5 Tips to Help Kids Keep Resolutions (and you too)


Many families use the new year as an opportunity to review accomplishments, rededicate ourselves, and set new goals. But children who consistently set and then fail at their goals become discouraged and less likely to continue setting new goals. So while you may want to keep your resolutions, it’s crucial that your children keep their resolutions.

Research consistently shows that children whose parents engage with them about their goals are more likely to reach those goals. So researching an article like this is the first step.

And guess what? The steps that help kids reach their goals will help you too! So join together as a family and make your New Year’s resolutions a reality.

1) Inspire Children to Set Goals

Mother inspires children to set goals by running a marathon
If we want our children to set goals, we should begin by setting and achieving our own goals.

Setting goals doesn’t come naturally to all children. And even children who are naturally goal setters need a good example.

Set goals that your children can watch you achieve, and talk with them about your efforts.

Observe ways that your children already set goals in their lives. Anything that they say they want and then do something to achieve can be framed as a goal. Relate those instances back to your children so they understand that they already benefit from less formal goal setting.

Even if you don’t notice instances like those, listen for your children’s wishes and hopes. When it comes time to set goals, those should be the starting point. Point out that goal setting is the way to achieve those things they want to achieve.

What should you do with a child who doesn’t want to achieve anything? To be honest, I’m not sure such a child exists. What frustrates many parents are children who want to play video games. Those who get stuck on video games, however, are often times very achievement oriented, and can become hooked on the instant rewards and gratification of the games.

Leonard Sax, a prominent family psychologist, suggests in his book “Boys Adrift” that parents who have children playing video games too much should help them find goals with real-world applications similar to what appeals to them about their video games.

2) Set Meaningful Goals

Resist the urge to set goals for your children. Research has consistently shown that children are much more likely to reach goals and do so happily when they set their own goals.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be involved. But your role is to support, structure, and develop the goal while your child’s role is to initiate the idea.

If your child struggles to find meaningful goals, suggest the wishes that you’ve been listening to.

For children, focus first on goals where they are trying to add a new behavior, skill or achievement, rather than goals that are based on stopping an undesirable behavior, as the Savior taught in the parable of the empty house.

Steer your children away from goals that come from social pressure or outside expectations. The most effective goals are those that reflect personal interests and values.

While wishes are an important starting point, to become  goals they must also be specific, measurable, and have a timeline. There needs to be a point in time when your children can unambiguously know that they were successful with their goals.

3) Create a Goal Plan

In a landmark 1999 study, psychologist Peter Gollwitzer found that structure plays a critical role in successfully reaching goals.

Avoid setting too many goals at once. If you have a dozen goals you want to pursue, choose a couple you want to pursue for the new year. Then a few months later, you can start in on a few more.

Also avoid setting conflicting goals. This may seem obvious, but if you set a goal to eat healthier and to spend less money on groceries, you’re going to quickly have to choose one over the other.

A goal should be broken into steps. Each step should be more than just a smaller part of your goal, however, it should be an action. If your goal is to lose five pounds, for example, the step for your first week isn’t lose one pound, it’s to start a cardio exercise. Intermediate goals can be beneficial, depending on the type of goal, but shouldn’t be confused for action steps.

Children particularly benefit when there is daily behavior associated with achieving the goal. Daily action creates the awareness and discipline necessary to achieve goals.

Ensure that there are opportunities before the deadline to check progress and change plans if necessary.

Failing to plan torpedoes many potential goal setters; make sure you don’t fall into that same trap.

4) Motivate with Positivity

Mother motivates discouraged child
When children feel successful, they are successful

No matter how personal or well planned our goals are, if we are not motivated to complete them, we won’t. So once you’ve started trying to reach the goal, think of yourself primarily as a motivator.

Definitely stay involved, since having someone to be accountable to for our goal is a very effective motivator. Parents fill this role ideally.

A professor, Joachim C. Brunstein, had eighty-eight of his students give him a list of their goals for the semester. He then checked in on them throughout the semester to gain insights into what factors helped them reach their goals.

Professor Brunstein found that when people think they’re progressing toward their goal, then they’re more likely to reach their goal regardless of whether or not they were actually growing closer to their goal.

Consider helping your children structure their goals in such a way that there will be opportunities for them to perceive their progress along the way.

For example, if your child’s goal is to improve their hitting in Little League baseball by the end of the season, and they practice every day, then at their game each week they will see incremental improvement, encouraging them to continue toward their goal.

Also, be sure that when you communicate with your children about their goals you focus on the progress they are making, since that will motivate them to make whatever other changes they need.

Professor Brunstein found that those who eventually began believing that they wouldn’t reach their goal didn’t, regardless of how far they had already progressed. So while it may difficult for a child who is struggling, positivity is often the best thing we can do for our children.

5) Repeat Goal Making

Father follows daughter as she sets new goals
Reaching our goals makes us feel so good we want to set some more.

Professor Brunstein found that when we reach our goals we get a sense of well being that motivates us to set more goals. Reaching and setting goals then becomes a mutually reinforcing dynamic.

Sometimes of course, we don’t reach our goals, and our children will be the same. This can be an important opportunity to evaluate priorities, and set new courses of action. Just like reaching our goals, failing can teach us about where our strengths lie. So don’t try to frame every failure as a success. Failing can be an important lesson.

But that lesson doesn’t work, if we don’t pick up and try again. Research has shown that children who fail to reach goals, but who then set another goal anyway are more likely to reach the second goal. And if you don’t quite reach goal number two, don’t worry, you’re even more likely to reach goal three. The pattern continues.

And of course once a child accomplishes her goal the intrinsic reward encourages further goal making.

Sticking with goal making, even in the face of failure, then can be one of the most important lessons you can teach your children about goals.

What New Year’s resolutions are you setting with your children this year? How are you working to accomplish them? Let us know in the comments.


Christopher D. Cunningham is the managing editor for Public Square Magazine and contributor to Third Hour. He loves emphatically celebrating the normal healthy development of his sons Albus and Whitman, writing about the Church of Jesus Christ, finding the middle ground on most controversies, and using Western Family generic brand lip balm. Christopher is a proud graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, and a resident of San Antonio, Texas.