three resolutions on paper that may include improving your health. Let the ideas flow and support your children’s creative thinking process. Stay away from weight-related resolutions, but rather focus on establishing healthy behaviors, including eating fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, increasing physical activity and getting good sleep.
Remember to keep resolutions simple and concrete. For example, if your child’s resolution is to exercise more this year, help him or her define what that means by answering five simple questions:
▪ What activity do you want to do?
▪ How often do you want to do it?
▪ How much time will you spend each time you do it?
▪ Where do you want to do it?
▪ With whom do you want to do it?
For example, a better resolution than “I will exercise more” might be “I will walk the dog in front of the house for 15 minutes twice a day on weekdays.”
Go with your children’s ideas at first, as using their ideas and involving them in developing the plans will make them feel important and increase the likelihood of their complying with the resolution. Also include your children in making other important considerations, such as whether this resolution is realistic given the family’s busy schedule, safety and cost issues, stamina or health status.
Children are more likely to be motivated to achieve their resolutions if you make the process fun, engaging and supportive. Whenever possible, be a part of their resolutions. It is not the same to walk the dog alone as with your parent or best friend. Resolutions are opportunities to spend special, alone time with your children, and this time together will definitely make it meaningful to you and them.
Another recommendation is to keep the focus on wellness, which implies more than just eating better, exercising more or acquiring more wealth or possessions. Wellness is a broader, balanced perspective on life that integrates the body, mind and spirit, and your sense of purpose in this world. Therefore, consider resolutions such as volunteering, helping others, saving the environment, praying/meditating, and emphasize what is important to your family and your culture.
Once you have decided upon your resolutions and written them down, place them in visible places, such as the refrigerator door or a board in your child’s room, to serve as reminders. And consider resolutions to be a work in progress. It is better to start small and then build upon your resolutions once a habit has been established and you are motivated to achieve more challenging goals. And there’s no reason you can’t revise your resolutions as frequently as needed.
The New Year is an opportunity to have a fresh start and make healthy things happen for you and your children. Take advantage of it. Happy New Year!
Anai Cuadra, Ph.D. is a pediatric psychologist in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Child Clinical Psychology, at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She specializes in providing community-based mental health services and obesity interventions with minority children and evaluating the impact of chronic illness on child neurodevelopment. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.