I love the New Year’s holiday. I love the “dancing, kissing, champagne, onion dip” as the characters exclaim in my favorite New Year’s musical “Striking 12” (my husband is one of the stars of the show). And I love the opportunity New Years presents to review the past, reconnect with personal dreams, and resolve to manifest them in the New Year. And I believe that New Year’s resolutions are also an opportunity for children to learn the value of goal-setting and self-discipline.
I asked my son what he thought about this whole New Years Resolution-setting thing. He immediately and enthusiastically started listing off all kinds of resolutions for himself: “be a great runner, be a great artist, have fun because when kids are having fun the world is a happier place, etc., etc.”
“Excellent; he is a boy with dreams!” I thought. But then pragmatic mom jumped in “how can I help him to actually achieve these things and feel good about himself?”
You see I know that helping children to believe they can succeed is an essential life-skill. It is what psychologists call “self-efficacy”*, the ability to define a goal, persevere, and see oneself as capable. Researchers have found direct correlations between high self-efficacy and personal accomplishment, reduced stress and lower vulnerability to depression. Aren’t those qualities that every parent wants their children to possess? Researchers found that one of the key sources for building self-efficacy is through observing others. Seeing someone similar to oneself work hard to achieve a goal makes you a believer that you too can do the same. Isn’t that what the Weight Watchers advertising team is banking on?
A great way to encourage these types of observations with your children is through stories, either factual or fictional. Try these practices in the New Year:
For example the classic story, The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper with the little engine’s declaration “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can” A wonderful tale of persevering despite obstacles. Use children’s books like this one as an opportunity to launch into discussions of your child’s own goals, potential obstacles and ways to overcome them.
For a list of children’s books on this theme, visit a recent post on Storygins.
2) Tell stories to model determination and perseverance
Make up an imaginary character (perhaps a character similar to your child or a character you know he relates to) and tell a story of his journey to achieve a goal. It may be as simple as learning to ride a bike or as epic as saving the world from destruction in 30 days.. Consider bringing your child into the narrative choices – ask him to define the goal, the obstacles, methods to overcome them.
3) Share family stories
Every child wants to be just like Mom, Dad, and big brother/sister. Tell stories from your own past that speak to the challenges you faced along the way. Be clear about what strengths and skills you possessed that helped you to achieve the goal.
Back to my son’s resolutions. I hope to help him to create more actionable and attainable goals for himself. Being a great runner or great artist is a wonderful dream, but the more realistic goal is to “work hard at my running” or “work hard at my art”. I intend to help him come up with a plan and acknowledge him with strong, specific messages that reinforce the skills and capabilities that he possesses that are enabling his progress. Who knows, he might end up being a great artist or he might not. But, at the very least, he will learn to believe in his own capacity to make things happen.
Happy New Year! Here’s to stories becoming a bigger and rewarding part of your parenting this year. Visit www.Storygins.com to learn ways to bring stories to your everyday parenting in 2012.
Suzanne Aptman is a professional coach, trainer and conflict mediator, helping adults in the workplace hone their leadership, communication, and social intelligence. She is a mother of a toddler and preschooler and spent several years teaching literacy and life skills to children in under-represented communities. She blogs about parents who tell their children homespun stories on Storygins that’s co-owned by Jennifer Dorr.