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Family New Year’s resolutions: Commit to change together in 2014

Jan. 1, 2014 at 11:00 AM ET

Jennie Lyon and her family resolved to spend time outside every day in 2013. This photo was taken at the Morikami Japanese Gardens in South Florida, which she says is one of her favorite outdoor spots.
Courtesy Jennie Lyon
Jennie Lyon and her family resolved to spend time outside every day in 2013. This photo was taken at the Morikami Japanese Gardens in South Florida, which she says is one of her favorite outdoor spots.

As the hustle and bustle of the holidays come to a close, many parents turn their thoughts from their kids’ wish lists to their own goals for the new year.

Many resolutions can be set while sitting on the couch on New Year’s Eve, trying to stay awake until midnight, but it might not be best for kids to see Mom and Dad set lofty goals that, more often than not, are never reached.

Experts say there may be a better way to focus on self-improvement in the coming year — making New Year’s resolutions together as a family.

Family resolutions, a growing trend among parenting bloggers, can be both a bonding experience for families and a way for parents to teach their kids that life is about setting goals, recovering from setbacks and celebrating victories along the way.

Paul Tough, author of "How Children Succeed," agrees that these resolutions can be beneficial, since there’s strength in numbers. According to Tough, when a family makes a resolution together — such as eating better, limiting screen time, or committing to exercise more — they have automatic reinforcements and are more likely to succeed as a team.

While getting kids’ buy-in can seem daunting, especially for families with ‘tweens and teens, Tough said the key is framing the resolution in a positive light.

“I think a resolution should involve a shared commitment, and if there's sacrifice involved, that needs to be shared as well. In the planning stage, children should be able to contribute ideas and suggestions, so that they feel as much of a sense of ownership over the resolution as their parents,” said Tough.

So how do parents convince their kids to commit and get them excited about it? Tough, along with a handful of bloggers who’ve experienced success with family New Year’s resolutions, share the following tips for a successful run at change in 2014.

Keep it simple
In order to share a positive experience, focus on resolutions that are achievable and simple, said Dr. Laura Jana, an author and pediatrician in Omaha, Neb., who makes yearly family resolutions with her husband and children.

“Picking an unrealistic goal serves to make you feel bad about yourself, whereas a New Year's resolution that is meant to be life-enhancing and long-lasting can be great for your family,” said Jana.

Tough agrees, adding that the key to a successful resolution is framing it positively, not as a matter of self-sacrifice and denial.

“Instead of a resolution like ‘No desserts in 2014,’ a family might choose something more attainable like ‘Eat healthier in 2014,’” said Tough.

Include kids in the process
Another key to successful family goal-setting is to listen to everyone before coming up with a plan, said Sara Tetreault, a frugal-living blogger in Portland, Ore.

In 2013, the Tetreault family traveled to Boston and toured "America's Test Kitchen." She said her family decides on New Year's resolutions together.
Courtesy Sara Tetreault
In 2013, the Tetreault family resolved to eat out less and travel more. On a trip to Boston, they toured "America's Test Kitchen." The family decides on New Year's resolutions together, says mom Sara Tetreault.

Tetreault has been successfully making New Year’s resolutions with her family for 10 years, and said a key to her family’s success has been getting everyone to take group ownership of the plan.

“Resolutions are about breaking a bad habit or creating a new one,” said Tetreault. “In order to do either successfully, you have to market it to your kids and get their buy-in. Instead of saying, ‘OK, the parents have decided this,’ we say, ‘Let’s think about how we can improve ourselves and spend more time together as a family in the process.’”

In addition to a family resolution being something the family decides on together, Tough adds that parents should be cautious of using a resolution as a smokescreen to get their kids to stop doing something — such as playing video games or texting at the table.

Celebrate milestones and achievements
Taking the time out to acknowledge successes throughout the year is an important way to motivate your kids to carry on, said Jennie Lyon, a sustainable living blogger living in Florida with her family.

Lyon and her family resolved to spend time outside every day in 2013 — whether visiting the beach, walking the dog, or sipping cocoa on their back porch — and plan to celebrate their successes with an end-of-year camping trip.

“Choose resolutions that you can make fun, and then focus on the fun more than the task itself,” said Lyon. “Resolutions can be a great way to say, ‘Here are some areas of our life we can improve on,’ and to celebrate your family when you do!”

Families should also put strategies in place to help them handle the occasional setback or misstep, Tough suggests.

“One of the reasons people break resolutions is that they don't anticipate the moments where sticking with the resolution is going to be especially difficult,” said Tough, “Talking those over in advance as a family will be helpful — and it will help if the family can come up with strategies to get through those tough moments, so that they can celebrate their overall success at the end of the year.”

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