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Resolutions for Kids: How to Help Your Child Make SMART Goals By: Alyssa Lipson, M.Ed

January. The month after December. The month before February. And the month we all go into hyper goal-setting mode. We have all of these accomplishments and hopes and dreams lined up and ready to achieve, and what better time to start than the New Year? 

As adults, we have figured out tactics to help us meet our goals. Some of us prefer keeping our goals private, and we become our own biggest cheerleader. Some of us like to write our goals down in a place we can see them, so we are consistently reminded about what we are working towards. Others of us talk to a close friend about our goals, or even set goals alongside a close friend, so we have an accountability partner to help get us through when our goals feel unattainable. Yes, as adults we have it all figured out…well…we like to think we do at least. 

But what about those who are watching us? What about the smaller versions of ourselves? You know, the people in our lives that look to us for guidance so they can learn from us and try to establish their own systems and procedures for working through life? How can we teach kids about goals, so they develop grit, perseverance, and a sense of accomplishment?

In almost every classroom…or at least in every school…across the United States, an educator of some sort will be talking to students in the coming days and weeks about the importance of goals. In education, we have about a gazillion, give or take a few, things we could formulate goals around. Our work is data-driven to say the least. While sometimes the amount of data and goal setting can be overwhelming as educators, it is also something that we see great value in. We want students to be proud of themselves. We want them to see that what they put into a task or goal is what they will get out of it. We want them to feel accomplished, strong, and able to conquer the world. It all starts with helping them understand where they are, where they want to go, and what steps they need to take to get there. At school, we might have math goals, reading goals, or behavior goals. All of those types of goals are necessary and vital to a child’s education. However, as a parent, you might have other goals for your child that don’t necessarily have to do with academics. 

One way you can help your child set goals at home is by using S.M.A.R.T. goals.

S: Specific

Kids benefit from things being as specific as possible. If your child wants to save their money, help them figure out exactly what they are saving their money for. Is there a specific game they want? A LEGO set that seems out of reach? Maybe they have had their eye on a new headset or gaming controller. Alternatively, maybe they really want to get better at a sport. Maybe they say that their goal is “I want to get better at soccer.” Since soccer is incredibly broad, we want to narrow that down to specifics. Do they want to be able to do a specific move? Are they hoping to shoot upper 90’s? Maybe they want to get better at dribbling the ball all the way down the field. The point is, whatever goal they set, it needs to be incredibly specific so they have a clear idea for what they are working towards.

M: Measurable

This is where us educators geek out a little bit. Can you measure the progress of the goal? If the answer is no, it is time to rework something! When it comes to money, this part of SMART goal setting is easy. However, if your child wants to get better at playing an instrument, can you pick one song or chord that they will practice each day, and then have them record themselves? Then, listen or look back at the recordings at the end of each week. Or maybe they want to work on their multiplication facts. Do you have a set of flashcards? Each day use the flashcards to practice 30 facts with your child. The cards they answer correctly can be put in one pile, the cards they answer incorrectly can be kept in a different pile. Keep record of the number they get correct each day. At the end of the week, have them look over their data. Did they increase? Awesome! Did they stay stagnant? That’s okay! Focus on the number they did get correct, and remind them that the only way they learn is if they fail first. These are just a few examples to illustrate the point that children need to see success in order to gain confidence. It is our job to help them see that success!

A: Achievable

As parents, we love our children with all of our hearts. We want them to believe that they can literally do anything they set their mind to. And I am not saying that isn’t true! But when it comes to goal setting, we need to be mindful of the achievability of the goals that our children are setting. Has your child struggled in the past to save any more than $20? Then their goal should not involve a $500 high ticket item. At least not right now. Help them set a goal that is more achievable, so they can realize success, and then work towards something bigger. Does your child want to learn how to do a back handspring? Don’t we all! But if they haven’t mastered the art of a Handstand yet, they aren’t ready for their back handspring. Again, that is perfectly okay! But maybe their goal needs to be reshaped to match where they are at this moment in time.

R: Relevant

Is this goal something that is worthwhile to your child right now? Most likely if you have gotten through this much of the SMART goal setting process, the answer to this question is yes. But, if you are working on writing a SMART goal with your child, and you ask them if the goal they set is meaningful to them- truly something they are hoping for and they say no? Time to change up the goal.

T: Timely

Every goal needs to have a time limit. This is helpful, because it makes the goal even more specific. It is also what gives us all something to work towards, which is motivating in and of itself. The timeline of the goal isn’t as important as making sure you have one. What I mean is, depending on the goal, your child might have a timeline as early as a week from now, or their timeline might take them all the way to January 1st, 2025. The most important thing is that they have a deadline that they are working towards. 

Once your child has all the makings for a S.M.A.R.T. goal, your job is simple, and probably something you are already doing as a parent. All you need to do is support them, encourage them, and celebrate their success. They might fail- that is okay. As adults, we fail at attaining our goals All. The. Time. It is how we react to that failure that shapes our children's mindset towards it.

Talk with your child about your goals for the new year, and ask them what kind of goals they have for themselves. Then, help them create a plan so that they can accomplish those goals, and begin to see how goal setting, perseverance, and a positive mindset can take them places they never imagined. 

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