New Year, New Habits?

As we enter a new year, many of you are making and breaking your New Year’s Resolutions. Au Pairs may have never heard of this American phenomenon, and they often laugh when they hear of some resolutions people make and break. As a mom of six, I can recognize that these good intentions often fall by the wayside as the days and weeks of January tick by. At the beginning of each new year, we all evaluate our actions and behaviors from the year before and make resolutions to do better this year. Why is this so bad or why do we fail so quickly? How can au pairs and parents help kids improve behaviors and develop healthy habits for life?

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Is it that we are just weak and self-serving? Maybe, but probably not. We are just human, and easily slip into old habits and behaviors, whether healthy or not. We are not totally weak, but in making great resolutions, we often set ourselves up for a quick failure. This reminds me of a college project I had to do many years ago, long before the days of children and mortgage payments.

For my behavior modification class, our professor assigned each of us to choose a behavior around which we would design a behavior modifications project. In other words, we had to choose some behavior that we did and change it in some way. The first thing he told us was NOT to choose to quit smoking, as that never works or only has a short life. Sounds like a New Year’s Resolution, and a challenge, to me.

Yes, at that time, I was 20 years old and smoked those disgusting things called cigarettes. Hey, it was the early 90s. Anyway, of course, I choose to quit smoking, but my method (which by the way, worked) was to reward myself for tiny, baby steps along the way. First, I had to figure out how many butts I was actually smoking each day and then identify a bunch of little things I wanted to do for myself but could never find the time (like paint my nails, bake and eat brownies, read something for pleasure, etc).

Now, how did I do it, how did it work and what does this have to do with New Year’s Resolutions? I simply kept track of my smoking and gave myself one of the baby rewards if I smoked less cigarettes than the day before. That’s it. It took me a couple of weeks to work down to one or two cigarettes per day, and then I made the giant leap. Now for my finale…

I did plan for a larger reward, once I extinguished that nasty unhealthy habit. I actually began to put away the money I would have spent on the butts and saved for one month. I can’t actually remember how I spent the money at the end of the month, but I do remember the method worked very well and can now apply it to your life.

Choose an area you (or your child, your au pair, etc.) need to improve, such as getting more sleep or more exercise or cursing less. Spend a day or two figuring out how much you currently do the behavior (you’ll have to count it or keep track with paper and pencil for a day or two). Decide how you will reward yourself for the baby steps to the bigger goal, because we know you are going to need some motivation along the way to continue successfully.

Now, give a conscious effort to do more, or less, of the desired behavior and keep track of it. When you are successful in increasing or decreasing the desired behavior, give yourself a baby reward. By the way, it is important to share your project with someone who will ask about it and encourage you each day. Keep track of the behavior for another week or two and watch how the situation improves.

With just a little bit of effort toward a larger goal, anyone can see progress. It may not be huge and it may be lots of work, but you can achieve your goals. Your au pair can help you or the kids, or have a project for his or herself. Healthy habits and healthy lifestyles make kids and families happier.

I am Joan Lowell, your Local Area Representative for Go Au Pair; I am here to support you and your au pair during your cultural childcare experience. Contact me at 401.309.1925 or for more details about affordable live-in childcare with Go Au Pair.


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