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3 Ways to Help Kids Make New Year's Resolutions

01,09,2018-- 10:49 AM


New Year's resolutions aren't just for adults! Here are simple and practical ways to help your growing kids make New Year's resolutions.

By Wendy Schuman

Making resolutions with your children can be fun and exciting, a time for growth and change, and an opportunity for family bonding. Read our eight tips on how to make New Year's resolutions a positive experience for kids and to help them keep in touch with their goals all year long.

Be Resolution Role Models

As parents, it's important to practice what you preach. "Do you believe in, make, and keep resolutions?" asks Robin Goodman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and art therapist who has written books on children and stress. "You have to walk the walk and talk the talk to be most effective."

Bring your own resolutions to the kitchen table. "This is a great thing to do as a whole family," Kolari says. "That's how we do it with our three children. Kids look to you to learn how to approach this task."

Each year on December 31, Vicky and Paul Dionne of Morristown, New Jersey, sit down with their two children, Christopher and Elyssa, and toast the New Year with glasses of sparkling cider. While they're celebrating together, they talk about their New Year's resolutions. Vicky might say, "Daddy and I have our resolutions that we're working hard to keep. We make healthy food choices -- we may want that big piece of chocolate cake, but we're not going to have it." Healthy eating is important to Paul, who is a dentist. So is instilling a sense of responsibility. "We talk about being responsible and doing well in our jobs," he says, "and school is their job."

"If what you want is for your kids to be out the door earlier, you need to work on yourself," Dr. Carter says. "I saw that when I was consistently ready at the time I wanted to leave; it was possible to ask my kids to make changes. Let's not ask them to do more than we are willing to do."

Keep a Positive Approach to Resolutions

There's a celebratory feeling to setting goals on New Year's that doesn't exist at other times of the year. "It's about happiness!" says Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Everyday. "Present it optimistically: Every day's a new day, and you have a chance to reinvent yourself. A lot comes from your tone. If you're putting it in a punishing, preachy way, they'll be turned off."

Start by going over the positive things your kids accomplished last year. "Instead of pointing out shortcomings, be the historian of their previous successes," Dr. Carter says. "Point to the bright spot where they're doing something well."

Have them think of things they can do now that they couldn't do last year. Say your 10-year-old taught himself to play a difficult song on the piano. Did that success come about because he pushed himself a little harder? Remind him how far that little bit of extra effort took him. Ask your child, "How can you transfer your success on the piano to something else?"

You've set the stage. Next, look ahead and ask, "What are some of the great things you want to do this year? 

What do you want to improve? What will make your life better and happier?"

The big question parents have at this point: Should you make resolutions for your child? Most experts say no. You can guide and suggest general categories for change, help your child clarify goals, and make sure they're age-appropriate, but kids should come up with resolutions themselves. This is how they take ownership of their goals and learn to plan.

The first step is to listen, Kolari says. "Ask them what they want for themselves. If it's your agenda that's driving the conversation, you're not listening."

Still, most kids need a little guidance. Come up with three or four broad categories -- such as personal goals, friendship goals, helping goals, and school goals -- and let them fill in the specifics. Cox, who also teaches workshops on family traditions, suggests parents ask, "Are there things that you could do better or differently? For instance, how should you take care of yourself or treat other people?" If they draw a blank, you could offer some examples, such as being nicer to siblings, sharing better with friends, or helping more at home.

Your kids might also include what Kolari calls "material goals," such as collecting Silly Bandz or Barbies. "Don't say, 'That's not a good goal,'" she says. Be open to what's important to them. "It's a great way to have a meaningful conversation with your kids and see what they're thinking."

Narrow Down the Resolutions List

The important thing is not to end up with too many resolutions."Honestly, two or three are reasonable," Kolari says.

"We don't want to teach our kids it's about making a huge list of resolutions and not following through," Dr. Carter says. "So help your child narrow them down to a couple of things to focus on."

Take a fresh sheet of paper and have your child write down her top three resolutions, leaving a large space between each one for inserting smaller steps. Help your child make them realistic and age-appropriate.

"Be concrete, specific, and manageable," Dr. Goodman says. "As with adults, vague but good-sounding resolutions don't make for change. For example, 'I will behave better' is too general and will be out the window fast." Encourage goals that are within their reach, so they don't get discouraged.

Some realistic resolutions for kids might be "I'm going to keep my room neater," "I'm going to be a better friend," "I'm going to read more," or "I'm going to get better at tennis." Even these are broad resolutions that need to be broken down into doable, step-by-step pieces.

Let your child make the list fun and personal, Cox says. "My son Max always did little drawings on his -- a few words and lavish illustrations."