Eat healthier. Clean out the clutter. Spend more quality time together as a family. Work out. You've no doubt heard them all (and maybe even made a few yourself). As we kick off 2012, many families are once again making well-intentioned New Year's resolutions that likely won't stick long-term.
If you've failed to keep your resolutions in the past, don't despair. You are in good company. In fact, research shows that nearly three-quarters of us fail to stick with our resolutions for more than just a few months.
Resolutions tend to be sweeping plans for self-improvement or re-invention, but they usually don't include a plan for changing our daily habits and behaviors. If resolution-makers don't focus specifically on how they are going to modify their day-to-day activities, their resolutions tend to fall flat within a couple of weeks when they resort back to familiar routines and rituals.
Families have the potential to make lots of great changes-and the new year can be a great time to get started. However, the key is focusing on day-to-day activities.
Whether you are looking to get organized, spend happier times together as a family, eat better or exercise more, here is some advice from local experts on how to put new family rituals in place to achieve those goals-one day at a time.
1) Get organized
Sarah Giller Nelson, owner of Less is More Professional Organizing Services (LessIsMoreOrganizers.com), says that adopting daily rituals to make you more organized is easier than you may think.
"Rather than getting overwhelmed by broad resolutions that involve conquering grand projects that you have been putting off for years, start with small changes to your everyday routine," she says. She suggests implementing the following baby steps in your home to start getting more organized:
Make your bed every morning. Because your bed is the focal point of your bedroom, a made bed will make your whole room feel orderly.
Keep a donation bag in each clothes closet. Fill the bag with clothes you no longer wear until you have the time to take them to a resale shop or donation drop-off point.
Keep a trash bin as close to the mailbox as possible. The vast majority of the mail you receive is junk. Throw it away before it has the opportunity to clutter your main living space.
Use more hooks. Hooks involve much less work than hangers. Place them low enough so your children can easily hang up their own coats, backpacks and gear.
2) Spend more quality family time together
Many moms and dads will vow to be better parents and create a more peaceful home environment in the new year, but most won't have a plan for making that a reality.
Janeen Hayward is the founder of Swellbeing (swellbeing.com), a parenting consulting company specializing in healthy sleep habits and solutions to everyday parenting challenges. Hayward believes that helping kids feel both powerful and significant will help shape their behavior and set the tone for positive family interactions.
She recommends the following daily rituals:
Hold your child on your lap for at least a few minutes every morning and night. The time you spend connecting with your child will fortify him or her against some of the daily ups-and-downs. Think of this as "filling up" time. This simple act reminds your child just how special and important they are to you and lets them feel adored and valued. Your child will look forward to this part of your daily routine regardless of how old they are.
Carve out 10 minutes (or more) each day where you play with your child without interruptions or distractions. Quality time together trumps quantity. Allow your child to take the lead and guide the play. This kind of play again communicates that you are interested in your child. If you have more than one child, carve out separate time with each child.
Share one highlight and one lowlight from the day at dinner or bedtime. Be sure to include your own. This is a great way to encourage conversation, practice turn-taking and talk about feelings and problem-solving.
Challenge yourself to minimize using the word "no" in response to your child's requests. The word "no" invariably creates a strong reaction in kids, who try harder to get you to say "yes." Instead, let your child know you heard their request. For example, "I know that you would love to go to the park. We don't have time to go right now, but we could go tomorrow before school or after lunch. Which do you prefer?"
Family hugs. Group the whole family together and wrap arms around one another for a big hug. This is a great thing to do at an important transition time (i.e. leaving for work, heading to bed). It helps children to feel the strength and comfort of the family unit and really adds to that feeling of belonging. Plus, it can be a little silly-and children enjoy us most when we are laughing and having fun.
3) Eat better
If you'd like to eat healthier (and maybe shed a few extra pounds) in the new year, you are not alone. Jasmine Jafferali, a wellness and certified fitness professional with expertise in organic living, family and women's health, advises making healthier eating a family affair in your day-to-day shopping and food preparation choices.
She recommends that families incorporate some fun, collaborative techniques into their routines to make healthy eating more fun:
Dust off your cookbooks and find two new recipes you will try with your family each month. Be sure to include your children in the preparation of these meals.
When you go the grocery store, find three new items you have not purchased or used before. One should be a vegetable and one should be a fruit. Add these items to the cart to increase the variety in your weekly routines.
Have fun themed meal nights. The concept of "Meatless Mondays" is becoming increasingly popular. This is a great way for families to learn more about cooking with beans. "Wheatless Wednesdays" is another fun theme that gives families a way to explore the ancient gluten-free grains such as quinoa, millet and amaranth. "Taco Tuesdays" does not have to mean ground beef and flour tortillas. Try a shrimp taco with a sprouted corn tortilla to mix things up.
Instead of offering salt and pepper at the table, buy a small lazy susan to put in the middle of your table with a variety of spices and let your kids have fun exploring new ways to enhance their meals. Some suggestions include basil, thyme, oregano, cumin, chili powder and paprika.
4) Get fit
Let's be honest-you aren't going to turn a family of couch potatoes into exercise fanatics overnight. However, Lannette Wolford of Youth Fitness Consultants Inc. says you can make small changes to your day-to-day routine that will make a real impact on your family's overall fitness, no matter how busy your schedules are.
"We are all challenged by time. That's why making fitness a habit helps. We all find the time to brush our teeth every morning. We need to find that time for fitness, too," says Wolford. The best way to get more exercise in is to "stop thinking like an adult and start thinking like a kid again … go and play!" Wolford says.
Try incorporating some of these rituals or habits to boost your family's calorie burning:
Instead of going out for ice cream or watching a movie together, take a walk or play a game of Twister or Charades. Encourage everyone to "act out" a story as you read it. Build an obstacle course in the basement or garage on a rainy day. Turn on the radio and dance as if no one is watching. You won't believe how fun is it just to act silly and dance with your children. You will all be grinning from ear to ear!
Train for races together. You would be amazed at how many children are out running races with their parents. Think of the sense of pride your child will have at the finish line of their first 1-mile or 5K race. They really enjoy it and you will beam with pride encouraging them every step of the way.
Turn the chores into a fitness activity and you might be more likely to get some extra help. For example, rake leaves, then jump into them. Shovel snow and then build a snow sculpture or make snow angels.
Get your exercise in when you can. Always use the stairs. Walk, jog or skip instead of driving (to and from school, grocery store, library, park). If you take public transportation, get off a few stops early and walk the rest of the way. Park the car as far away from the entrance as possible.
As you implement these new strategies and activities into your daily lives, remember that change happens over time. Do your best to slowly incorporate these new rituals into your daily family life and you'll never have to admit to another failed New Year's resolution again.
Caitlin Murray Giles is a mother of three living in Chicago.
Caitlin Murray Giles is a full-time mother of three and part-time freelance writer living in Wicker Park.
See more of Caitlin's stories here.