How to help your child set a New Year’s goal — and stick with it

At a glance

  • Making New Year’s resolutions can empower your child to change a behavior or work on a new skill.

  • Good New Year’s resolutions are thoughtfully made with reasonable end goals in mind.

  • Progress charts and regular check-ins can help kids keep their resolutions on track.

Ideally, New Year’s resolutions teach kids how to set and work steadily toward goals. That can be especially valuable for those who have learning and thinking differences. But kids may need some help creating meaningful goals they’ll be able to stick with.

Creating a New Year’s goal

However appealing an end goal is, it’s easy to get sidetracked. Help kids craft a sustainable plan by following the same SMART guidelines you would use for an goal: Make sure it’s:

  • Specific: The resolution should include your child’s goal, the skill your child is working on, and how your child will achieve it: “To become a better trumpet player by our May concert, I’ll practice 30 minutes a day.”
  • Measurable: Your child should track progress — on a chart or in regular check-ins with you.
  • Attainable: The goal should be ambitious but realistic — something that will stretch your child’s skills without being overwhelming.
  • Results-oriented: The resolution should explain how your child will know if the goal has been met. For example: “Studying with a tutor twice a week will help me consistently get A’s in math.”
  • Time-bound: Your child’s resolution should specify a reasonable time frame and can include mini-goals along the way (mini-successes can be very motivating).

And another big must:

  • Relevance: Your child has to want to set and reach this goal!

What a good resolution looks like

Specific goals will depend on your child’s challenges, abilities, and interests. Here are a few examples of how you might help your child fine-tune the resolution.

Social skills resolution Beginning idea: “I’ll be the most popular kid in my class.” Resolution: “This year, I’ll make more friends. Twice a month, I’ll invite someone over from school or Scouts.”

Academic resolution Beginning idea: “I’m going to get all A’s this year.” Resolution: “In January, I’ll get a B or better on every science quiz by studying at least 45 minutes for each one and asking my teacher for advice on studying.”

Athletic resolution Beginning idea: “I’ll start running and make the varsity track team this spring.” Resolution: “To learn to run, I’ll download a training app. Then I’ll practice for a Valentine’s Day 5K. If I like it, I’ll find a 10K over summer break.”

Working toward a New Year’s goal

As kids work on achieving a resolution, they’ll also be building important skills:

  • Self-reflection: “How do I want to improve this year?”
  • Self-advocacy: “What do I need to do to help me reach my goal?”
  • Self-awareness: “Am I making progress toward my goal?”
  • Problem-solving and self-control: “What can I do to get back on track?”
  • Self-esteem: “How does achieving my goal make me feel?”

Encourage your child to step back and think about questions like these — or even discuss the answers with you — along the way. That will help with staying on track and getting more out of the experience.

Helping your child stick with it

However good your child’s intentions — and plans — sticking with it can be hard. These tips can help:

If your child agrees, consider working toward the same goal together. You’ll make each other more accountable. “I’m also looking to exercise more this year. How about we swim together at the Y every Saturday morning?”

Don’t nag. In addition to the regular progress checks you’ve built in, ask questions and offer reminders — but in ways your child can accept. Some kids might respond well to “I know you wanted to have someone over twice a month. Has that happened yet for February?” Others might do better with “We don’t have any plans this weekend, if you want to have a teammate over.”

Share your own experiences. Be honest about what did and didn’t help you with your New Year’s resolutions. “I’m so glad I joined the library book club last year. It really helped me reach my daily page goal.”

Make it meaningful. Let your child work hard toward the goal. If your child doesn’t achieve it, you can still make sure that the struggle is motivating, not paralyzing. Talk through how things went off-track and what strategies your child might try in the future.

Key takeaways

  • Like IEP goals, New Year’s goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-bound.

  • Even if your child doesn’t reach the goal, setting it and working toward it can be a meaningful experience.

  • There are ways you can help your child stay on track.

About the author

About the author

Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Donna Volpitta, EdD is the founder of Pathways to Empower. Her work draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and education.