How to Help Your Child Set a New Year's Goal—and Stick With It

By Lexi Walters Wright
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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 your child may need some help creating meaningful goals she’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 your child craft a sustainable plan by following the same SMART guidelines you would use for an IEP goal: Make sure it’s:

  • Specific: The resolution should include your child’s goal, the skill she’s working on and how she’ll achieve it: “To become a better trumpet player by our May concert, I’ll practice 30 minutes a day.”

  • Measurable: She should track her 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 but not overwhelm her.

  • Results-oriented: The resolution should explain what she’ll be able to do once she reaches her goal. For example: “Studying with a tutor twice a week will help me consistently get As 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! She should feel eager and committed.

What a Good Resolution Looks Like

Your child’s specific goals will depend on her challenges, abilities and interests. Here are a few examples of how you might help her refine her ideas.

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 As 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 your child works on achieving his resolution, she’ll also be building important skills like:

  • 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 her to step back and ask herself questions like these—or even discuss the answers with you—along the way. They’ll help her stay on track and get more out of the experience.

Helping Your Child Stick With It

However good her intentions—and her plan—your child may sometimes have trouble persevering. These tips can help you help her:

  • If your child agrees, consider joining her. 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 at her resolution. If she doesn’t achieve it, you can help make sure that her struggle is motivating, not paralyzing. Talk through how things went off-track and what she might do differently next time.

Explore Parenting Coach for more ideas on how to help your child stick with it and not give up.

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 her goal, setting it and working toward it can be a meaningful experience for her.

  • There are ways you can help your child stay on track as she works toward her goal.

About the Author

About the Author

Lexi Walters Wright 

is the former Community Manager at Understood (u.org/community). 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 coauthor ofThe Resilience Formula: A Guide to Proactive, Not Reactive, Parenting.

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