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Starting over: 10 simple ways to reset family routines for the new year

It's not too late to make resolutions — for eating, sleeping and using technology — which will make for happier families in the new year.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

It's not too late to make New Year's resolutions — but not the standard, lose-20-pounds, go-to-the-gym-more kind. These are longer-term tasks, ideas that will help parents whether their kids are toddlers, teens or anywhere in between. Best of all, they are simple, don’t cost a dime, and make happier families.

Develop healthier eating habits

The scientific results are unanimous: all kids — especially finicky eaters — benefit from relaxed family mealtimes. They’re also more likely to eat their vegetables! Try these proven strategies to help your children develop healthier eating habits.

  • Track your servings! Studies show that calm, repeated daily exposure to a new food (especially veggies) for five to 14 days is often effective in getting a child to overcome a food aversion. Don’t give up on the food if your kid puts it in the “yuck” category the first time. Instead, keep offering it and track your serving attempts on a calendar.
  • Involve the kids. Kids are often more willing to eat something they make, so include them in meal preparation. Provide cookie cutters so they can make fun shapes out of some food items. Offer carrot curls for hair, raisins for eyes, and peas for mouths. Also, shrink food sizes to teaspoon-portions on smaller serving plates to make food appear less daunting and help your child acquire a liking for the food. Giving vegetables catchy names like X-Ray Vision Carrots, Power Peas, or Dinosaur Broccoli Trees makes picky preschoolers think they will be more fun to eat.

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Adopt better sleep habits

Today’s kids are considered the most sleep-deprived generation on record. In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that one in three kids are sleep-deprived. Here are ways to help your child learn healthy habits to get a more restful night’s sleep.

  • Create wind-down sleep routines. Research finds that parents who don’t enforce a regular bedtime routine have kids with more nighttime disturbances. Institute a bedtime ritual tailored to your child’s sleep needs, and stick to it until it becomes a habit. Teach younger kids the 3 Bedroom B’s: “You take a Bath, Brush your teeth, hear a Book, and then lights out!” Your child can draw each step and paste it on a chart as her reminder. Encourage your teen to set his cell alarm to turn off his computer, video games and TV at least thirty minutes prior to bedtime. Flashing digital images can rob REMs and curtail sleep. Set a box outside kids’ bedrooms as a “Phone Holder” to retrieve the next morning and halt their tendency to send texts and emails after going to bed.
  • Teach mental relaxers. Many kids fall asleep, and then wake up unable to drift back to Z-land. Teach your child mental relaxers to help him fall asleep, such as breathing deeply while focusing on a different body part from head to toe. Help her identify a “peaceful place” (like Grandma’s tree fort or the beach), and then teach her how to recreate the soothing spot in her mind. Kids can draw or frame a photo of their calm place and put it next to their beds as a reminder.

Tune out digital distraction

Electronics are wonderful, but digital devices can also monopolize children’s lives, substitute for friends, play, and hobbies, reduce opportunities to learn social skills, and deplete family time. Here are tips to help families find a healthy digital balance.

  • Check your family’s digital intake. The average eight-to 17-year-old is plugged in around 7 1/2 hours a day, but don’t assume that stat doesn’t apply to your family. Over the next few days, have your kids add up how often family members text, swipe, and watch digital devices. Keep graph paper and a stopwatch near the TV or computer for each member to add up their digital use. (It’s also a great math activity). Then hold a family conversation: “When should there be family “unplugged times?” “How much is too much?” “What places should be digital free?” Then announce your “unplugged” times and places, create a digital contract as a family, and stick to it!
  • Make a “conversation basket.” Now that you’ve set unplugged time, many parents wonder how to reinstate meaningful family discussions. Why not ask your kids to help you think up questions to spark family conversations? A few: What are 3 fun things you love to do? What’s the strangest thing that happened today? What would your dream bedroom look like? What is your earliest (or favorite) memory? What’s one rule you wish your parents didn’t have?” What scares you most? Why? Kids write talking topics on paper strips, and then put them in a basket on the dining table to pull at family meals. Let the chats begin.

The kindest moments of 2016

Dec. 21, 201602:28

Tune in to kindness

An NBC News State of Kindness Poll found that 62 percent of the more than 2,600 survey participants believe that kids are less kind today than in the past. Here are ways to strengthen children’s kindness muscles from my book, "UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World".

  • Look for good news! Terrorism. Bombings. Shootings. War. These are scary times. A Sesame Workshop survey found more than 70 percent parents worry that the world is “an unkind place for my child.” Kindness is strengthened by seeing and hearing about it, so help your children find and cut out inspiring news about kind-hearted people. Discuss those uplifting stories at dinner or before your kids go to sleep, and paste them in a “Family Good News Scrapbook” to help remind them about the good in their world.
  • Start a charity box. Kindness is increased through practice so make kindness an ongoing family routine. Your kids can decorate a cardboard box and place it by the door. Everyone fills it with their gently used toys, games, and books. Then deliver the Charity Box together to Goodwill on a monthly basis to help your children learn “Kindness Power” and adopt the virtue of charity.

Get homework back on track

Let’s face it, homework can be stressful for both kids and parents. A Public Agenda survey found that almost half of all parents of school-age students admit to arguing or yelling with their kids about schoolwork. Try these tips to reduce homework frustrations.

  • Study in “chunks.” Take advantage of those lull times like game practice, picking up siblings or car pools) for your child to complete simpler assignments. Clipboards or cookie sheets make instant desks that can be stored under car seats. Kids can make flashcards for their spelling words or math facts on Post-it notes to review on the go between after school activities.
  • Teach time management. Provide an oven timer, egg timer, or stopwatch and tell your child to set it for a specified time (like five minutes per task), and then try to “Beat the Clock.” Gradually stretch the time length as your child’s attention span increases. Your child will learn to gauge assignment duration and time management skills. Hint: Tell your child: “Do the hardest assignment first.” This reduces stress since it takes the most concentration.

Here's a digital contract you can copy or change to fit your family's needs. Happy New Year!


These rules apply to our TV, Phone, Video Games, Tablet, Computer

I agree to:

Use these devices only in the times and places that are allowed.

Not to use when I drive or ride a bike.

Post only kind and respectful content.

Tell a parent immediately if something doesn’t feel comfortable, and save the evidence

Give my parents my passwords and not change them without permission.

Not post or give out the 3Ps: Personal information (name, birthday, phone, address), Passwords, and Photos that aren’t respectful of our family or others.

Parent ___________________

Kids _____________________