Although people hum and haw over resolutions, resolutions are important for kids. Indeed, setting goals is a critical skill in and of itself for our kids to learn. Helping them learn how to do it now will set them up for success in the future.
Moreover, setting goals helps kids learn a whole host of other important lifelong skills like responsibility, accountability, self-reflection, self-awareness, decision-making, initiative, persistence, focus, planning, and prioritizing. Goal setting also gives them a sense of purpose and can help strengthen their identity and self-confidence.
Helping our kids establish and maintain healthy habits now is also so beneficial in creating strong pathways in the brain for lifelong success.
The new year is a great time for everyone of all ages to celebrate a new beginning and opportunities to grow. The new year is a great time to build on the excitement and motivation that comes with it.
While we want to make our goals together, which helps with accountability and follow-through, as well as boosting family connection, it is important to let kids make their own goals, knowing we are there as guides if needed.
Here are a few ideas to optimize goal-setting success.
Be a good role model
To be a good role model, you first need to go through the process of setting a goal yourself, breaking it down into specific steps you are going to take to achieve it, following through with your plan, evaluating your progress, and adjusting as needed to continue to progress towards success.
Doing each of these steps together with your family is a great way to get engagement from everyone.
Make the process fun and positive
Even though resolutions are important for kids, they will push back if the process is boring or pushed upon them. Any lecturing, convincing, advice-giving, or talk that results in any eye-rolling or huffing and puffing is not going to help the process. Set the stage by making the goal-setting time a fun family meeting like having everyone bring their favourite treat to share as a snack or playing a fun game afterward. And, once everyone creates their goal, ensure you show enthusiasm for everyone’s goals – even if your kids pick ones that you don’t think are a priority.
The first step to setting goals is to brainstorm as many ideas for things they might like to work on as possible. Sometimes people will know right away but it’s still helpful to go through the process because sometimes there might be things that are important we didn’t even think about.
If your kids are having trouble, I often break things into categories and ask them what could make things a little better in each. For example, with school, what could make school go a little easier? What could make friendships a little better? What could make your sibling relationship a little more positive?
Here are some categories to consider:
- Nutrition & hydration
- Physical activity
- Family relationships
- Skill development
Identify SMART goals
Resolutions are important for kids only when they have the right goals to work on. Having everyone state what they would like to work toward is obviously an important first step. Be sure to allow your kids to make their own goals that are important to them!
You want to make sure everyone sets SMART Goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). Saying “I want to be happier,” “I want to be good,” or even “I want to do better at school” are too vague and will never get anywhere.
Use this SMART goal template to help you and your kids get started!
Discuss why the goal is important
Once you have a goal, it is important to chat about why the goal is important. The rationale is unique to each of us and must be meaningful for us, not what we think others want us to do.
It can be helpful to write down all the benefits and drawbacks of potential goals so they can choose ones in which the pros far outweigh the cons.
Understanding our “Big Why” and thinking about the future benefits helps us stay on track. Consider writing everyone’s goal and their “Big Why” and posting them in places to remind us what we are working towards.
For example, in previous years, I set a goal to turn off my computer when my workday ended (and not hours later) so I could be with my family. To help, I put a post-it note on my computer screen with the message, “My children are more important than anything else in the universe.” My daughter saw it and wrote “Time with mommy is more important than anything else in the universe” herself and posted it next to my note on my screen. These have been fantastic reminders for following through with my goal.
Define the Small Steps (and Effort) needed to be successful
It can be hard to remember that learning new things and establishing new habits takes effort and requires persistence. In that case, it can be helpful to review what successes everyone had this past year, such as things they can do now they couldn’t the year before. Maybe they learned how to do crossovers in skating. Or learned how to multiply. Or how to drive.
- What steps they took/what they did specifically to achieve that goal
- What resources or supports they had (including people who helped)
- How often they practiced
Use those answers to help them think about what steps they need to take for this year’s goal, what resources or supports they might need, and when they are going to work on their goal.
Talk about how everyone in the family can help support each other with their goals too.
I find it helpful to post previous successes, the steps they took, the supports they used, and the effort they put in and how they can use those to help them with any obstacles or moments of feeling stuck and wanting to give up for the goals they are working on now.
Write it down
It is important for everyone to write their goal, the steps, the supports and resources, and the timeline of their goal down as a reminder. Be sure to include when they will work on the goal, whether a specific time each day, or a specific day each week.
It is important to check in regularly – daily or weekly – to keep everyone on track. When you do, continue to make the process fun.
Kids love working towards something meaningful for them and seeing their progress. And, seeing their progress, no matter how slow or small, helps kids develop a sense of accomplishment, which helps them realize that they can improve with anything they set their mind on and motivates them to continue to work on other things too.
Once you jump in, always start with the successes everyone has had in working towards their goal.
I like to ask scaling questions. For example, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how successful were you meeting your goal today/this week? With 10 being 100% hit it every day perfectly and 1 being a dismal failure -you completely forgot you had a goal you were even working on. Use their number to first talk about what helped them get the score they did (focusing on the positives). For example, what made it a 5 and not a 1? What did you do to achieve that? What helped?
If they rated their success a 1, explore whether this is an important goal they want to work on. Consider whether something more meaningful for them would be better. If this is still a worthy goal, perhaps the first step needs to be tweaked so they can be successful. Also, chat about things that might have gotten in the way of their success and what needs to happen to overcome that obstacle.
Once we identify the positives, then I ask, “What could make this number go up to 5.5 or even a 6?” In doing so we can see what got in the way of their successes and what they or others can do to tweak things. By doing this we show them that it’s not about perfection. Every day is a new day to do a little better than what we did yesterday.
Write this all down. Our brain can sometimes trick us to forget our successes so it’s important to create memory bridges to help us remember how far we have come.
For younger kids, they might like to keep track with a sticker chart to see how far they have come. For my older kids, we have a table where we write our successes in one column and the next step/adjustment to focus on in the upcoming week in another.
Consider making a family goal
Setting a family goal can help build connections. Creating a goal around spending more family time together, helping others, and doing acts of kindness will strengthen those bonds further while building other important prosocial emotions like compassion and gratitude. (Important emotions that are critical for social and emotional well-being.)
Don’t give up!
So many adults give up on their resolutions within the first few weeks. Don’t get into this rut – kids will learn the wrong lesson we are trying to instill. Continue being a strong role model. It’s ok to talk about your own mistakes and how you fell into old habits. However, discuss what will make it a little easier and what you’ll focus on to do a little better tomorrow.
Sometimes we don’t break goals down into small enough steps or address the barriers adequately. That doesn’t mean we have to throw the whole goal away. Look to see what is going well and how to do more of that, along with what needs adjusting, and continue back on track.
Need help with establishing and following through with goals? Reach out to any one of our experts at Koru Psychology to get you started on the right foot!