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Setting Intentions + Goals For The New Year (Kids Included!)

Family walking holding hands

How was your January 1st, the first day of the new decade? Perhaps it was extraordinary, perhaps it was completely ordinary? Perhaps there was quite a bit of expectation wound up into one day when, really, your big plans, hopes and dreams can take hold at any time. Yes, this is about New Year’s resolutions, but also it’s a gentle reminder: You are in charge and you can make and lay those plans any day you so choose. 

Goals are an exercise in persistence, but also in meeting yourself where you are and acknowledging room for growth. Remember, small steady acts can make as much of an impact as broad sweeping ones. Goal setting for you (and the kids!) provides ample benefits: responsibility, time management, resilience, self-confidence, perseverance, courage. It’s a way to marvel at the future and welcome it with wide open arms, saying this! This is what is possible, this is what I want to do

Parent and child walking holding hands

"Parents can start by explaining what a resolution is and give examples of ones they have set in past years," says Dr. Kristen Eastman, PsyD, a pediatric clinical psychologist at Cleveland Children's Hospital. "Asking your children for ideas and helping them evaluate the options together is really important."
So, where to begin? Below are 5 easy ways to encourage goal setting with your children on the cusp of the new year. 

Chat, chat, chat. 
Reflect on last year’s accomplishments, adventures, activities, interests that were sparked, ideas that brewed and fun that was had. Then steer the conversation toward the upcoming year, and chat about intentions, expectations, habits, goals. It’s also a good opportunity to discuss long and short-term behaviors that will lead to self-empowerment. (If your child is having trouble discerning specific goals, see question prompts below as a guide.)

Accept choices. 
Remember, if you want to really support your child’s goals they can’t be your goals. Giving them full ownership—intrinsic motivation, in other words—will greatly increase their chances of achievement. And yes, guidance is a form of support, but respect their measures of success. (Encouraging doable goals is welcome, but to make it meaningful, let it come from them.)

Devise a plan.
Next comes the action and the problem solving, essentially—figuring out how to make dreams reality. Break it down step-by-step, perhaps even give it a timeline with incremental objectives. Ask: What are daily changes/actions you can do to work toward your goals? 

Notebook pencil
Write it out.
The physical, tangible act of putting pen to paper cements those thoughts in your head and words spoken. It also provides a reference for your child to return to in the months to come. Make it fancy, make it fun, make it a checklist even. 

Model behavior.
We are our children’s first and best teachers, so share your intentions and thought process for determining said goals. The more transparent we can be, the more it helps guide our children. And don’t forget to check in with them along the way—over the year, be sure to include your children when you are actively working toward a goal, and then share in the celebration when you check one off your list. 

And here are a few general ideas to help you on your way: 

kid thinking while laying on grass
Categorize intentions.
Do your/your child’s dreams fall into natural buckets such as emotional, physical, spiritual? How about involving self, community, work (career, school)? Use these headings as natural places to start and pull ideas from.

Go big. 
Dream all the dreams. Be creative and radical in what you encourage your child to hope, do, be, see. Once you’ve set about the work of envisioning everything that could be, work your way down to what should be. Because big can be a bit ambiguous, help kids fill in specific blanks for how to make it happen.   

Plan for setbacks. 
Like any other good habit, sometimes we fail to conquer or achieve. But that’s okay! And part of the learning process. Try discussing how failures can be stepping stones, and even though the goal itself may not be conquered, there is value spent in the trying. Work through foreseeable problematic turns and how they may be avoided.  

Use prompts.
  • What do I want to learn? 
  • What new things do I want to try? 
  • What do I want to become better at? 
  • What do I want to do less of? 
  • How can you help others? 
  • What was I grateful for last year?