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Back To School - Five School-Year Resolutions to Consider

By Dr. Cathy Moser

Resolutions are the first steps towards change and September is a month of change - weather, routines, and the sometimes dreaded return to school. Why not start off the year with intentional change rather than waiting until the need arises? The Psychology of Change has repeatedly shown that simply having a goal in mind and visualizing a specific action increases the likelihood that those actions will occur (you may have noticed the Olympian Athletes pausing before the start to close their eyes and take some deep breaths; many of them are visualizing their routines - it's part of the training that got them to Rio). Some people don't bother making resolutions because they are frustrated when the changes don't occur immediately or they don't last. So let's deal with that one first.

RESOLUTION #1: I will work with my child to set resolutions and goals that are small and easily accomplished, and we will focus on one or two at a time - working at mastering each one for several weeks before moving up the ladder of difficulty. Examples of this might be to have the children pack their lunches the night before school (with adult supervision), or to designate a particular spot where backpacks must be dropped off immediately upon return from school). When we wake up each day this week and hereafter, we will remember our intention, and at the end of the day, we will reflect upon the day. If change is difficult, tangible rewards for very slight changes will help articulate goals and acknowledge goal achievement when it occurs. This is a law of human nature - might as well use it to your advantage. Once your child is successful, they will find that success itself is rewarding and you can move on to another challenge. Think about inviting your child to work on the resolution with you right now, as you will be more likely to get their cooperation if you enlist them at ground level. More importantly, when you enlist their support, they feel valued, and, when they see change occur, they take ownership and pride for it. If you are wondering how to raise competent and confident children - this is how it all begins.

RESOLUTION #2: I will not stop supporting my child in working towards the goal of becoming a stronger student/person/citizen of the world. This is a pretty lofty goal - break it down and visualize the steps that you can take to get you there, starting today. What are your child's challenges? Academic (if so, there's no time like today to start reviewing where last academic year left off... visualizing yourself phoning the teacher and asking to meet with them mid-September to see how your child is doing and plan for the first term... imagine the tutors that you might call if need be, etc.); Social (does your child need a little 'playbook' of social rules to live by - check out Carol Gray's work on social scripts or look for Social Skills Groups); Emotional (do you need to talk to the Guidance Counselor before school starts to get a plan into place to address your child's needs?). Repeat to self - 'if change does not successfully occur one way, I will not feel defeated... I will try to encourage it another way. More importantly - I WILL RECOGNIZE CHANGE no matter how small it is. The Psychology of Change shows that when change goes unrecognized, it tends to disappear. Start small, acknowledge and reward all of the positives that you see - and more will come your way.

RESOLUTION #3: I will get more sleep and/or I will find a way to make sure that my child gets enough sleep. Chances are that at least one person in your family should be working on this resolution, because a majority of people are sleep deprived. That was Arianna Huffington's not-so-surprising revelation in her recent book called The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time. The consequences are severe, including: 'inability to process even simple information, no impulse control, mood swings, anger outbursts' (AND THAT WAS JUST FOR ADULTS! there was speculation that Donald Trump was sleep deprived). For children, we know that academic performance is affected, and in extreme cases, some children present with symptoms of disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder or Mood Disorders. How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep? If they wake up on their own and are not miserable, they probably had enough sleep. In terms of ensuring quality of sleep, it is important to shut down all stimulating activity an hour before bedtime (i.e., electronics). Yoga and Meditation are wonderful ways to slow down the system before bed.

RESOLUTION #4: I will remember that each child is unique. My job is to learn to support their uniqueness and encourage them to develop the skills that they need to feel self-confident and make their way in the world. Every time I think that it looks like child 'X' or family 'X' seems so athletic... organized... successful, etc., add the word 'seemingly'. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and chances are that the model child 'X' or family 'X' struggles with something that you just can't see.

RESOLUTION #5: I will remember to take care of myself and to be kind to myself. I will practice an attitude of gratitude every day! Being a parent in the year 2016 is a very complicated and difficult job. You will need the best navigational system possible, with route guidance that shows the big picture, but also parses the directions down into the small step-by-step instructions. You will need mentors like Siri (hopefully a little less literal and a lot less annoying - find family and friends that you admire). Finally, at the end of the day, spend a few moments talking with your family about what you are all grateful for. You will be surprised to find out how much happier your family becomes, and how much information you will learn about the direction to take tomorrow. Hope your school-year new-year is a happy one!

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