4 New Year's Resolutions That Will Change Your Child's Life

12/31/2013 11:14 am ET | Updated Mar 02, 2014
Roberto Muñoz via Getty Images

I've never been a big fan of resolutions. I set goals with measurable benchmarks (I know, I can't help it, they trained me in graduate school), I reevaluate when benchmarks are met, and I generally meet my goals at some point. I might not meet them by December 31st each year (and I might not even set them until March... gasp!), but I get there.

Always, I set goals that will improve my life. I'm not talking about my denim size or my wallet. That's just daily living, if you ask me. I'm talking about larger, long-term goals that help me stay focused on the important things in life, like happy kids and family harmony.

What I don't do, however, is set unattainable resolutions that will add stress to my life. But every December, I see it happening right before my very eyes (ok maybe right in my Facebook feed). Friends new and old, near and far, set enormous resolutions that make my heart race. The minute the holidays come to a close, they start pressuring themselves to be better than ever -- to land the very best job, never eat another carb again, run a marathon (despite the fact that they really, really despise running), or something else huge and potentially life-changing, but perhaps not particularly realistic. It happens every year.

And kids pick up on it. We want our daughters to develop healthy habits, but then we choose to participate in diet overhauls that leave us cranky, exhausted, and defeated. And in doing so, we send the message that looks are everything and you should go to great lengths to look a certain way. We want our children to love reading so we resolve to read one book a week, but then we fill our precious moments of quiet time with "reality" TV and lament the fact that we never did get to that book. And in doing so, we make reading seem like a chore instead of an adventure. I could go on, but you get the point.

I propose that this year we resolve to teach our children to focus on things that really matter. This year, let's help our children make choices that will lead to improved emotional functioning, greater happiness, and lower stress. This year, let's do it right.

4 New Year's Resolutions That Will Change Your Child's Life:

Slow down:
I know you've heard it over and over again, but it's worth repeating. Kids are over-scheduled.

Kids as young as 7 are running from activity to activity, barely stopping to eat. They're playing multiple sports in any given season and joining countless clubs and activities just because they can. They are tired, cranky, and unable to sit down and just be.

And their parents? To be honest, I'm not sure how they do it. But I do know that it is long past time to wake up from this generation of overachieving and learn to recognize that enough is enough. That mini Monet class is NOT what will eventually get your child into your Ivy League school of choice. Give your kid a break. Give yourself a break. Learn how to listen to the quiet (thanks, Matt) and slow down.

It should be noted that I'm not a fan of video games. It has nothing to do with my own children -- they don't know anything about video games. I have spent years counseling all kinds of kids, and many of those kids developed an unhealthy addiction to video games (even before the age of iEverything) that negatively impacted their lives.

That aside, we need to unplug.

Technology is great and it certainly makes life easier. But it also creates a disconnect. Parents rely on it. Children crave it. Once the cycle begins, it can be very difficult to stop.

Make a decision to unplug more in 2014. Create your own "be present" box to store your iThings when it's time to focus on family, your spouse, or your friends. Set clear limits and stick to them. Teach your children that life is fun and exciting without games, Instagram, and constant connection to the outside world. Inspire them to find the value in shutting down.

Still not convinced? Check in with Rachel Macy Stafford, author of Hands Free Mama, and she'll help you see the light.

Be proud:
Praise seems to have a bit of a bad reputation these days. Some say that kids receive too much praise. Others argue that parents need to praise in a certain way for the praise to have meaning. I think the whole debate is exhausting. And a little bit ridiculous.

When you praise your child for working on hard on a project (or in a game, or on a painting...), the message you send is this: You worked hard, you put forth a great effort, and you should be proud of yourself.

Kids need to hear that. They need to hear that they chose beautiful colors and put them together in a really interesting way and those choices resulted in a great painting. They need to hear that they tried really hard in that soccer game and that effort helped their team, even if the team didn't win the game. Parents spend so much time worrying about trophies and goals and post season know what kids want? A pat on the back from mom or dad. That's worth so much more than the plastic participation trophy collecting dust on the bookshelves. Stop over-thinking it and give them what they need.

Help your children to feel proud in 2014. Give them the words. Cheer the loudest. And, for the love of kids everywhere, praise them.

Be happy:
Kids need to do more of what makes them happy.

Kids face pressure that shouldn't exist. Elementary aged children are pressured to perform in the classroom and on the field. Middle school children are pressured to excel to ensure the very best start to high school. And those high school kids? I'm not even sure where to begin.

But I can promise you this: All of it is meaningless if your children aren't happy.

Help your children explore their passions. Encourage them to follow their dreams. Dial back the intense worry about college acceptances and high paying jobs and help them understand the importance of happiness.

Happy kids are more successful in the classroom. Happy kids are more likely to follow through with their goals and reach a little bit higher. Happy kids are confident enough to enter the world without worry. That is the greatest gift you can give your child this year.

You might of notice that each of these resolutions shares one common thread: Each of these resolutions begins with you.

As you ring in the New Year and celebrate new possibilities, keep your children in mind. Let the fitness fanatics set the outrageous goals this year, and resolve to raise happy kids instead.