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How to Make Family New Year's Resolutions

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I don't like making resolutions on New Year's Eve. As a psychotherapist, I am in the business of personal change. Believe me when I tell you, promises made over champagne flutes at midnight rarely amount to any real sustainable change.

So how do I manage my resolutions as a professional "in the know"? Here are tips for how I approach my own personal family goals. Hopefully these ideas can help make real family transformations for you this year too:

Change the Date. I celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day instead of New Year's. January 1 falls right in the middle of the holidays. I don't want to tackle changes during vacations or any time that is outside the normal family routine for that matter. Waking up January 1 in your hotel at Disney and declaring your family is going to eat better in 2013 is bound to fail by the time you hit breakfast buffet.

Instead, I use the holidays for contemplating what I would like to change. I use the first few weeks of January to get back into routines and plan my strategies for change and then on Jan 15, which is Martin Luther King Jr day, I make my own proclamation: "I have a dream too!" That's when my resolution plans go into effect.

Dream Big -- Dream Far. Another reason I feel compelled to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr day is that he dared to dream big;

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"

Has he failed? We are still not a nation of equals. Some days when my goals seem so far away, I feel bleak about reaching them. I remind myself to stop thinking about how far I still have to go. I just aim for that beacon and act as best I can in every situation.

Parents are often discouraged by their family situation and want immediate results without a struggle. After all, we are working so hard at all this "positive discipline" and "firm and friendly" parenting. Why are we still forced to deal with dawdling? Why is homework still a source of contention? Many want to just take the fast an easy way of screaming or spanking.

My advice is to renew your goal of success measured in the long-term outcomes of your efforts. Your child will be potty-trained before high school, I promise! Even if we don't see the fruits of our labor for years and years, no other way is unconscionable to my way of thinking. Steady on, steady on.

Dream Together. Your children are as motivated and as interested in having a happy and harmonious family as you are. A child in therapy will say " I just want mommy and daddy to love one another" or "I just want us all to get along." Human beings do not like conflict, fighting and war. We are co-operative peace-loving creatures when we don't perceive threats to our social status, to our place in the group, or to our personal value.

We thrive happily and co-operatively in healthy social environments. As you think of how your family might be stronger in 2013, I suggest you invite all the stakeholders to participate in making your resolutions together, and here's how. Have a family meeting and ask the kids these questions:

"This time next year, if we were to sit around this same table and say 2013 was the BEST year ever for our family, what would have had to have happened in order for us to say that? What would make it the best year? What do we have to do? What would it look like?" Capture what the kids say and see if you can use that as a leaping off point to put some plans in place to make it happen!

Create a family visioning board. Explain to the children that everyone is going to help make a collective family collage of images that represents what each person in the family thinks are good things in happy family. Pull out old magazines with lots of pictures (parenting magazines are good choice since they capture lots of family pictures). With scissors and glue at the ready, have every person cut out pictures of images that catch their eye or draw them in for some reason. After they are all pasted on the board have each person talk about what their pictures mean to them. Hang the collage somewhere you can be reminded of these images throughout the year. Check in monthly or as the seasons change to see how your doing compared to the vision of how you would like to be and see if you can set your course straight if you are off the trajectory.

Use subjective scales. If you ask your kids "On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the worst, and ten being the best. How are we doing on ... (insert your own idea here such as listening to each other /having family fun/getting homework done / hygiene / help around the house)? It doesn't matter what mark each child assigns, it is their own feelings about how things are going that matters.

If they feel "family fun" is only 4 /10, don't become defensive and say "but what about our trip to Disney?" Instead, recognize they are saying "it's less than average" in their mind. Ask "if we were to improve that just one mark, from a four to a five, what would have to happen for you?" See what solution your child comes up with. This is the path forward.

I hope some of theses ideas help guide your family forward. Step by step, we'll all make it if we hang in.