Make New Year’s resolutions as a family, suggests WFU professor

Most people think about making individual resolutions as Jan. 1 approaches, but families can also use the turning of the calendar year to set goals.

“Like merchants, families should take inventory,” says Samuel T. Gladding, professor of counselor education at Wake Forest University. “And, New Year’s is a good time to do it.”

“Family resolutions can be fun and fulfilling in that they help you as a family see the year ahead,” says Gladding, who has written several books on family and group counseling. “Making resolutions encourages families to be proactive rather than reactive. Many families get caught up in routine — it becomes comfortable, but sometimes it is not growth-promoting.”

Have a family meeting on Jan. 1, says Gladding, to take stock of what would make life better for the group. Family meetings should be held regularly throughout the year, but New Year’s Day is a good time to start the tradition for families who are not already sitting down to talk on a regular basis. He offers some tips on how the meetings should work.

When holding a family meeting, there should be no distractions. Turn the television off, he says. Sitting in a circle — around the table or on the floor — where everyone is on the same level works well, adds Gladding, author of the book “Family Therapy: History, Theory and Practice.”

“In a family meeting, everyone should have a voice,” Gladding says. The family meeting can be used to talk over issues, set goals for the year and to do some practical planning.

“Are certain things building up in terms of frustrations or are family members involved in too many activities that aren’t meaningful? If so, address those at the start of the year and revisit them if needed during the year,” he says.

Use the family meeting to establish goals such as eating dinner together more frequently or setting aside more time for favorite family activities, he recommends. “This is a good opportunity to decide what activities are most important and figure out how to work more of them in.”

For example, if a child feels he is not getting enough one-on-one time with each parent, this is a good time to talk it over and decide on a way to make that happen.

Marking some things on the calendar is also a good idea.

“Families can look at the calendar and put things in place that are traditions,” Gladding says. For his family, that involves marking off a week for a vacation at a favorite beach and choosing a weekend for going with his wife and three sons to the local water park. Once those things are planned, the family can look for new adventures and opportunities.

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