The practice of setting resolutions for the New Year dates back to Ancient Rome, where it was regarded as a time of both revelry and serious reflection. In the following centuries, many subsequent cultures adopted the resolutions, even if not all brought along the revelry. The Puritans, for instance, devoted the First Month to contemplating how to be good in the coming year. They set the trend in America, and it has been going strong since. Historically, most New Year’s resolutions have been ethically focused – I resolve to be kind this year, I resolve not to speak ill of others this year, etc. But in recent years, New Year’s resolutions have become mostly focused on personal improvement, with getting in shape, getting organized, and gaining financial stability as the top three resolutions in America in 2012.
© 2006 “fireworks” by Angela Sevin
With that in mind, it is important for kids to set the right resolutions. If a resolution is too difficult, for example, it may cause frustration; if it is too easy, it may be a missed opportunity. To make sure your children set good resolutions, try working with them to find the perfect goals for 2014. Dr. Frank Smoll, of the University of Washington, offers a list of attributes that make setting goals for children easier and more effective. He urges, principally, that a goal should be measurable. It is not helpful to resolve to “do my homework better” because that is too vague; instead, it should be to “do my homework the night that I get it.” That way, it is noticeable if a goal is not being met. Smoll also urges that goals be realistic, and also that they be expressed in positive rather than negative terms. “I will do my homework the night that I get it” sounds more encouraging than “I will not put off my homework too late.” Positively phrased goals, as Smoll notes, also often have clues as to how they can be achieved.
Like any institution, New Years’ resolutions have their critics. People argue that resolutions are inefficient, that they’re self-serving, and that they’re self-delusional. But like most personal rituals, a resolution is only as efficient, beneficial, and sincere as the person who sets out to follow it. If you and your children are able to accomplish something in 2014 as the result of a resolution, then you have done something great, regardless of what the critics say. Just remember that setting a goal is not an accomplishment in and of itself: January 1 is actually the easiest day of the year.