A big part of my work as a child psychologist is working with parents. I help them make goals and plans. I teach them skills to help carry out those plans. And then they leave my office. This process is repeated over the course of treatment.

Sometimes parents do not put their plans into action. They might say, “I was too busy.” They might say, “I didn’t do it because it was too hard.” They might say, “I tried it once and it didn’t work so I didn’t try it again.” They may even say, “I didn’t do that because I knew that it wasn’t going to work.” Sometimes I need to re-explain the rationale, the skill, or the fact that the skills are not magic tricks that produce instant success. Sometimes we set smaller goals that are easier to implement.

Sometimes, we do not get any where, week after week. An interesting observation I have made over the years is that even when parents are aware that they have not put plans into place as recommended, they still expect positive change to result because they made the plans and are doing SOMETHING. They are coming to therapy and paying money for it. They are talking about problems. And if it is believed that the skill is too hard to implement, there is often an implicit assumption that if one has a good excuse for not carrying out a recommendation that there will be no negative consequences for having not doing so. They think their child should improve, anyway.  As psychologists go, I am on the frank side. I try to be as sensitive as I can be and communicate clearly. Parents tell me, “I can’t do that. That’s too hard. I can’t be expected to do that.”  I empathize with the difficulty of parenting, the severity of their children’s challenges, but also say, “Yes, it is very hard and it is harder than what most parents have to do. But just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean that it is not necessary for your child. What can we do to make this more possible?”

In the good case scenarios, the parents either start rallying and planning during the session, or upon thinking about it later, start re-adjusting their priorities and making things possible. They are able to get past “parenting shouldn’t be that hard” to the reality of their situation. Most of the time, this is what occurs. But sometimes it doesn’t and there is a seemingly endless spinning of wheels, complaining, and expressions of distress and despair. I respect that many of the parents with whom I work are going through a grief process of having a child with chronic difficulties. But some of them can get really really stuck.

There’s nothing wrong with New Year’s resolutions in and of themselves. They are a starting point. The problem is when we don’t implement them. Another problem is when we use them as an opportunity to beat up on ourselves about not having carried them out. Or we think carrying them out is too hard.

I have been working on changing a habit that has a negative impact on my family and on myself. I have been working on it as part of the 6 month long class my family is taking. One of the things each of us did was to write a little pros and cons list for the behavior we wanted to eliminate as well as for the behavior we want to replace it with. Then we were told to choose three of the pros and/or cons that we most important to us and to memorize them as a little script. The habit I chose is one I’ve been trying to modify for decades. For the first time, I am making progress on it and not only that, experiencing positive benefits.

Wishing you a happy and motivated New Year!