New Year’s Resolutions and Kids’ Mental Health

New Year's resolutions can help kids meet their goals, but they can also negatively impact their mental health if done incorrectly. Two Macomb County experts weigh in.

New year, new me.

At least that’s what we tell ourselves every time Jan. 1 rolls around, but keeping New Year’s resolutions is easier said than done and can oftentimes be frustrating when life gets in the way — especially for kids.

The frustration surrounding unkept New Year’s resolutions can impact kids’ mental health in a negative way, but when parents step in and support their kids in the right way, resolutions this time of year can boost kids’ self-esteem and confidence.

So, how can you help your kids set goals that they’ll actually keep in 2022? Agnes Ward, the Chief Clinical Officer of Macomb County Community Mental Health, and Stephanie Lange, a clinical administrator at the same Macomb County organization, offer their top tips.

Follow their lead

Most parents have a tough time getting their kids to eat veggies they don’t like, so you’re going to have just as tough a time getting them to keep goals that they don’t want to do.

This is why both Ward and Lange suggest talking to your kids about what they want to accomplish this year, instead of setting goals for them.

“I think that if there is something that a young person has been working toward, then a New Year’s resolution can be very positive,” Lange explains. But “if a resolution is something that an adult is trying to push on them, or it is something suggested to them by a person they are trying to impress, it can turn out to be a negative.”

Ward says it is best to sit down with the child before New Year’s Eve and ask them what they want to accomplish and then set a resolution based off that conversation.

“The more the child is invested in making a change and setting a goal, the more likely a child is to succeed in that goal,” she adds.

Start small

After you have talked to your child about the overall goal they want to accomplish, you should then talk with them about how to break the big goal into more digestible pieces.

“Sometimes when we make a New Year’s resolution, it’s very unrealistic or it doesn’t have measurablegoals to it,” Lange says. When you’re setting resolutions you should ask yourself: “is this something I can do the whole year or is it something I can break down by week? Am I setting myself up to fail or am I setting myself up for success?

If the answer is anything but success, Lange suggests you take a look at your child’s resolution and discuss ways that you can break it down into a SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely — goal.

“If you want to help your child make a really healthy New Year’s resolution that they have a chance to achieve, you need to work out each one of those areas with the young person,” she says.

For example, a broad goal may be keeping their room clean, but that’s hard to accomplish for a year. Instead, maybe they start with picking up their clothes every day. Then, they can build off that until they meet the larger goal.

“Have in mind exactly what they’re going to do,” Ward adds. “Focus on very specific goals with a very specific plan instead of global plans.”

When to step in

Once your child’s goal is set, it’s important that you keep an eye on them to make sure that their New Year’s resolution isn’t impacting their mental health in a negative way.

Some signs that might be happening, according to Ward, is an obsession with the goal, use of excessive means or unsafe behaviors to meet the goal, new anxiety or depression and any anger beyond what’s typical of the child.

If you see any of these signs, both Lange and Ward say you need to re-evaluate the goal with your child.

“If at any time it seems to become really frustrating or they are really miserable, give them an out,” Lange says. “Sit them down and ask them ‘what mistake did we make when we did this?’ And don’t be afraid to be transparent.”

“Approach it by stating exactly what they have noticed,” Ward adds “And have a conversation about some other ways to accomplish the goal that would make it a success.”

On the other hand, if your child is doing well with their goal, don’t interfere, simply take a step back and support them as they accomplish what they set out to do.

“Monitor them to make sure they are safely accomplishing those goals, and other than that, be their cheerleader,” Ward says. “Being a family member, being cheerleaders is a huge component to success.”

To learn more about Macomb County, visit MakeMacombYourHome.com

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