Setting goals 7 and underI had the opportunity to ask several groups of children under the age seven what a New Year Resolution is. The response was almost comical. Many didn’t know what the word “resolution” meant. Some looked at me with blank stares and waited for me to explain what it was. The best answer was from a six-year-old who said, “Oh, I know! It’s when people make wishes and hope they come true.” The others giggled at this response.

If a younger child can’t tell you what a New Year Resolution is, then how can they be expected to make any?

I do feel that children should be taught at a young age how to set goals and how to go about achieving them, but we should also be realistic about it. Remember, the rule for putting a child in “Time-Out” is to base the amount of time on how old they are. The rule of thumb is one minute per year of your child’s age. If they are five-years-old, then they are to sit in Time-Out for five minutes. What does this tell you? That kids have a short attention span. This short attention span also affects setting goals.

Where to begin (Remember, there are different approaches and goals for different ages!)

            The first thing you need to realize is that when you start to teach a younger child about goal setting, you too will have the responsibility of being involved in guiding the child through the process. I have always been a believer in taking a positive approach to things, especially if they are new to a child, teen or adult. First, sit down with your child and the two of you discuss the things they are good at such as: counting, singing, listening, helping family members or friends, etc. Let your child tell you what they are good at first and then you tell them what you have noticed about them.

Next, setting goals/resolutions depends on your child. With younger children the focus may be more about brushing their teeth, picking up their toys, listening better to their parents or helping more with the family pet. BEWARE these kinds of goals are to help with daily expectations but can also feel like a punishment if not handles correctly. The key to success is to make sure you stay flexible and understanding.

Stay away from “chore sounding goals/resolutions” which in my experience, can create a negative feel about setting goals. Why not look at areas your child enjoys or has an interest in and work on something in that area. If you need help with this, go to my FREE Interest Survey and help your child answer the questions. The survey has been designed to help identify areas of interest and future talents. In my book, “Hey! All Kids Are Smart” I also offer activity ideas for each area of interest identified along with a plan of action to follow. I also have a children’s version of the book, “Are You Smart?”

Areas of interest might include, art, nature, sports, music, and animals. For example, maybe your child is showing a strong interest in drawing pictures. You may want to encourage them to draw pictures of their family members or pets each day by using crayons one day and the next day using markers. The goal to set here is to create a different picture by using different drawing tools each day for four or five days (or less for younger children). At the end of the set amount of time your child can set their drawings on a table, or out onto the floor and have a mini art show.

Setting goals/resolutions don’t always have to be about negative things, like chores. In fact, setting goals that have a positive outcome will have a longer impression on a child and their future feelings on doing this. When a goal has been accomplished or is having a good result, make sure you acknowledge your child’s success. Be flexible, understanding and realistic about your expectations. For a younger child, setting goals for the first time is a new experience and they aren’t going to be perfect at it. Setting and achieving goals is a lifelong process. However, it can be the beginning of teaching them how to do it.

Next week I will be discussing setting goals/New Year Resolutions with children 8 to 12.