For Kids (and Adults) Habits and Plans Beat Resolutions


I love setting goals for the New Year. Or for the summer. Or for February. Whenever, really. I love setting goals and making a plan to achieve them (sometimes an overly ambitious, too elaborate plan, but I’m improving). Maybe you’re the same way, or maybe you hate the very idea. But change is so tempting this time of year—and it’s even more tempting to try to use that on our kids.

Most kids don’t exactly hate goal-setting, but it’s not usually high on their radar. The younger the child, the less likely they are to be thinking past lunch. You may see some room for improvement in 2018 (a cleaner room, fewer teacher scoldings for late or forgotten work), but your child doesn’t want to hear it, even if there’s something he’d really like to change or achieve.

That resistance doesn’t necessarily mean he’s immune to the idea of a fresh start. It might just mean that the goal itself feels overwhelming. That can happen to anyone. Here’s how to help a child get past that stumbling block and move forward.

First, ask yourself if the change you’re envisioning is his goal, or yours. (Sadly, the cleaner room probably falls into the latter category.) If you know your child has a dream that’s within his ability to achieve, or a problem that’s within his ability to solve, don’t talk about the (big scary) goal. Instead, invite him to consider what he might want to do himself to make it happen. Look for actions that are within his control (practice his free throws for fifteen minutes a day; put a post-it note on the door to remind him not to forget finished homework).

Next, help him turn that action into a habit. One of the best ways to build a new behavior, especially in kids, is to have them tie it to something they’re already doing daily—put the post-it notes under his toothbrush, or practice right before dinner.

Finally, help your child plan for failure. That sounds crazy, right? But change is hard. That means there will come a day when bedtime has arrived and the hoops have not been shot, or he arrives at school once again homework free. What will he do then? Give up, or try again? What will that moment feel like, and how can he use it to keep going?

Truly, the important thing isn’t making the basketball team or getting his math grade up. It’s learning a process which can help anyone, at any age, be more successful at change. Pick a small step, give it a place in your routine, and have a plan to recover when things go wrong.  I’ve got three kids taking small steps this month, and only one of them would tell you he’s got a concrete goal. The others are just trying to make a little something go better this year.

Hat tips: when it comes to habits, goals and success, I owe a lot to Gretchen Rubin, Charles Duhigg and Jon Acuff. Check them out.

Hey, here’s this week’s TRY THIS (from the tinyletter, which you should absolutely subscribe to if you have not): Skip the advice and just listen to your complaining kid. Sometimes kids (especially teens) are just venting—help most emphatically NOT wanted.

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