Teach Your Kids to Set SMART Goals for the New Year

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Setting “New Year’s Resolutions” is a tradition in many families, and for good reason: resolutions draw attention to the behavior that we would like to change and provide great motivation to do so. Unfortunately, most of the resolutions your kids make will likely fizzle out within a few days or weeks. While this is true for all children, children we see in Littleton with ADHD often struggle the most with following through with plans and staying organized. To help your child meet their goals, New Year’s or otherwise, consider helping them learn how to set SMART goals.

The acronym “SMART” comes from the business world, and refers to setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. For small children, the phrase “actually doable” can replace “attainable.” The idea is that, by setting better goals, behavior can be changed more easily. Consider this example: Your 10 year old is a motivated student, but always ends up turning in his math homework late because he forgets it. His New Year’s resolution is “turn my math homework in on time.” To change this into a SMART goal, the first thing that must be adjusted is the specificity. What is your child going to do to get that homework in on time? Is he going to put it in a special folder each night after mom and dad check it? Can he set a quiet reminder on his watch or phone to help him remember? Can he structure his environment so it is impossible to forget—such as by putting the math homework in the way of pencils and other tools? By being more specific, success is more likely!

The next elements that would improve this child’s goal-setting is to make it measurable—and, along with this, attainable and realistic. While some may strive for perfection, parents can help to set reasonable goals—and to update them over time! For example, if the child only manages to get his homework in on time once per week, a good goal might be to get it in on time three days per week. If he does well, the goal can always be changed! Finally, set a time-limit so the goal is not an endless chore. Good markers occur naturally, such as “for the month of January” or “until Spring Break,” and can be a good reminder to update goals.

SMART goal planning is not only a great way to express goals, it is a great way to process them mentally and ensure that all the steps are considered. For adults, this might come naturally, but kids can benefit from some assistance. If you are skilled in this area, teach these skills to your children; if you need more help, consider consulting with a Littleton child behavior psychologist for a parent and child skills boost. Dr. Lazarus has helped people old and young to feel more confident, achieve goals, and enjoy life to its fullest.