Every New Years, I resolve to be perfect. It must not be a very good resolution because I usually fail pretty quickly. Some years it only takes a few minutes. Obviously, making your goals attainable is a big step in the right direction for both children and adults. Learning to set effective goals is an important skill for children to use, not only when they are young but also throughout their entire lives. Here are some tips for writing goals and resolutions with kids.
As parents and teachers, we have many goals for our kids. However, in order to be successful, the resolution must belong to the child, not to the parent or the teacher. A resolution that is generated by the adult and unwanted by the child is not a resolution at all; it is just another teacher or parent command. Suggestions are fine, of course, but there is much more empowerment when the child comes up with the resolution him or herself and when he or she is fully invested in the process and the outcome.
Whatever the resolution, unlike my goal to be perfect, it should be attainable. The flip side of attainability is challenge. The goal must not be too easy, or there is not much point. Try for a goal that is both challenging and attainable.
Another problem with my resolution to be perfect is that it is a bit unclear as to exactly it means to be perfect. Help your child to refine his or her resolution into a specific goal. Here are some examples:
- Instead of: I will be more polite, try I will remember to say “please” and “thank you.”
- Instead of: I will keep my room neat, try I will make my bed and pick up my clothes and toys each day.
- Instead of: I will get better at playing the piano, try I will practice for one hour each day.
Make a Plan
Be sure there are markers for success. Some resolutions are easy to measure. For example, if your daughter has resolved to stop biting her nails, longer, unbitten nails are proof of success. You might consider a new bottle of nail polish or a manicure to celebrate. If the goal is more long term or ongoing, such as practicing piano, it is likely the hard work will pay off without you doing anything. For example, the piano teacher may comment on improvement or offer a larger part in the recital. However, a little extra encouragement is always a good thing! Perhaps going out for ice cream after a piano lesson would be a nice way to celebrate.
Here is a free goal-setting worksheet I have used with my students. It includes space for students to make three types of goals: academic, behavioral/social, and personal. Feel free to download it and use it with your kids!