How to set great goals with impactful outcomes with your kids
Something changes in the atmosphere at the end of the year. Whether you’re making amends or making plans, there’s some magic in Auld Lang Syne that seems to wash away the troubles of one year and offer a renewed sense of resolve for the next.
As talk swirls on social media and amongst friends about “New Year’s Resolutions,” your children may well express an interest in setting some goals of their own. This is an excellent opportunity to set the stage for a year of success and personal growth for your student.
Parents can capitalize on the idea of resolutions by having constructive conversations with their children about goal setting and helping them think critically about what “success” means as they enter the New Year.
When planning new years resolutions with children, parents should consider the following principles:
- Use the SMART paradigm for goal setting.
- Have periodic check-ins and open-ended conversations.
- Offer encouragement no matter the outcome.
Use the SMART Structure
The SMART goal-setting paradigm has been around for quite some time. This handy acronym lays out the essentials of well-defined goals:
- Specific - Is it narrowly tailored to a specific end?
- Measurable – Is there a way to track my progress?
- Attainable/Achievable – Can it actually be done?
- Relevant – What is this going to do for my long-term mission?
- Time Bound – Does it have a “due date”?
These questions help constrain goals that live in the clouds to practical, tangible considerations that ensure goals are reached in a reasonable way. Consider creating a poster board with your child that answers each of these questions and reminds them of the handy acronym as they make one or many resolutions for the New Year.
For example, your child may want to improve their math grade. That’s a great place to start! Make sure you ask furthering questions to help your child make a resolution with definition:
- What grade do you want to reach?
- How often will you be able to gauge your progress?
- Are there other goals that need to come first to make this attainable (tutoring, review?)
- What will this do for your GPA?
- And finally, when are you going to assess? Midterms? Final exams?
You can employ the SMART Goals paradigm to help your child learn to frame goals in a way that is practical and realistic. By defining not only the goal, but also the ways it will be reached and measured, you are helping ensure that this is one resolution that won’t go unmet next year.
Talk About It
A common parent grievance is that kids are impossible to decode. As they grow up and begin to develop their own social instincts and moral compasses, it seems as though you know less and less about what is going on in their lives.
If you endeavor to help your child set goals for the New Year, however, it is important that you check in periodically and see how things are going. This helps show your child that you’re rooting for them, as well as that you’re there for support and advice.
Most parents find themselves saying, “I don’t want to pry.” And, that’s wise, because sometimes children will grow more resistant with persistent questioning. Instead of direct, pointed questions, create a safe space for them to bring up difficulties they’re having with their resolutions. Consider conversation-starters like:
- “I hit a snag with my resolution last week. I’m trying to figure out how to readjust.”
- “I can’t believe it’s already February. It’s been more enjoyable sticking to my resolution than I thought.”
The most important thing to remember is that talking to teenagers and younger children is more about listening than speaking. Often, they’re just looking for you to broach the subject. It won’t take long for them to remember who their number one confidant is once they start sharing. For additional tips on having meaningful conversations, check out our posts on talking about challenging topics, like school fundraising.
Encourage Them Always
Ask anyone what they remember about elementary school or middle school. Their first reaction will likely be a cringe mixed with a shudder. Kids of a certain age are already experiencing immense social pressures—from within and from without.
By the end of January, people of all ages often feel like they haven’t quite met the mark on their resolutions. For children in earlier stages of development, the feeling of failure can be difficult to cope with. If you can tell that your child is having trouble meeting the goals he or she set for the year, recognize the value in helping them constructively navigate this experience.
As a parent, you must walk the tightrope between teaching your child to deal with disappointment in a healthy way and encouraging them to keep pressing forward. There’s no magic formula, but you can keep these ideas in your pocket to help them accept and acknowledge falling short of a goal:
- Rephrase: Talk about the goal in terms of how they can still succeed.
- Reframe: Have circumstances changed and made the goal less timely or realistic? Empower them to make changes to their goal accordingly.
- Refocus: Above all, remind them that most goals are ongoing, and that a brief aberration doesn’t ruin the resolution.
These tools will help kids learn the difference between abandoning a goal and adapting to their areas of growth. They’ll find tremendous value in persistence, and they’ll be able to keep going with your support.