Health & Fitness

Keeping Kids Fit: Helping kids keep their New Year’s resolutions

Elizabeth R. Pulgaron, Ph.D.
Elizabeth R. Pulgaron, Ph.D.

It’s only been a week since New Year’s Day and many adults are struggling with those well-intentioned resolutions. Some have forgotten about them all together. Children are especially likely to lose interest as their attention spans are short and they thrive on immediate reinforcement rather than long-term benefits.

Many families make health- or wellness-related resolutions, with one of the more popular resolutions being related to weight loss. These resolutions are very much needed since more than two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight and/or obese in the United States. Yet just days into 2015 many families are feeling defeated. The initial excitement about losing 10 pounds or exercising every day has faded, and it is easy to revert to old habits.

For parents it can be especially frustrating to see their children struggle, fail or abandon their resolutions. What began as an exciting challenge can quickly turn into a contentious argument, and the last thing parents need is another topic to nag their children about. At the same time, health and wellness resolutions are important, so how do we help our families succeed?

Successful behavior change is a result of consistently evaluating and adapting goals. If your child’s original resolution seems unattainable at this time, help him or her modify the objective. In order to have success it is important to make realistic resolutions. This often means learning from failed attempts and breaking down long-term resolutions such as “I want to lose 20 pounds” into more manageable pieces like “I want to lose one pound this week.” It is more valuable to have some success than to set unattainable expectations and consistently fail.

As you help your child reevaluate his or her resolution, ask the following questions:

▪ What progress have you made?

▪ What do you still need to work on?

▪ On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is this resolution?

▪ On a scale of 1 to 10, how realistic is this plan?

Once a reasonable resolution is made, encourage your child to evaluate his or her progress on a regular basis. A great way to consistently assess progress on a resolution is to set up a reward system. Resolutions are hard work, and hard work should be rewarded. Rewards can also serve as excellent motivators. For example, a new pair of running shoes might inspire your child to get outside more often.

Rewards also work well for groups. If you created a family resolution, agree on a reward that is to be received when every family member meets their goal to create a sense of responsibility to the group and increase the likelihood of success.

Lead by example. Creating family resolutions is a great way to encourage children to participate in the New Year tradition, but that gives parents the additional responsibility of being a good role model and committing to their own resolutions. When you struggle with your resolution, model for your child how to problem solve and alter your resolution as needed. Look to each other for encouragement and support and use this opportunity teach your children the importance of perseverance.

A little friendly competition can also go a long way. Technology has offered so many ways to track wellness and fitness, from apps to watches to heart rate monitors. These tools can be great motivators, help track personal progress and compare results between individuals. Kids love gadgets and will learn to use them faster than most adults.

For those who don’t want to spend a lot of money on these types of devices, a simple pedometer — often given away for free at health fairs — can be used to track the number of steps taken each day. Many experts recommend starting with a goal of 10,000 steps per day. Get your family to agree to a step challenge, and start walking.

Last, but not least, ask for help. Enlist that cool older cousin, the college student next door or a coach at school to assist your child with his or her resolution. Occasionally, we need professional help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your pediatrician or family physician at UHealth, who can help you meet your family’s wellness goals.

Elizabeth R. Pulgaron, 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 family-based obesity and diabetes interventions and incorporating Hispanic grandparents in children health promotion programs. For more information, visit