The new year is a great time to encourage your children to set goals. Achieving goals is an important life skill, one that can teach both short and long term planning as well as persistence. However, sometimes poorly thought-out or unrealistic goals can undermine the desired lessons and may lead to feelings of frustration and failure. Here are 5 tips to help your child experience success in her New Year's Resolutions.
1. Family goal-making party
You are much more likely to keep a goal if someone else knows about it.
Have a family meeting and brainstorm potential goals. At this stage, no goal is too big or too small. Have fun with it. Suggest ridiculous goals. Get your kids laughing.
Once you have a decent list, have each child narrow their list to one or two things they would like to accomplish.
Write them down as a family. Point out to your children that some goals may feel too embarrassing or too personal to share with everyone. Let them know they are welcome to talk to you in private, or keep the goal to themselves but write it down in their journal. Even if you don't share your goal with another person, writing it down still makes you more likely to focus and succeed.
2. Define the goal
Once your child has decided on a goal, make sure he knows exactly what it means. This may seem obvious but often when we make goals, we use general, overarching words that are hard to clearly define.
For example, being kind to sister is a wonderful goal but it is a little vague. We all know what it means to be kind but your child will have a better chance of success if you encourage him to think exactly about how and when he will be kind. Have him list specific actions that he will do. For example, I will share my toys with my sister, or When my sister asks me to leave her alone, I will. These concrete examples will give your child concrete ways to reach his goal.
3. Start small
Often when children make goals, they think too big. My own daughter suggested that her New Year's Resolution would be to “Never. Eat. Candy. Again.” Not very likely.
Help your child make a goal she will be able to keep. If eating less sweets is the goal, suggest picking two days per week where it is okay to eat treats but hold off on the other days. Also help your child to start where he is.
For example, if your son wants to practice the piano more but currently doesn't practice at all, don't let him make a goal to play every single day. Suggest starting with two or three days per week which is still a huge achievement. You want the goals to be a stretch, but also to be attainable.
Another way to start small is to break the goal into smaller steps at first. So, if your son wants to keep his room clean, start by making a goal to keep the clothes put away. Once he is consistently doing that he can build on his goal. This way he is more likely to be successful.
4. Set the stage
When you are trying to change a habit, you should do everything you can to set the stage in your favor. What exactly does this mean? Well, it means you should help your child think about what happens right before the desired behavior change.
For example, if your daughter makes a goal to be on time to school, help her brainstorm reasons why she is often late. This might include not getting up when her alarm rings, or staying up too late. It also might help to lay out clothes the night before. The point is to do everything you can to support the completion of the goal, before the situation happens. Set the stage for success.
5. Track progress
Another huge key to successful goal keeping is to track progress. Tracking progress allows your child to easily see her successes and to quickly notice if she needs to work a little harder.
Help your child come up with a system that works. This could be a daily sticker chart or a weekly check in with you to assess how it is going. Let your child decide what makes sense. Whatever you choose to do, your child should be in charge. If you decide on a sticker chart, help your child make the chart and buy the stickers but she gets to decide when and if she earns the stickers. This means that you should not argue with her decision. If she feels she was successful, she puts on a sticker. You may find that she is harder on herself than you would be. Remember, the point of making goals is to learn to change your own behavior. You want the power to stay with your child. Of course, check in and be supportive but let your child be the one keeping track.
These five tips should help your child make and keep her New Year's resolutions. They may even help you make and keep yours.
One last note of caution: It may feel tempting to reward your child with a small toy or present for reaching his goals. I would caution against it. You want the motivation to keep goals to come from within your child. I think it is fair to have a family party (movie night or ice cream trip) to celebrate the whole family's success at keeping New Year's resolutions but I would let your child own his own goal setting and success. If he is struggling, you could suggest ways he could reward himself. For example, committing to save his screen time until after his room is clean or waiting to use his allowance until he has met his goal for a week.